Mailbox intelligence has become its own industry. A mailbox intelligence application would reduce the amount of time you spend each day managing your Inboxes. There’s a race to be the standard application that makes your Inbox more streamlined, less cluttered, and more relevant. Gist is one of the vendors competing for this goal. Your users or management may want to try this product as a communication efficiency tool.

Gist is a web application that you must trust with all your information to prove remotely useful (pun intended). Gist consolidates your communication resources and summarizes the content based on perceived importance sorted by time, people, attachments, communication frequency, or companies. Figure 1 shows a sample dashboard view for the category of People. Gist accesses your communication accounts like Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Gmail and summarizes that information to provide access to the most important content. See Figure 2 for a list of accounts you can add to Gist through gist.com. For many of us, Microsoft Outlook represents a high percentage of our relevant communication, so Gist has created a plug-in that integrates with the Outlook client. Gist is still a beta application and currently supports Outlook 2003, 2007, and Outlook 2010 (32-bit only).

Whether Gist is a good thing or a bad thing to deploy for your users is up to you and your management. The Gist plug-in works behind the scenes gathering information about Outlook data and then uploads that content to gist.com. Gist incorporates this Outlook content with data you’ve configured it to collect from other sources and presents a dashboard of relevance on the Gist website. Because it’s an Internet-based web application, the meat and potatoes reside in the cloud. The Outlook add-on scans only for new messages, attachments and contacts (and their companies), and uploads that information. Figure 3 shows a scan in the Gist Status box.

You can configure Gist to upload message headers only or you can add message bodies to that transfer as well. Yes, this can mean a lot of data is sent back to the cloud. Gist does this securely, as you might expect. I confirmed this through a packet capture to see the SSL connection to Gist. Figure 4 shows the communication between my workstation and the external IP address 67.228.229.227, which resolves to beta.gist.com with an alias of outlookbeta.gist.com. Gist maintains a log of its activities on the local workstation at \<username>\AppData\Local\Gist Desktop\gist.log for Vista and Windows 7. Figure 5 shows a sample of this log file.

The settings for the Gist plug-in reside in HKCU\Software\Gist\Desktop\Settings and form the registry equivalent of the settings shown in Figure 6. It's possible to make changes to local registry settings through centrally managed processes such as Group Policy to control some aspects of the Gist plug-in. For example, if bandwidth is a concern in your enterprise, you could enforce the Gist setting to allow only message headers to be uploaded to Gist.com and not message bodies by changing the DWORD value of the HeadersOnly key to 1.

What does this mean to an Exchange and Outlook IT Pro? Gist provides an Outlook plug-in, still in beta, that requires installation on workstations running Outlook 2003, 2007, or 2010 (32-bit). When deployed in an Exchange Server environment, Gist requires Outlook clients to be running in Exchange cached mode, because it works against the local data only, although it can manage multiple Outlook accounts in a profile. The Outlook plug-in doesn’t work with Outlook Web Access (OWA), of course. Gist is not an overly resource-intensive application. It seems to do well working passively, making use of excess resources. Gist.exe consumed about 15MB of RAM while scanning email, according to the Task Manager on my Windows 7 system with Outlook 2007 on 2GB of RAM.

Gist integrates with Outlook, adding a Gist button in the preview pane view of a message (as shown in Figure 7) and in the Outlook Ribbon. When you click the button, details about that individual are presented in a pop-up window, like the one shown in Figure 8. This window presents contact and communication information, such as recent emails and attachments, as well as other information for that contact collected by Gist.com, such as tweets from Twitter or blog posts. When you close Outlook 2007, Gist remains resident in memory and reports as Idle when you mouse over its G icon in the task bar. The gist.exe process required a separate shutdown in my tests.

If your users or management want to use Gist.com, and they use Outlook for messaging, it would make sense to implement the Gist Outlook plug-in as well. The Gist.com dashboard becomes more valuable with current email communication integrated in its reorganized, effectively presented content.The Gist plug-in uploads message headers (and, optionally, message bodies) to Gist.com, taking serial messaging and sorting it based on contacts, emphasizing the ongoing digital relationships the user maintains with those contacts. Gist.com consolidates contact information, and the Gist plug-in for Outlook brings email communication to that relationship summary with the goal of adding intelligence and efficiency to user dependent on communication for business.