Wow, technology is getting slicker and slicker with each passing day!

One of the latest offerings in the red-hot online contact management space is the tool, founded by several enterprising entrepreneurs in Seattle.  Gist promises to help you “know more about who know” and to “build strong relationships by connecting the inbox to the web to provide business-critical information about the people and companies that matter most.”  Perhaps a simpler way of putting it would be to say that Gist lets you build a list of all your contacts on the web, then track a whole bunch of useful information about them automatically, such as the number of times you send/receive e-mail from them, how often they blog/tweet, how often they get mentioned in cyberspace, and so forth.  Essentially, it creates a “dashboard” that pulls in a constant stream of information from LinkedIn, Outlook, Facebook, Twitter, Gmail, and other sites so that you have all of this important data right at your fingertips.

Is this site a good one for job hunters to utilize, however?  That’s a tricky question.  My review of this site, in fact, is probably the most polarized one I’ve ever had to write.  On one hand, this site does some amazingly innovative and powerful things.  For starters, the very fact that it’s able to collect and organize information from all of the sources above, in one place, is pretty darn handy.  At a glance, you can monitor which of your contacts are getting visibility out on the web or publishing news about their latest ventures.  You also can rank each contact from 1-100 in terms of their “importance” to you, which may sound judgmental, but is a very important aspect of maintaining a solid, strategic network.  Kudos to Gist for including this feature, which I haven’t seen anywhere else!  Lastly, one nifty inclusion that I love is how the system has a button next to each contact that is colored green, yellow, or red based on how long it’s been since you last communicated with them in some fashion.  This “Contact” icon helps ensure you stay in frequent touch with the folks who are important to you, an aspect of networking I preach about constantly.  So this simple little reminder system is a wonderful thing.

Despite these tremendous features, however, I’ll confess I’m not yet fully convinced that these kinds of tools are the ideal method that professionals today should be using to manage their contacts.  After trying out a number of them over the past few years, I still have a number of reservations.  For starters, I’m concerned that one would rely on ANY website as the #1 repository for their critical relationship data.  I’m not so much worried about the privacy factor, since sites seem to be clamping down on that aspect of things pretty well, but what if somehow all of your precious data gets lost, or corrupted, or accidentally deleted?  Or the company goes out of business?  Far stranger things have happened on the Internet, as we all know, and should one of these calamitous events take place, your entire networking schema would be instantly crippled.  Secondly, as smart as the technology is getting, it still frequently “guesses wrong” about what news items belong with what individuals.  For example, when trying out Gist, myself, I noticed there was a news article attached to one of my contacts that said he and his whole family had been killed in a car crash!  After a moment of panic, I did some further digging and found out that it was (sadly, but thankfully) a totally different person who just happened to share the same name.

Additionally, despite the broadband revolution, it still worries me that I’d only be able to access my contact data when connected to the Internet somehow — and I’ve also found that updating the records on this site, or any similar site, is a laboriously SLOW process.  If I’m trying to update a bunch of records in a hurry, or take notes, there’s a world of difference between the speed at which I could do this in Outlook, or Act, or Goldmine, or another piece of “installed” software versus a website where you have to click Save buttons, refresh pages, and the like.  You can’t afford to have networking feel like a chore.  So based on this reason, alone, I’d become frustrated quite quickly if I had to rely on a site like Gist as the primary source for managing my networking activities.

In closing, while it’s just one man’s opinion, I’d give the folks at an “A for effort” and salute them for building a truly impressive application.  The site is also still in beta form, to be fair, so we could certainly see some major improvements unveiled in the months to come.  Honestly, though, given the importance of networking to the job hunting and business development process, I’m not sure the whole world is ready to gravitate to this type of solution.  If you’re building your network from scratch, and don’t already have a contact management system in place, might be a great place to start.  If you’ve already got hundreds or thousands of records pulled together, however, and an effective system for managing them, I don’t see a compelling reason to make the switch.

Different strokes for different folks, though.  Are any of my readers out there already using Gist?  And if so, would you agree, disagree, or add anything to my analysis of the tool?