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Founder and CEO of Gist.com, T.A. McCann is a serial entrepreneur who formerly ran the Exchange business at Microsoft. Gist, his fifth startup, helps users integrate and manage all their contact information quickly and easily in one place. Brent Leary spoke with McCann in this interview, which has been edited for publication. To hear audio of the full interview, page down to the loudspeaker icon at the end of the post.
Question: Can you give folks a little bit of background on Gist?
T.A. McCann: The idea for Gist came to us about three years ago, as we started thinking about how overwhelmed everyone is with information—and that was just thinking about the [e-mail] inbox. Now, we may have many inboxes, be it Twitter or Facebook or LinkedIn. Gist brings all of those contacts from all of those different places together, automatically ranks and prioritizes everyone in your contact list, then goes out to the Web and brings you related information–general news, blogs, tweets or Facebook updates–for all of those people and delivers that back into your workflow so you can access all of your contacts and all of their content in one place.
Question: Do you think it is harder or easier today to build lasting relationships, due to information overload about people, as opposed to not having enough information in the past?
T.A. McCann: I think it’s easier to build and sustain relationships with a larger number of people because so many of us are putting content out there. The challenge is being able to pull all that information together. That’s where Gist fits in.
Question: Does e-mail still have the importance it had in the past, or have these other forms of communication surpassed e-mail when it comes to business interactions?
T.A. McCann: E-mail is still king. Everybody has e-mail, and the amount of effort that has gone into building rich e-mail clients, whether they be Outlook, Gmail, Lotus Notes–that sort of sophistication has yet to come into the social media interaction. E-mail will be king for a long, long time. That said, there are opportunities to cut through the noise using these other types of conversations.
Question: Have mobile devices made social networks that much more important, or is e-mail still holding its own even on mobile devices?
T.A. McCann: The importance of mobile continues to increase, and the value of the experiences that can be delivered on mobile continues to [improve]. I know lots of businesspeople who are traveling with only their iPhones and iPads or just their mobile device, and their [laptop] can almost be left at home.
That’s a testament to the richness of the platforms and the applications that we are delivering. E-mail still is a pretty key [mobile] application, but if you look at just the iPhone, the Facebook application is good; the LinkedIn application is good; and the Gist application, which rolls all of that together, provides me with a broad view of my network and the ability to search all of my contacts and bring all of that together into the mobile device.
Question: Microsoft Outlook was one of the big pieces of getting CRM adoption right. Now, in the age of social media, I look at Gmail as the equivalent of what Microsoft Outlook was. Where does Google impact “social CRM”?
T.A. McCann: We at Gist are primarily Mac guys. We’ve made some pretty significant bets with Google. Their contextual gadgets allow application developers like Gist to add value right inside of the Gmail interface.
With Gist as an example, if you and I exchange e-mail inside Gmail, I am seeing your latest tweets, blog updates, news about you, your contact information, right in line with the messages. That is a pretty substantial opportunity for any developer to really extend the value of Gmail. We are very bullish about what Google is doing.
Question: Where does Apple fit in? What impact has the iPad had on business communications?
T.A. McCann: One of my VCs has moved to the iPad as his primary device. I have an iPad myself, but I haven’t quite made that jump yet. That said, I think reading works well on the iPad, Web [access] works well and you can use the iPhone version on the iPad. I am not sure exactly how well it fits in between the PC that is getting lighter and more powerful and the iPhone that is [also] getting more powerful.
Question: A year from now, where are we going to be in utilizing all of these different services—e-mail and social networks—in gathering information?
T.A. McCann: Having all of your data in the cloud, accessible anywhere and anytime, will continue to proliferate. Therefore, the value of desktop applications will continue to lessen. And no matter what app you are in, you are going to have access to the other data that’s relevant to that application. There will be more integration.
The preponderance of location-based [services], whether Foursquare, Gowalla or others, and being able to do a query like, “I am in place X – show me all of my most important people who are nearby”–those kinds of queries are going to start to show up, whether in Gist or other applications.
When you think about building relationships, it is still about physically connecting with people. Having systems that are smart enough to say Who is important to me? Who’s nearby? and How can I quickly connect with those people? are some of the scenarios that [will be] natural and easy to do for a year from now.