Om Malik over at GigaOM is reporting that RIM may be interested in buying Gist, a business oriented contact aggregator service that lets users suck in their Facebook, Gmail, LinkedIn and pretty much any address book into one easy to handle contact list. What would RIM gain from the acquisition?
In my opinion, a ton.
I’m a user of the service, and can say that while I was skeptical to initially drop my email and password into their system, the service reassured me that it wouldn’t save any of my information. Sounds good, although in the recent aftermath of the Gawker password hacking nightmare, I’m more worried that companies may end up sharing or saving my information without even knowing it. In any case, Gist reassures you of its usefulness and lets your concerns slide as soon as it’s pulled up your list of contacts and demonstrated its ability to collate similar names and accounts across different platforms. Seeing as the service is meant for professionals, it means that most people that are using Gist are looking to integrate people who use their full names, and that makes it easy for the Gist system to attempt to combine records in your address book, and the only errors I had were with people using their middle names in some cases. You’ll likely have trouble with your kids’ ever-changing Facebook names, though.
If that was the extent of the service, it wouldn’t be notable, but instead, Gist immediately calculates the “importance” of all your contacts, as it sorts your contacts by the company they work for and the amount of contact you have with them. That means Gist was immediately pointing out that I spend more time talking to my editor-in-chief than to my lead writers, and that a few of my contributing writers were getting more attention from me than some of the others. It was an illuminating look at my work life, and I was immediately able to make some key adjustments because of it.
That said, the service is going to be more useful for some than others. For marketing, public relations and human resources types, the service would be invaluable, but product managers like myself eventually find that it’s tough to find a casual use for the service while I’m focusing on developing product. That said, Gist still has time to iterate, especially now that it has a reported 100 million social profiles in there.
So what can RIM do with this? They can make that jump they’ve been dying to make and immediately have their business customers able to integrate with the hottest social technologies on the web. Buy a Blackberry, and get one of the best contact organization tools on the web. They can say they don’t only support Facebook and LinkedIn, but they help you understand the importance of those networks and social graphs. RIM can use their army of talented engineers to work with the Gist team and create an integrated experience such that when someone calls, you can immediately see the last time you talked / emailed or LinkedIn messaged them. This could help them leapfrog the competition in terms of business applications for social media.
The technology will also be interesting for RIM. Having worked with the proposed acquisitionists years ago, and understanding their information infrastructure, I know that the one thing that gets the company excited is flexible software that is ready to integrate with differing formats. In the social contacts realm, there’s no better candidate than Gist.