I was going to write about IQTell, but I was infilterated

IQTell is an kitchen-drawer work management tool. I use the term kitchen drawer because IQTell is actually a data-oriented platform for making IQTell applets, which share the characteristic of form-based UI and an architecture that supports nesting of apps within other apps. So, for example, a Waiting For app — for task where you are waiting for someone to do something — can be found at the top level of all applications, but also embedded in a Project app.

Screenshot 2014-03-09 12.36.28

As you see above, the top-level apps are in the left hand margin, and the panel to the right shows a particular project, Project X, being edited.

Within going too far down the rabbit hole, I will say this. IQTell shares all the strengths and weaknesses of data-centric and form-based generalized work management tools. I am reminded of Lotus Notes, which was beloved by developers who could tweak it to support almost any sort of form-based app, but disliked by users because a/ all the apps looked and felt alike, and b/ since all the apps have about as much style as a spreadsheet, they lack any notion of activity-specific user experience. It’s just an endless series of boxes that you type into, laid out like a paper form.

If you contrast this with the exquisitely effective Asana or the lyrically attractive Todoist, you’ll understand why I had to cut short my evaluation. I am certain there are advocates of IQTell or other platformish, all-in-one solutions who will argue about the power and flexibility of these solutions, but that’s akin to the programmers who argue for using assembly language instead of high-level programming language. It’s an almost religious dispute.

IQTell integrates with other popular services, like email (Gmail, Outlook, Microsoft Exchange, iCloud, Aol, and ‘other’) and Evernote, for example. After connecting my Gmail to IQTell, I realized that Google has infilterated me. What do I mean by infilterated? The new Google method of algorithmically distributing emails into a prioritized tabs makes it almost impossible to shift to a different email client. The reason is simple: because Google does such a great job of filtering I am willing to sign up for more email services now than I did in the past, since I can scan a low-priority tab — like Updates — and after opening one or two messages I can easily delete the rest without fear of losing anything important.

So poor IQTell and other apps that want to connect to my email fail at the first step, unless they emulate the tab interface exactly. I simply cannot imagine going back to a time before those filters, and I certainly don’t want to turn off all the services just to be able to tolerate an app like IQTell.

So, that brought my evaluation of Gmail integration to a quick end. Your mileage will vary if you are using Aol or other mail services, but I bet other Gmail users will feel the way I do. And the same  may be true of the Evernote integration, since power users of that service may find the emulation in IQTell falls short. I can’t really say, since I am not a power user of Evernote.

Let’s return to the first point, that IQTell is a platform on which all sorts of applets can exist and interoperate. In principle, having a flexible but broad solution in which you can do a great many things sounds good. But when you actually try to use a Swiss Army knife’s screwdriver instead of an actual screwdriver that is well-sized for the particular job at hand — like repairing a watch versus putting together an Ikea bed — you will put down the Swiss Army tool and get the phillips head from your toolbox.

I will contrast IQTell with Podio though. Podio is a work management solution with modern notions of activity streams and project-oriented work contexts. However, Podio also supports the notion of data-oriented forms-based apps, which can be user-defined or accessed from an app store. These could be lightweight CRM or customer support apps, or a hiring database. Since the app forms can be embedded on websites, they can be used to communicate with outside contacts. Given all that, though, the user experience of Podio is in general not forms-based: it feels and acts like a modern web application. That is not the case with IQTell. To me IQTell looks like something that could have been running on a CRT connected to a mainframe 15 years ago.

So for three aesthetic reasons, I cut short my exploration of IQTell. First, the form-oriented interface made it difficult for me to love it, and the Gmail infilteration problem made it hard to imagine using it with Gmail. And lastly, I am an advocate of using the best tool for the job, even if that involves using many unintegrated apps. So, Gmail is an example of the best filtering approach in email, and I am using other tools for their strengths, as well.

So as with people, so with tools. I love my friends for their strengths, but I don’t try do everything with all of them. Some I talk film with, others cook with me, and still others I work with. I’d rather suffer the occasional hiccup of moving from one great tool to another than the constant pain of using an all-in-one tool that isn’t great at anything, and never fits the hand for whatever it is I am trying to do, at any given moment.

Relevant Analyst
Stowe Boyd

Stowe Boyd

Lead analyst, future of work Gigaom Research and stoweboyd.com

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  1. mailsimplelotus Monday, March 10, 2014

    Stowe, you have an interesting take on this. I actually just signed up for GigaOm looking for some SAAS-type billing/accounting options and came across your review. I am actually an IQTELL user. I have been using it for quite awhile now. And while I would be one of those “advocates” you mention, I am actually a very saavy user and I wouldn’t call any product perfect. In fact that is why I am looking for a low-cost accounting tool because IQTELL doesn’t quite do what I need it to in that area.

    Like you, I am open to using multiple tools to get the job done and often it takes multiple tools. That said, I am not sure your review does justice to IQTELL. I think you presented a decent description of the tip of the iceberg, but that really doesn’t speak at all to the the underlying power and mass of it. I have tested, trialed and used over 100 different solutions through the last several years and IQTELL comes out at or near the top every time I do a comparison.

    I appreaciate the transparency that you provide in saying that you never actually got to the point of testing and reviewing the actual functionality of the product because the aesthetics just didn’t match up for you. That is understandable and I grant that all of the modules, boxes, fields and abilities can definitely be daunting and overwhelming. I felt the same way until the IQTELL team walked me through the cutomization options. I have hidden pretty much everything that I don’t use regularly and now I have a very clean setup.

    On that same point, the IQTELL team is exactly what makes the product top of the market. I’ve never participated in a beta where one of the requirements was a personal phone call with the developer before getting started. That impressed me right away and the customer service and responsiveness of their team has been impressive ever since.

    I also love that the product is in active development. I’m sure I don’t have to tell you how many task management/GTD products there are that have limited or even stagnant development patterns. I appreciate that when I have made comments or presented wishlist items, I actually get responses and in most cases resolution. That alone makes it worth the slight Web 1.0 feel (though they have made regular improvements there as well.)

    Aside from your aesthetic concerns, you mentioned both Evernote and Gmail integration. As a power user of each of those, I can say that I have zero issues with the way IQTELL handles them. I admit that I prefer the native Evernote desktop app, but I don’t have any challenges accessing things in IQTELL. And the benefits of having things like reminders and integration into tasks and projects well ahead of the native app made it a no brainer for me to connect the two.

    As far as Gmail, I used their tab option for about a week and it was the worst email experience I have ever had. I turned those things off and never looked back. It felt like I had 4 different inboxes to check daily in each account. It was major overload and not at all conducive to “inbox zero” if you prescribe to that ideal. On mobile the tabs were even worse, an absolute nightmare. So I cannot comment on the issue you experienced with Gmail+IQTELL as I don’t use the tabs. I’ve seen your work so I know you are pretty keen and I’m sure the experience is not great just as you say, but for users that don’t use the tabs, the IQTELL mail interface can actually be a much better experience than native. It is for me. As is the mail in the IQTELL Android app. It is simply more powerful with many more options.

    At the end of the day, the biggest benefit that IQTELL brings outside of a really great team is options. Hundreds of options. Very much akin to Podio which you mention and which I used extensively prior to the arrival of IQTELL. Again, having all of these options is not for everyone. In fact I would say the vast majority of basic users just want something clean and functional, a Wunderlist/Asana/Nirvana experience. And that is fine, but in your review you never made it to the power of IQTELL and it would be a shame if your readers never took the opportunity to test it out on their own just because you didn’t think it was pretty. I really can’t say enough how good the product is and the current price of FREE, I can’t think of any reason not to give it a full trial, not even the reasons you have given.

    Just in case you wonder my affiliation with IQTELL, there is none. I just like good companies who make good products, who change the way industries think and service consumers and IQTELL is one of those good guys. I stand by their prioduct because they stand by their product and they respect their users. That’s a sadly uncommon occurrence these days.

    Oh and by the way the accounting/billing solution I selected is PancakeApp and it is fantastic. Another great company with great support and a little different thinking. It seems like it will work well with IQTELL. You might want to review it. :-)

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