I recently came across Mozilla’s new project Ubiquity. Here is their explanation of it:
“Ubiquity is an experiment into connecting the Web with language in an attempt to find new user interfaces that make it possible for everyone to do common Web tasks more quickly and easily. It’s a Firefox extension, so it works on Macs, Windows, and Linux. With only a couple keystrokes, it lets you use language to instruct your browser. You can translate to and from most languages, add maps to your email, edit any page, twitter, check your calendar, search, email your friends, and much more. All without leaving the page you’re on.”
I’ll explain why I think this is such a huge deal after I show you how it works.
Here are some screenshots of it in action:
1. Inserting a map into an email
You can use Ubiquity to easily insert a Google Map into an email (using Gmail). Here I am in my browser, composing an email.
I then type Apple-Space and the Ubiquity panel appears. I type ‘map 19c Charles Street, Bath’ and you get the following result. I zoom in and adjust the map until it’s the way I want it (it’s a live Google Map), then I then click the ‘Insert map in page’ link (circled red):
The final result is a Google Map that’s inserted into my email:
2. Searching Twitter
If I’m in the browser, I type Apple-Space to bring up the Ubiquity panel. I type ‘tsearch ryancarson and biscuits’. This used web services provided by search.twitter.com to return results immediately into the Ubiquity interface. No need to actually visit search.twitter.com.
3. Translate text
You can select text on a web page and use Ubiquity to translate it with Google Translate. I’ve selected some text from a story on CNN and it’s been translated into Spanish. You use the keyword ‘this’ to refer to text you’ve seletected on the web page:
Loads of others
There is a mind-boggling list of commands you can use with Ubiquity. Some of the more interesting ones are:
Map, Email, Google, Wiki, Add to calendar, Check calendar, Weather, Tweet, Word count, Translate, Define, Highlight, Delete, Undo, Digg … and more (great write-up of these commands).
What’s the big deal?
Ubiquity is step towards taking all the power and information of the web, and allowing you to weild it the way you want. The way the web works right now is clumsy. If I want to insert a map into my email, I need to take the following steps:
1. Visit a maps.google.com
2. Do a search
3. Copy the map
4. Go back to my email program
5. Paste the map
That’s actually pretty hard. Google already provides an API to maps, so why should I need to go visit the site? It’s so much quicker to just type ‘map Bath, UK’ and then click a button. Bam. Done.
As we move forward, people won’t say ‘I’m browsing the web’. That’s like saying “I’m using electricity.” Using electricity isn’t the point – you want to do something with electricty. The web is the same. The data and services from the web will be used to execute actions like map, translate, communicate, filter, post, etc. I’m excited about Ubiquity because it’s a step in this direction.
It’s open to everyone
Ummm … what about the money?
The ‘trouble’ with companies offering web services for free is that it’s more challenging to monetize. How is Google going to sell ads if you don’t need to go to their site?
1. Take a slice of revenue being generated by people using the API. Example: The Apple App Store.
2. Charge developers for using the API commercially (it’s still free for non-commercial use).
3. By making it easier to search and find content and products, companies will actually increase the amount of people that visit their site. Amazon search integration with Ubiquity is the perfect example. Want to find a book? Just type ‘amazon-search book-title’.
A couple issues
Ubiquity isn’t perfect though. I think there are two primary issues:
1. It really should be a desktop app, not a browser plugin. You really need to be able to use Ubiquity, whether you’re using a browser or not. In the future, the browser will be the OS, and in that case, it makes sens for it to be a browser plugin. But for now, it really should be a desktop app.
2. Subscribing to other people’s Ubiquity commands is dangerous. If they decide to change the code to do something malicious, you don’t have any control. There needs to be some sort of trust stystem established.
If you want to learn more, here are some resources you can check out.
1. Ubiquity home page
2. List of Ubiquity commands currently ‘In the wild’
3. Ubiquity Google Group
4. Rey Bango’s list of resources
5. Aza Raskin’s blog – Head of User Experience for Mozilla Labs
6. Ubiquity Blog
Please share your thoughts below or reply to me on Twitter (@ryancarson). Thanks!