Submit Response


Submit Response is a weblog by Jack Mottram, a journalist who lives in Glasgow, Scotland. There are 1308 posts in the archives. You can subscribe to a feed. This post was made on and belongs in the web category. The previous post was , and the next post is .


I’ve long been a fan of Quicksilver, and my favourite feature on the Newton is the Assist button. The former lets me find things on my computer, and do stuff with those things at breakneck speed. The latter takes words written in natural language, and interprets them, working out that when I write, say, ‘lunch with Steve on Tue’, I probably want to add an appointment to my calendar at 1 o’clock next Tuesday, with Steve listed as among the attendees.

Ubiquity, a new Firefox add-on, combines the high-speed access to and manipulation of information of Quicksilver with the user-friendly language interpretation of the Assist button, bolting both onto the browser. Ultimately, it has the potential to be something close to a command line interface for the web.

With the add-on installed, all you have to do is press the command key combination - Alt+Space by default on the Mac - and start typing a command. There are lots of simple ones. Type wikipedia1 followed by a search term, hit enter, and you’re transported to the relevant results. Type email Don't forget our lunch on Tuesday! to Steve, hit enter, and you’ll be taken to Gmail, with your message all ready to send.

Ubiquity gets really clever when you want to combine its features. What if Steve hasn’t been to the restaurant you’re meeting at? Before sending the mail Ubiquity helped you to create, invoke it again, and type map Stravaign. Yep, a Google Map centred on the best Glasgow pub will appear, along with a link to insert it directly into your mail message.

Like Quicksilver, Ubiquity is a wee bit fiddly to explain, and doesn’t sound quite as thrilling as it does when seen in action. So here’s a video walk-through (skip forward forty-five seconds if you want to avoid the hip marketing-speak intro):

Sure, developer Aza Raskin is showing Ubiquity in the best possible light. In real life, it’s pretty buggy - fair enough, since it’s a prototype. It’s very limited in scope, too - if you don’t use Google’s calendar and mail applications, the best features won’t be much use. And it won’t do some of the things you might expect it to, like lifting microformatted information from web pages and dumping them into your address book or calendar. But it has huge potential to turn disparate web services, which, until now, we’ve had to wrangle together ourselve with unwieldy cutting and pasting, into one great big useful thing.

Also, in the wake of the recent fawning over Aurora - a vision of the coming web in which useful combinations of services were buried under needlessly jazzy 3-D interfaces controlled by daft futuristic peripherals - and similar mock-ups, it’s good to see a project which offers some of the basic utilities imagined by the futurologists on the Aurora team, right now, using a simple, clear interface that takes advantage of one skill all web users share: the ability to type words in a language they understand.

More info:

Thanks to Neil and Matt for pointing me in Ubiquity’s direction!

  1. Or just wi. Ubiquity is clever enough to work out what you’re after, or will present a list of possible commands to choose from. It will also work out that, if you’ve selected some text on a web page, that’s what you want to search for.

Posted at 3pm on 28/08/08 by Jack Mottram to the web category.
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