Today I got a chance to try out Ubiquity. What a neat concept! It’s a GUI command line like QuickSilver, only it’s implemented as a Firefox extension instead of a desktop application.

The demo movie is impressive.

Ubiquity for Firefox from Aza Raskin on Vimeo.

I like how it shows information based on the text typed as I’m typing it. This functionality, called preview, is used extensively in the map command. In fact, most of the time the map command doesn’t even need to be executed, because a small map can be viewed and added to documents without executing a command. I think the preview functionality will be especially useful for looking up programming documentation.

The preview functionality is also used in the built-in twitter command, which posts an update to the microblogging site Twitter. It shows how many characters are left before you hit twitter’s limit. The built-in twitter command, however, uses 160 characters for the limit instead of the 140 character limit on twitter’s website. The 160 character limit for API’s is provided in case a long URL is included in the tweet, which twitter will auto-shorten using tinyurl.

I often post long tweets and don’t want to guess at whether one is going to be too long, so I created my own command, tweet, which uses for URL shortening. It uses the longest length of URLs to calculate what the size of URL will be, and bases the number of characters left on that. It replaces any occurrence of the string isgd with an link to the current page.

It was very easy to write, in large part due to being integrated into Firefox, and having Firefox’s JavaScript environment. It also is written with JQuery and command writers have jQuery available to them.

Ubiquity might not be the embodiment of a totally new concept, but I find that since it’s a Firefox extension, as opposed to being a desktop application, it’s a lot more convenient for me to use and develop for.

5 thoughts on “Ubiquity

  1. Ben,

    Found your blog doing a google search for ‘ubiquity shortener’ hoping to find a command that similar to the built in tiny shortener.

    I’ve recently joined Leo Laporte’s Laconica instance ( and really like it a lot.

    One of our members created a knock-off of the twitter ubiquity command to post to the army. They basically changed very little, but the max length was set back to 140.

    So after reading your post I had an idea.

    I’ve already installed the firefox extension, and the twitter and army commands for ubiquity already tell you how many characters you have left. So I just right click the page, and create an link, then paste it into the ubiquity command. Ubiqity will tell me how many characters I have remaining.

    I guess your command will probably save the right-clicking though.

    Would you mind if we knock-off your command to use for army? I would like to try it out and see what I can do.


  2. So it looks like it worked! :-)

    I’m now wondering if your ubiquity command makes sure the max length is 140 or less, or if it allows over (since twitter allows up to 160)

    From what I gathered from you js code it does constrict to the 140 limit.

    Am I right?


  3. D’oh! I haven’t had a legitimate comment in months so I haven’t been checking my moderation queue. Sorry about that.

    I’m glad you found my command interesting. Feel free to make changes on it and post it anywhere. And yes, it does constrict it to the 140 character limit. I’d rather be overly restricting than risk posting tweets that users have to expand by clicking on a link (when a tweet gets posted that’s longer than 140 characters, the first 140 characters are shown, followed by a “…” hyperlink that can be clicked to show the full tweet).

  4. no prob… my blog is the same way… aksimet’s caught over a million spam msgs in just about 3 years now.

    about the 140 chars: it makes sense to keep it standard… twitter’s kind of going the way of MicroSoft if you ask me in that their trying to make twitter better by breaking compatability (or something like that)

    anywho… glad to see you’ve joined the TWiT Army

    catch u on the flip side

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