On finding interesting Ubiquity commands…

I’ve been trying to find clever Ubiquity commands in the Herd. I want to see things that use the preview functionality in interesting ways, like the built-in map command does. What I’ve wound up doing so far, though, is sifting through dozens of commands that do nothing more than what could be done with a custom entry in the Firefox Search Bar, or commands that are nothing but links to another page.

While I think it’s useful to be able to search and go to websites from a command line, it’s not what I have in mind when I search for new commands.

I think that search engines and bookmarks should be separated from the rest of the commands, and that posting search engines or bookmarks as commands to the command part of the Herd should be discouraged. This will help in several ways:

  • Users who don’t know JavaScript will have an easy time adding bookmarks and search engines to Ubiquity and assigning them strings
  • I’ll be able to add search engines and bookmarks from websites without having to look at the code or decide whether I can trust the people who write the code
  • If I provide a bookmark or search engine on my website I won’t have to worry about convincing my users to trust me enough to install it, since it won’t be able to send any information from their browser to my website except for a search query
  • I won’t have to sift through bookmarks and search engines to find commands that provide advanced functionality
  • It will encourage website owners to create more powerful Ubiquity commands

Ubiquity is at an early stage, so I won’t be surprised if someone’s already working on separating simple commands from more complex ones. I hope so. I really want to see Ubiquity catch on, and for that to happen I think it needs to be easier for users to customize their commands.


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 is.gd for URL shortening. It uses the longest length of is.gd 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 is.gd 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.