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A First Look at Mozilla’s Ubiquity

A First Look at Mozilla’s Ubiquity

    You’ve probably heard of Ubiquity by now. It was causing quite a buzz a few days ago before Google Chrome came along and stole all of its thunder.

    Ubiquity is an experimental Firefox extension that bills itself as “a powerful new way to interact with the web.” One way to describe Ubiquity that gives you a clearer idea of what it’s actually all about is that it’s Quicksilver for the Internet.

    We’re all used to the point-and-click, foreign and unnatural way of interfacing with the web. Ubiquity tries to change the way we interface with the web by allowing us to use language rather than buttons and endless URLs. For instance, if I want to post something I see on the web to Twitter, I’d usually have to copy the text, navigate to Twitter, log in, paste the text and press submit. With Ubiquity, I can select the text, summon Ubiquity and type “twit this.”

    For me, when I realized that the developers had connected the word “this” to various means of input selection, I realized that there have been many simple ways to create more human interfaces for a long time, but we’ve ignored them. Let’s be honest, there’s nothing technologically groundbreaking about getting a computer to understand “this” as the text within your selection, but in the current state of the web, there’s something groundbreaking about it from a user interaction point of view.

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    Useful Commands

    So what exactly can Ubiquity do? Anything really, since creating new commands is pretty easy. But most of us don’t want to do that, so here are a few of the commands that come with Ubiquity, or that you can easily get from the Herd.

    Before you invoke a command, you need to summon Ubiquity. Call up the Ubiquity window by pressing Alt/Option + Space, unless you’ve changed the summon shortcut to something else.

    Wikipedia: Do quick, on-the-spot research with the Wikipedia command. In full it’s wikipedia inserttopic, but you can substitute w for wikipedia to get there faster.

    Define: Typing define word will return the definition of a word within the Ubiquity window.

    Send This To: Select a chunk of text and, after summoning Ubiquity, type send this to person. It’s almost creepy watching it open Gmail and set up a message with the selected text in it, correctly addressed to the right person.

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      Get Lyrics: This one doesn’t come with Ubiquity, but you can grab it from the Herd. If you want to know the lyrics to the song you’re listening to, summon Ubiquity, type get-lyrics Welcome to the Jungle and you’ll be presented with a Google search page with various lyrics for that song. I would like it better if it took you straight to a lyrics page, but this is okay in the meantime.

      Maps: When I heard Ubiquity did maps, I thought if you gave it a street number and name, suburb and state, it would throw the map up for you. It does do that, but it can do a lot more. I thought I’d see if it could find the location of my very first job when I was in high school, with only minimal information. As you can see, it did:

        If you click the map thumbnail, it enlarges and provides you with a link: “insert map in page.” If you’re on a regular HTML page, you wouldn’t expect this to work, but it does. More useful, though, is the ability to quickly drop a map into an email:

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          To get to this point, I had to type “Helensvale KFC,” select it, summon Ubiquity and type map, click the map and click a link. It takes about ten seconds to get a map in your email, compared to the five minutes it used to take.

          Room for Improvement

          Let me briefly preface this section. A pet peeve of mine is when software reviewers slam an app and call it useless when it is clearly beta or even alpha software. It irritates me, so I’m certainly not joining in. So here goes: this software is a 0.1 release and any issues I’ve mentioned here are observations that I’m sure will get fixed eventually. None of this is deal-breaking because the app is very early on in its development.

          The first issue I came across during my time with the software was that the weather implementation isn’t the best. If I look for Brisbane’s weather by invoking Ubiquity and typing weather brisbane, it works fine. However, if I ask it for weather gold coast, the Gold Coast being where I actually live, I get nothing.

          But if I go to my OS X dashboard and type nothing but “gold coast” into Apple’s Weather widget, which uses AccuWeather.com, I get results right away. Is this a problem with Ubiquity? The weather site it uses or the API the weather site supplies? I don’t know, but I know that there are better weather services out there.

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          The second issue I had with Ubiquity may only be an issue because I’ve been spoiled by Quicksilver, but nevertheless there’s room for improvement in the way Ubiquity takes the text you’ve typed and looks for one of its commands that closely matches.

          When you summon Ubiquity and attempt to invoke a command, the list of options presented doesn’t search intelligently. For example, I use Quicksilver to call up the Start-up Disk Preference Pane whenever I want to boot into Windows on my iMac. Quicksilver will find that pane and let me invoke the right command whether I type any of the following:

          • Of course, startup (I use it regularly enough that st or sta will work too)
          • artup
          • starupd
          • diskpane
          • starttuuu

          You can make spelling mistakes, miss letters, or start from the second letter or even second word of the command, and Quicksilver will still find it for you.

          As far as I’m concerned, this intelligent search is exactly why Quicksilver is so useful as an app launcher. To be truly powerful, Ubiquity must implement something like this. I know this is 0.1 software, so I don’t really expect these features to be present, but I’d say if it’s not in there by the big 1.0, then this extension is going in the wrong direction.

          The Bottom Line

          The bottom line? Download it and try it. See if it’s for you. Personally, I swear by apps like Ubiquity and Quicksilver and I think everybody should use them.

          However, not everyone agrees, so give it a shot and see if it’s right for you – but give it a fair shot and spend some time with it before you reject it. If you can’t try it because you’re not using Firefox, that’s fine… unless you’re still using Internet Explorer. In that case, go and download a decent browser!

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          Joel Falconer

          Editor, content marketer, product manager and writer with 12+ years of experience in the startup, design and tech digital media industries.

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          Last Updated on March 31, 2020

          Is Procrastination Bad? The Truth About Procrastination Revealed

          Is Procrastination Bad? The Truth About Procrastination Revealed

          Procrastination is very literally the opposite of productivity. To produce something is to pull it forward, while to procrastinate is to push it forward — to tomorrow, to next week, or ultimately to never.

          Procrastination fills us with shame — we curse ourselves for our laziness, our inability to focus on the task at hand, our tendency to be easily led into easier and more immediate gratifications. And with good reason: for the most part, time spent procrastinating is time spent not doing things that are, in some way or other, important to us.

          There is a positive side to procrastination, but it’s important not to confuse procrastination at its best with everyday garden-variety procrastination.

          Sometimes — sometimes! — procrastination gives us the time we need to sort through a thorny issue or to generate ideas. In those rare instances, we should embrace procrastination — even as we push it away the rest of the time.

          Why We Procrastinate After All?

          We procrastinate for a number of reasons, some better than others. One reason we procrastinate is that, while we know what we want to do, we need time to let the ideas “ferment” before we are ready to sit down and put them into action.

          Some might call this “creative faffing”; I call it, following copywriter Ray Del Savio’s lead, “concepting”.[1]

          Whatever you choose to call it, it’s the time spent dreaming up what you want to say or do, weighing ideas in your mind, following false leads and tearing off on mental wild goose chases, and generally thinking things through.

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          To the outside observer, concepting looks like… well, like nothing much at all. Maybe you’re leaning back in your chair, feet up, staring at the wall or ceiling, or laying in bed apparently dozing, or looking out over the skyline or feeding pigeons in the park or fiddling with the Japanese vinyl toys that stand watch over your desk.

          If ideas are the lifeblood of your work, you have to make time for concepting, and you have to overcome the sensation— often overpowering in our work-obsessed culture — that faffing, however creative, is not work.

          Is Procrastination Bad?

          Yes it is.

          Don’t fool yourself into thinking that you’re “concepting” when in fact you’re just not sure what you’re supposed to be doing.

          Spending an hour staring at the wall while thinking up the perfect tagline for a marketing campaign is creative faffing; staring at the wall for an hour because you don’t know how to come up with a tagline, or don’t know the product you’re marketing well enough to come up with one, is just wasting time.

          Lack of definition is perhaps the biggest friend of your procrastination demons. When we’re not sure what to do — whether because we haven’t planned thoroughly enough, we haven’t specified the scope of what we hope to accomplish in the immediate present, or we lack important information, skills, or resources to get the job done.

          It’s easy to get distracted or to trick ourselves into spinning our wheels doing nothing. It takes our mind off the uncomfortable sensation of failing to make progress on something important.

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          The answer to this is in planning and scheduling. Rather than giving yourself an unspecified length of time to perform an unspecified task (“Let’s see, I guess I’ll work on that spreadsheet for a while”) give yourself a limited amount of time to work on a clearly defined task (“Now I’ll enter the figures from last months sales report into the spreadsheet for an hour”).

          Giving yourself a deadline, even an artificial one, helps build a sense of urgency and also offers the promise of time to “screw around” later, once more important things are done.

          For larger projects, planning plays a huge role in whether or not you’ll spend too much time procrastinating to reach the end reasonably quickly.

          A good plan not only lists the steps you have to take to reach the end, but takes into account the resources, knowledge and inputs from other people you’re going to need to perform those steps.

          Instead of futzing around doing nothing because you don’t have last month’s sales report, getting the report should be a step in the project.

          Otherwise, you’ll spend time cooling your heels, justifying your lack of action as necessary: you aren’t wasting time because you want to, but because you have to.

          How Bad Procrastination Can Be

          Our mind can often trick us into procrastinating, often to the point that we don’t realize we’re procrastinating at all.

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          After all, we have lots and lots of things to do; if we’re working on something, aren’t we being productive – even if the one big thing we need to work on doesn’t get done?

          One way this plays out is that we scan our to-do list, skipping over the big challenging projects in favor of the short, easy projects. At the end of the day, we feel very productive: we’ve crossed twelve things off our list!

          That big project we didn’t work on gets put onto the next day’s list, and when the same thing happens, it gets moved forward again. And again.

          Big tasks often present us with the problem above – we aren’t sure what to do exactly, so we look for other ways to occupy ourselves.

          In many cases too, big tasks aren’t really tasks at all; they’re aggregates of many smaller tasks. If something’s sitting on your list for a long time, each day getting skipped over in favor of more immediately doable tasks, it’s probably not very well thought out.

          You’re actively resisting it because you don’t really know what it is. Try to break it down into a set of small tasks, something more like the tasks you are doing in place of the one big task you aren’t doing.

          More consequences of procrastination can be found in this article: 8 Dreadful Effects of Procrastination That Can Destroy Your Life

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          Procrastination, a Technical Failure

          Procrastination is, more often than not, a sign of a technical failure, not a moral failure.

          It’s not because we’re bad people that we procrastinate. Most times, procrastination serves as a symptom of something more fundamentally wrong with the tasks we’ve set ourselves.

          It’s important to keep an eye on our procrastinating tendencies, to ask ourselves whenever we notice ourselves pushing things forward what it is about the task we’ve set ourselves that simply isn’t working for us.

          Learn more about how to fix your procrastination problem here: What Is Procrastination and How to Stop It (The Complete Guide)

          Featured photo credit: chuttersnap via unsplash.com

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