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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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          The Gentle Art of Saying No

          The Gentle Art of Saying No

          No!

          It’s a simple fact that you can never be productive if you take on too many commitments — you simply spread yourself too thin and will not be able to get anything done, at least not well or on time.

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          But requests for your time are coming in all the time — through phone, email, IM or in person. To stay productive, and minimize stress, you have to learn the Gentle Art of Saying No — an art that many people have problems with.

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          What’s so hard about saying no? Well, to start with, it can hurt, anger or disappoint the person you’re saying “no” to, and that’s not usually a fun task. Second, if you hope to work with that person in the future, you’ll want to continue to have a good relationship with that person, and saying “no” in the wrong way can jeopardize that.

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          But it doesn’t have to be difficult or hard on your relationship. Here are the Top 10 tips for learning the Gentle Art of Saying No:

          1. Value your time. Know your commitments, and how valuable your precious time is. Then, when someone asks you to dedicate some of your time to a new commitment, you’ll know that you simply cannot do it. And tell them that: “I just can’t right now … my plate is overloaded as it is.”
          2. Know your priorities. Even if you do have some extra time (which for many of us is rare), is this new commitment really the way you want to spend that time? For myself, I know that more commitments means less time with my wife and kids, who are more important to me than anything.
          3. Practice saying no. Practice makes perfect. Saying “no” as often as you can is a great way to get better at it and more comfortable with saying the word. And sometimes, repeating the word is the only way to get a message through to extremely persistent people. When they keep insisting, just keep saying no. Eventually, they’ll get the message.
          4. Don’t apologize. A common way to start out is “I’m sorry but …” as people think that it sounds more polite. While politeness is important, apologizing just makes it sound weaker. You need to be firm, and unapologetic about guarding your time.
          5. Stop being nice. Again, it’s important to be polite, but being nice by saying yes all the time only hurts you. When you make it easy for people to grab your time (or money), they will continue to do it. But if you erect a wall, they will look for easier targets. Show them that your time is well guarded by being firm and turning down as many requests (that are not on your top priority list) as possible.
          6. Say no to your boss. Sometimes we feel that we have to say yes to our boss — they’re our boss, right? And if we say “no” then we look like we can’t handle the work — at least, that’s the common reasoning. But in fact, it’s the opposite — explain to your boss that by taking on too many commitments, you are weakening your productivity and jeopardizing your existing commitments. If your boss insists that you take on the project, go over your project or task list and ask him/her to re-prioritize, explaining that there’s only so much you can take on at one time.
          7. Pre-empting. It’s often much easier to pre-empt requests than to say “no” to them after the request has been made. If you know that requests are likely to be made, perhaps in a meeting, just say to everyone as soon as you come into the meeting, “Look guys, just to let you know, my week is booked full with some urgent projects and I won’t be able to take on any new requests.”
          8. Get back to you. Instead of providing an answer then and there, it’s often better to tell the person you’ll give their request some thought and get back to them. This will allow you to give it some consideration, and check your commitments and priorities. Then, if you can’t take on the request, simply tell them: “After giving this some thought, and checking my commitments, I won’t be able to accommodate the request at this time.” At least you gave it some consideration.
          9. Maybe later. If this is an option that you’d like to keep open, instead of just shutting the door on the person, it’s often better to just say, “This sounds like an interesting opportunity, but I just don’t have the time at the moment. Perhaps you could check back with me in [give a time frame].” Next time, when they check back with you, you might have some free time on your hands.
          10. It’s not you, it’s me. This classic dating rejection can work in other situations. Don’t be insincere about it, though. Often the person or project is a good one, but it’s just not right for you, at least not at this time. Simply say so — you can compliment the idea, the project, the person, the organization … but say that it’s not the right fit, or it’s not what you’re looking for at this time. Only say this if it’s true — people can sense insincerity.

          Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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