Ubiquity – A Glimmer of Web 3.0

Image by isriya via Flickr

I feel a bit like a puppy with a bone, getting all semantic on Studio readers. I stumbled onto another implementation of intuitive related-ness in Mozilla Labs Ubiquity. The word “ubiquity” means, per Answers.com, “[e]xistence or apparent existence everywhere at the same time; omnipresence: “the repetitiveness, the selfsameness, and the ubiquity of modern mass culture.” (I used Ubiquity to pull that definition with a single key stoke).Ubiquity, the application, strives to offer the user just that: the ability to be anywhere on the Web almost instantaneously.

Right now, Ubiquity is still a Mozilla Labs experiment, but it is one that is open to anyone willing to download it. To best “get” it, consider the example on Ubiquity’s “about” page:

You’re writing an email to invite a friend to meet at a local San Francisco restaurant that neither of you has been to.  You’d like to include a map. Today, this involves the disjointed tasks of message composition on a web-mail service, mapping the address on a map site, searching for reviews on the restaurant on a search engine, and finally copying all links into the message being composed.  This familiar sequence is an awful lot of clicking, typing, searching, copying, and pasting in order to do a very simple task.  And you haven’t even really sent a map or useful reviews—only links to them.

This kind of clunky, time-consuming interaction is common on the Web. Mashups help in some cases but they are static, require Web development skills, and are largely site-centric rather than user-centric.

Enter Ubiquity.

The overall goals of Ubiquity are to explore how best to:

  • Empower users to control the web browser with language-based instructions. (With search, users type what they want to find. With Ubiquity, they type what they want to do.)
  • Enable on-demand, user-generated mashups with existing open Web APIs. (In other words, allowing everyone–not just Web developers–to remix the Web so it fits their needs, no matter what page they are on, or what they are doing.)
  • Use Trust networks and social constructs to balance security with ease of extensibility.
  • Extend the browser functionality easily.

O.k., that is a LOT of technical jargon for us click-and-run sorts. How you interface with it, though, is quite simple. Once you download it, Control-Space Bar opens a window over your browser. Enter a few letters into the command line and Ubiquity anticipates what you might want to do. For example: highlight some text on the browser page, open Ubiquity and start typing “email this to ….” completing the line with a contact from your Gmail account (the email command currently only works with Gmail). Ubiquity will start to guess which contact you mean and automatically knows “this” means the selected text and presents a tab to send the text to your contact, without having to cut, open gmail in new window, paste, enter contact and send. If you see the phrase “Boston, Massachusetts” on a web page and you want to know the weather, highlight the text, open Ubiquity and start typing “weather” and up pops the current weather in Boston.

There are many contacts, but simply typing in a letter like “n” will give you news, “i” opens the IMDB, and so on. Ubiquity clearly seeks to break down the artificial boundaries of “silos” of information locked into separate web pages and applications and create a seamless process of tasking on-line.

I applaud any tool that speeds up my web-process. Ubiquity, although still wet behind the ears, seems to be a promising entree into the next level of the Web. Check out the video on Ubiquity created by Mozilla Labs below for more information and visual experience.

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