For the early adopters amongst you, Mozilla Labs have released a very early version of new Firefox (you are using Firefox, right?) extension Ubiquity, which they describe as “an experiment into connecting the web with language”. Like most 0.1 releases this is a long way from a tool you can rely on, but there’s enough here to warrant a download to get a hint of what could be possible.
Ubiquity aspires to providing a natural language solution for bringing together uses of the web which are currently disconnected. The example they offer, of trying to invite a friend to a local restaurant for dinner using the internet is persuasive. Currently, you’d need to locate the restaurant on map, perhaps find some reviews and then copy and then paste them into an email before sending it on. In other words, lots of ‘trundling between sites’ as the developers would have it. In Ubiquity, the aspiration is to be able to invoke the window and type something like ‘find a map for restaurant x, find some reviews, then email it to Britney’. It’s a long way from being able to do that yet but still has enough functionality to be meaningful. For more information, head of user experience at Mozilla Aza Raskin has published an in-depth overview on his blog.
One of the core problems with a project such as this is always the extensibility of it, the ability for contributors to create Ubiquity commands for their web services. Being an open-source project, that was foremost in the developers' minds when it was created. A rapidly growing selection of third-party commands are already being posted at the commands in the wild page which bodes well for the sustainability and adoptability of the project.
Natural language input has featured in a number of system level projects, Enso on windows and Quicksilver for Mac - but the core difference here is the move to the browser itself becoming the platform. Ubiquity has a long journey ahead to convince mainstream users of the value of that, but it’s a great start and chance to get in on the ground floor of what could become a hugely important application in the future.
Other natural language input: