Connecting the web with Firefox and Ubiquity

Mozilla Labs has released the first public release of Ubiquity, a Firefox extension that has been in the works for a few months now and introduced during the Mozilla Summit, last month.

It is really hard to explain what it does but here are a couple of examples:


  • select a piece of text you want to translate
  • press Ctrl + Space to invoke the Ubiquity command line, type trans and press Enter.
  • a translated version of the selected text replaces the content in the actual page.


  • select a piece of text you want to share by email
  • press Ctrl + Space to invoke the Ubiquity command line, type email this to, select a contact (pulled from your Gmail contacts) and press Enter.
  • you get a Gmail compose page ready for you to press Send to complete the asked action.

Better to see it in action in this demo provided by Aza Raskin.

Ubiquity for Firefox from Aza Raskin on Vimeo.

So, what it does is provide a natural language-esque way to interact with the current page content to modify it or connect it with other web services, in old command line style which may be a better, faster way to interact with browser in some situations.

Also, unlike other approaches like Operator (a Firefox extension that recognizes microformatted web content and lets you operate with them) or, to a lesser degree, Internet Explorer 8’s activities, it is capable of inline interaction: the commands I enter can modify the current content (translate, highlight, insert a map) and are not limited to passing along pieces of text loading these services in different pages, disrupting my current work flow.

Like Operator, it is extensible: web developers (or enthusiasts) can define more verbs you can subscribe to. For example, if you are a the owner of an ticket system, you could define a ticket verb, that passes the selected text (an event), looks for tickets for it and links to the reservation system. Since the user is subscribed to the service, as you add more features you can ensure users will benefit of them as they become available.

Unlike Operator, which works with well defined semantics (microformats), Ubiquity has to guess what your selection is and what is most likely what you want to do. Which is not a bad thing though, given the very low level of adoption microformats currently have.

Ubiquity is another in an already long number of experiments Mozilla is running to improve the way users access and benefit from the web.

You can try Ubiquity, learn it, and extend it.  And if feeling really creative, use this tutorial to design your own verb.

8 thoughts on “Connecting the web with Firefox and Ubiquity”

  1. Wow. IE8 is not even “out” yet and Mozilla is already surpassing its features. I can’t wait to try this!

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