Tools for Thought

Thinking beyond productivity

15 Ubiquity Commands to Enhance Your Web Experience

by Andre · 37 Comments

Mozilla Labs UbiquityYesterday Google released its new Chrome browser. I anxiously downloaded it, tried it, then uninstalled it after 15 minutes. I failed to come across anything that compensated for the lack of extension support. Firefox has too many extensions I’m simply not willing to give up. One of these is the previously discussed add-on for the YubNub command line tool. Last week, Mozilla Labs released another console extension along similar lines that’s become indispensible to me: Ubiquity.

Once you install the extension, you call up the console window by hitting Ctrl-Space. What’s especially nice about Ubquity’s interface is that it overlays the currently displayed web page as a translucent modal window, so queries can be performed without losing sight of the information that most likely provoked the lookup. In some cases, though not enough at the moment, query results are displayed inline — directly in the console window — instead of switching focus to a new page or tab.

15 commands in action

Ubiquity handles natural language command phrases, so you can theoretically enter a command the way you intuit it, without having to learn the formal syntax. Like all putative natural language processing by computer, your mileage may vary.

Many of the commands can be abbreviated to the minimum number of letters unique to their targets. While “m” will bring up the MSN search command as the first selection, you can use “ma” to evoke the map command directly. To avoid variations that might change as new commands are added, I’ll stick to either the full commands or abbreviations that might be further abbreviated.

  1. Embedded mapMap. If Ubiquity did nothing but look up maps and embed them into an email, it would still be worth the installation. Any any message you compose in a web-based mail program, you can highlight the term you want to search, hit Ctrl-Space, type map, and the results will show up inline. Click on the relevant result, hit Space, pan or zoom to refine the Google Map displayed, then click on the footer, Insert map into page. Voila! Your recepient sees a whole map in your message, not a link. I’ve wanted this feature in Google Maps for years.
  2. Email. This Gmail-only command allows you to send a page, a selection on a page, or a unique message. As with all Ubiquity commands, bring up the console by hitting Ctrl-Space. If you want to send a link to your current page to a friend, type Email to [contact name], where the contact name can be anyone in your Gmail contacts, and hit Enter. Ubiquity will even recognize first names, so Email to Fred will work fine.

    If you want to send a snippet of the page to Fred, highlight the selection, call up the console and type Email this to Fred. Ubiquity will substitute “this” with your selection. If you want to send a new message to Fred, like “Thanks for sending that file!”, type Email Thanks for sending that file! to Fred. Unfortunately, these messages open in a Gmail compose window in a new page or tab, but all you have to do from that point is hit Send.

  3. Google. You knew this was coming. Preceding any term with the letter “g” followed by a space performs a search on that term. Like the normal Google search box, you can use advanced search operators for queries like “chrome -google”. Typing any phrase that’s not preceded by something Ubiquity recognizes as a command will run as a Google search by default, so “getting a passport to spain” will — you guessed it — do a Google search on that phrase. If you highlight a word or phrase on a page, you can enter g this into Ubiquity, and Google will search the highlighted text that replaces “this.”
  4. Wiki. Same principle, different service. You can search Wikipedia on a highlighted term by entering wiki this, or you can do the same with a new entry by hand (“w antonio gaudi”).
  5. Add. This “add-to-calendar” command adds a new or highlighted selection to Google Calendar. Unlike Gmail, the event gets added in the background, and the entry is confirmed in a popup window. To reiterate, Ubiquity accepts natural language entries, so “Dinner with Melanie Thursday at 7pm” will get slated correctly.
  6. Check. Entering check [day or date] into Ubiqity will display your GCal entries inline. Entering check by itself returns today’s calendar.
  7. Weather. Entering we [city-state or zip code] into Ubiquity will display the current weather inline: the temperature, smog condition, wind velocity and humidity. I use this in conjunction with the email or twit command to tease my friends outside of California’s perpertually perfect climate.
  8. Twit. As much as I love full-featured Twitter clients like TweetDeck, nothing beats the simplicity of hitting Ctrl-Space and typing twit [message] to so_and_so, or sending a selection of text using twit this to so_and_so. At the moment, there’s no way to receive tweets or ping Twitter for new messages.
  9. Word count. As a student of copywriting, I’m frequently curious about an article’s word length. Highlighting the desired text and entering word count into Ubiquity will give you just that. There used to be a Firefox extension that did the same with a context menu, but it seems to have disappeared.
  10. Translate. You can translate a new entry or selected text. For new entries, type translate [word or phrase] from [language] to [language], and the result is displayed inline. If you translate this to english for highlighted text on a page, Ubiquity will actually replace the text directly on the page. When it works, it’s amazing, but I’ve had mixed results with this command. It’s worth pointing out that Ubiquity is currently at version 0.1.1 — an alpha release.
  11. Define. Being able to do a dictionary lookup without leaving your current page by typing define [term] or simply highlighting a word, then entering define into Ubquity, is a lot less annoying that having to look up the word in a new tab. With highlighted words, there’s no need to add “this” to define.
  12. Highlight. To annotate a selection with persistent highlighting, drag the cursor over the selection and type highlight into Ubiquity. When you deselect it, the text is left with a yellow highlight.
  13. Delete. You can actually delete images and text by highlighting (selecting) them and entering delete into Ubiquity.
  14. Undo. If you get carried away with highlighting and deleting passages, enter undo.
  15. Digg. Feel free to use this one for this article.

Technorati Tags: , , , , , ,

Tags: Productivity · Technology


  • ChuckNo Gravatar // Sep 4, 2008 at 2:06 pm

    undo does not seem to remove highlights.

  • WinawerNo Gravatar // Sep 4, 2008 at 4:50 pm

    Curiously, I selected item #13 and used delete, but following that with undo didn’t restore the text. However, I discovered that you could instead use undelete, which *did* restore the text.

  • Matthew WilliamsNo Gravatar // Sep 4, 2008 at 5:23 pm

    The Tinyurl command has been a popular command with me as of lately. Especially with Twitter. Get the long URL in the clipboard, fire up Ubiquity, “ti ctrl-v, enter” and the nice small URL gets pasted in your Tweet immediately.

    This tool is quickly becoming a game changer.

  • leesaNo Gravatar // Sep 4, 2008 at 6:25 pm

    i want to like ubiquity but i’m frustrated by the fact that what i consider its most useful feature “email this…” isn’t working for me. maybe i’m being dumb but what happens is :

    1. i highlight text and perhaps an image
    2. i call up ubiquity, type “email this to (contact)

    3. and it brings up a gmail compose message with the selected content as its meant to….

    but it shows all the html formatting. when i send it mails the message with all that formatting showing. in other words, whoever gets the email sees “a href=” img src=”” etc.

    doesn’t matter what email client they’re viewing it with; gmail, apple mail, outlook, hotmail, etc.

    so meh. am i missing something here?

  • BrianNo Gravatar // Sep 4, 2008 at 7:11 pm

    @lisa, you need to take your gmail account out of text-only mode first. There should be a link just above your compose window in gmail that says “Rich Formatting”. Click that to make the text-formatting toolbar appear, then discard your message draft and try the Ubiquity command again.

  • AndreNo Gravatar // Sep 4, 2008 at 7:13 pm

    @Chuck: I’ve only ever used the feature in conjunction with delete. I’ve never had the impulse to undo a highlight. You can refresh the page if you haven’t lock in the highlight with the save command, and it will get rid of the highlight.

  • AndreNo Gravatar // Sep 4, 2008 at 7:20 pm

    @Matthew: I’m hoping that Ubiquity will support pipes in the near future. Then I could tweet a pasted tinyurl in a single command line: twit ti this. (That’s actually redirection more than piping, but you get the idea).

  • AndreNo Gravatar // Sep 4, 2008 at 7:26 pm

    @leesa: That’s happened to me a few times, and I can’t find the common denominator, since it’s inconsistent. Usually if I discard the compose wind with the HTML code, go back to my highlighted text, then run the email this a second time, it formats correctly. I wish I could do more than just attribute the problem to Ubiquity being in alpha.

  • A Penguin in the Orchard » Blog Archive » links for 2008-09-04 // Sep 4, 2008 at 7:36 pm

    [...] 15 Ubiquity Commands to Enhance Your Web Experience Once you install the extension, you call up the console window by hitting Ctrl-Space. What’s especially nice about Ubquity’s interface is that it overlays the currently displayed web page as a translucent modal window, so queries can be performed without losing sight of the information that most likely provoked the lookup. In some cases, though not enough at the moment, query results are displayed inline — directly in the console window — instead of switching focus to a new page or tab. (tags: mozilla firefox ubiquity tips) [...]

  • prester johnNo Gravatar // Sep 4, 2008 at 7:45 pm

    @Chuck. I’ve had success removing highlights with the remove-annotations command.

  • Ubiquity commands « Later On // Sep 5, 2008 at 12:03 am

    [...] in Daily life, Firefox, Software at 5:03 pm by LeisureGuy Via Lifehacker, this very interesting post on the Firefox add-on [...]

  • links for 2008-09-04 « Where Is All This Leading To? // Sep 5, 2008 at 1:02 am

    [...] 15 Ubiquity Commands to Enhance Your Web Experience (tags: browsers addons ubiquity software tutorial tools howto cli browser firefox webapp extension addon plugins mozilla extensions commands) [...]

  • AbiNo Gravatar // Sep 5, 2008 at 1:03 am

    We’re aware of the Gmail HTML formatting bug. The thing is it will work as expected if you already have GMail open in another window or tab. But if there’s no Gmail tab, we try to open a new tab and pass it the HTML and somehow, Gmail sees the HTML as text in this case. This bug is a tough one to crack. We’re still working on it. :)

  • links for 2008-09-04 (Jarrett House North) // Sep 5, 2008 at 2:31 am

    [...] 15 Ubiquity Commands to Enhance Your Web Experience An interesting runthrough of some of the default Ubiquity commands. (tags: ubiquity,firefox) [...]

  • clareNo Gravatar // Sep 5, 2008 at 2:42 am

    Hi I’m really excited to get to use this new tool, but I’ve been having a huge problem with it. I REALLY NEED HELP!!!
    Here’s what i’ve been doing… i install the add-on, restart the browser and i think i’m all set. I press control space (i’m a pc user) and then a window pops up. This is the first line:

    from there its a whole lot of html text, which is way to advanced for me to possibly understand.

    I’ve heard so much about this new tool and it started by finding your blog! I’m so excited but right now i’m feeling a little frustrated. Please help.

  • DBNo Gravatar // Sep 5, 2008 at 5:15 am

    I am having the same problem. I have tried Brian’s suggestion without success. I am using gmail redesigned 2.0. Maybe that is the reason.

  • DBNo Gravatar // Sep 5, 2008 at 5:23 am

    Actually, I just figured it out. You need the gmail inbox to be open for it to work properly. I hope this helps.

  • StephenNo Gravatar // Sep 5, 2008 at 5:46 am

    It was mentioned that you can “use weather in conjunction with email or twit…” how does one do this? I would like to be able to use email in conjunction with “define…” but can’t figure out how. Suggestions?


  • | news and opinion // Sep 5, 2008 at 3:09 pm

    15 Ubiquity Commands to Enhance Your Web Experience |…

    \r\nOnce you install the extension, you call up the console window by hitting Ctrl-Space. Whats espe…

  • Ubiquity Redux: 15 More Commands to Get More from the Web // Sep 5, 2008 at 10:57 pm

    [...] Get Tools for Thought (RSS | Email ) ← 15 Ubiquity Commands to Enhance Your Web Experience [...]

  • Towards a “History This” Command Line « history-ing // Sep 6, 2008 at 4:59 am

    [...] positive and excited reviews from the tech community, from folks at Lifehacker to Hackaday to Tools for Thought. The extension currently allows for a variety of commands. The common example that everyone likes [...]

  • Enso: Ubiquity’s Offline Sibling // Sep 9, 2008 at 11:49 pm

    [...] in its alpha stage of growth, Ubiquity has demonstrated itself as a powerful extension to Firefox search and navigation, but it has one [...]

  • Two Mindsets for Approaching New Technology // Sep 18, 2008 at 8:59 pm

    [...] change. Sometimes that involves adopting new technology, sometimes it involves renunciation. Ubiquity was one I adopted, the iPhone is one I’ve renounced. In reply to  my last post, 10 [...]

  • links for 2008-10-20 « Iveney’s Weblog // Oct 20, 2008 at 8:01 am

    [...] 15 Ubiquity Commands to Enhance Your Web Experience | Tools for Thought | Tools for Thought (tags: ubiquity) [...]

  • SamNo Gravatar // Oct 20, 2008 at 1:25 pm

    @Clare It may be something with your hotkey… “ctrl+space” ctrl+space didn’t work for me, it just started displaying html… What I did, was enter “about:ubiquity” (without the quotes) in the address bar of firefox… then I changed the hotkey command to meta+space and it all works fine for me now…

  • Web 2.0 tools continued . . . : Telcop Blog // Nov 18, 2008 at 4:31 am

    [...] bar. With Ubiquity installed, you’ll be able to tell Firefox what you want it to do by typing commands into a new Ubiquity input box. Ubiquity is a beguiling add on and if you embrace its nuances it [...]

  • ChenchoNo Gravatar // Nov 21, 2008 at 6:55 am

    Well this seems to be like a blog for ubiquity, so… I hope some will know about this, or already have issues trying to highlight some pages in internet.

    For example pages from BBC. News. I have do it, and sometimes the command just don’t work and nothing is highlight, also we I highlight something and then I come back to see my annotations Firefox starts to reload the page continuisly and finally it crash. And I have to restart it. Does any one knows about it???

  • 5 Digital Technologies That Improved My Life in 2008 - The Technology Liberation Front // Nov 21, 2008 at 9:22 pm

    [...] it. And so on, and so on. Here’s lists of the command prompts at your disposal (1, 2, [...]

  • pamNo Gravatar // Jan 2, 2009 at 11:46 pm

    I just stumbled across this article, and it’s got some great hints. Thanks!

    While I am here, though, there’s still a Firefox addon that counts words for you, and I prefer it to the Ubiquity command. It’s Word Count Plus. It now comes with keyword shortcuts, even.

  • Carsonified » Blog Archive » The Future is One Ubiquitous Interface to the Web // Feb 4, 2009 at 6:56 am

    [...] Map, Email, Google, Wiki, Add to calendar, Check calendar, Weather, Tweet, Word count, Translate, Define, Highlight, Delete, Undo, Digg … and more (great write-up of these commands). [...]

  • Keyword searches as a Web command line // Mar 9, 2009 at 1:47 am

    [...] searches as a Web command line By S Anand on September 5th, 2008 under Coding. Andre’s mentions dumping Google Chrome because of lack of extension support, especially Ubiquity, and lists 15 [...]

  • Ubiquity for Firefox, command-line interface for your favourite browser « // May 15, 2009 at 11:37 am

    [...] Once install (installation is as simple as a normal Firefox add-on) it is very easy to use. Let say you want to search on particular term you found on a web page, you can just select that term, pres Ctrl + Space to open the Ubiquity window and just type Google in the command line. It will give you Google search results for the selected term on the right hand panel of Ubiquity window. You can fine few useful commands by reading the following article, 15 Ubiquity Commands to Enhance Your Web Experience. [...]

  • Square Eyez » links for 2009-05-21 // May 21, 2009 at 6:30 am

    [...] 15 Ubiquity Commands to Enhance Your Web Experience | Tools for Thought | Tools for Thought (tags: firefox ubiquity tips) [...]

  • volksNo Gravatar // Oct 11, 2009 at 6:22 pm

    so why is there no support?

  • YNo Gravatar // Nov 21, 2009 at 4:06 pm


    My email command does not work at all. For instance, I highlight something and type email this to [friend]. When I hit enter, ubiquity closes, but the gmail compose window does not open. I am logged in to gmail, and it is open in another tab, and ubiquity seems to recognize what I want it to do (it says something to the effect of send an email to [friend] with content [highlighted text].) However, it doesn’t work. Help please!

  • YNo Gravatar // Nov 21, 2009 at 8:31 pm


    I have gotten it to send emails! Unfortunately, to do this, gmail must not be open in another tab or another window. It’s a bit inconvenient, as I would like the ability to send someone something directly from a website, as mozilla advertises, but I would also like to be able to quickly see my emails. The get last email command isn’t very helpful, as it only shows one email, and it shows just its preview as a notification, rather than all of it. If anyone could give me an idea as to how to get this to work seamlessly, it would be much appreciated.

  • xxxNo Gravatar // Mar 25, 2010 at 2:43 am

    i dunno why i just cant get the email command to work for me…
    1. i highlight text
    2. i call up ubiquity, type “email this to (contact) and press Enter

    3. and it brings up the gmail inbox rather than the compose frame with the selected content as its meant to….

    Am i missing something???
    Thanks in advance!!