The rise of the awesome search bars
The recent months have seen the emergence of new concepts / prototypes / products related to search bars, either on web sites or directly embedded into browsers. The following examples, with various degrees of maturity, shows that innovation in this area will mean simpler access to data and services in the near future.
Firefox 3 & Ubiquity
Dubbed the “AwesomeBar”, it lets you use the URL field of your browser to do a keyword search of your history and bookmarks. No longer do you have to know the domain of the page you’re looking for — the AwesomeBar will match what you’re typing (even multiple words!) against the URLs, page titles, and tags in your bookmarks and history, returning results sorted by “frecency” (an algorithm combining frequency + recency).
[Ubiquity is] a Mozilla Labs experiment into connecting the Web with language in an attempt to find new user interfaces that could make it possible for everyone to do common Web tasks more quickly and easily.
So far, the current Ubiquity 0.1 extension to Firefox 3 integrates simple commands like searching main websites through a command line. See the example below to launch a query on Amazon:
But the vision for Ubiquity is to understand complex queries formulated in natural language, and provide results through searching and mashing up services. I.e: “book a flight to Chicago next Monday to Thursday, no red-eyes, the cheapest. Then email my Chicago friends the itinary, and add it to my calendar“.
The big buzz of the past week was the release of Chrome, the browser by Google. In terms of usability, one of the main innovation brought by Google is again the location bar. Google succeeded in blending the search bar and the location bar. If it’s straightforward to play with this new bar, there is also some expert options. For instance, go on Amazon, search a product on the Amazon site; the next time, you type “amazon” in the Chrome bar, press “TAB” on your keyboard to directly search on Amazon from the Chrome bar. Simply efficient.
what is tripeedo? tripeedo is a better, faster way to search for airfares. No more complicated, outdated interfaces. No tiny calendars to click on, no endless drop-down lists, no “sorry, we couldn’t find that airport” error messages. With tripeedo, we’ve replaced it all with one simple search bar.
how tripeedo works. Just type in the details of your trip — tripeedo will figure it out. Don’t know an airport code? That’s okay, just enter the city name — or even just the first few letters. tripeedo is smart. You can enter dates in a ton of different formats. You can even specify things like your preferred airline, seat class, and different types of passengers. As you type, tripeedo gives you a live preview of your search. That way, you can be sure you’ll get exactly what you’re looking for. You can also choose from lots of different travel providers, including Kayak, Expedia, Orbitz, and Travelocity. We’ll be adding more providers in the weeks ahead, so stay tuned. When you’ve entered all your details, just hit go or enter. tripeedo instantly redirects you to your search results.
Tripeedo is a web application, not an extension of a browser. But basically what Tripeedo brings is a first implementation of the vision behind Ubiquity, a more natural way to search and mash information on the web. In a rather long post, the Tripeedo team explains the difference between its product and the current release of Ubiquity:
And this gets to the heart of the differences between the two products. With Wundrbar [or Tripeedo], we process the semantic information that a user enters to better understand what they’re trying to achieve. By recognizing entities like zip codes, movie titles, and train stations, we can not only provide a user with guidance as they search, but we can better understand the intent of the search itself. It’s one thing to redirect someone to Amazon.com with a search string attached — it’s quite another to really understand what that search string means, and to pull in related information that may be relevant to the user, and may not come from Amazon.com at all. Ultimately we think this will be one of Wundrbar’s greatest strengths — to really understand searches and commands, to draw information from multiple services, and to connect users to information in ways never before possible.
While innovation on the search bars through the analysis of natural language will help our overall search experience whatever the domain, it’s clear the online shopping experience -as showed in the examples above – can greatly benefit from such progress. I can’t wait seeing a version 0.2 and maybe in the near future a 1.0 of Ubiquity that achieves the vision defined by its authors. In the meantime, I will follow the progress of Tripeedo, a real product more than a research tool; i.e: I’m really intrigued if Tripeedo will be launched for other languages than English.