Mozilla Labs has launched a prototype of a software service that lets nontechnical Web users create mashups, those marriages of applications such as Google Maps and other information to create more useful apps.
As the name implies, Ubiquity is intended to bring together any Web content in what is largely a disconnected Web.
Our current iteration of the Internet, Web 2.0, lets users generate a lot of content, but that content is largely siloed in different repositories. Ubiquity aims to create new user interfaces that could make it possible for everyone to carry out common Web tasks more quickly and easily.
For example, Ubiquity takes more traditional Web 2.0 mashups a step forward. Today's mashups are problematic for the average Web user because they are static, require Web development skills and are created for specific Web sites, wrote Aza Raskin, Mozilla Labs' head of user experience, in a blog post Aug. 26.
Programmers know how to access this content, pull data from different apps together and create mashups of two or more apps. But Joe Web User has to leverage the mashups of the programmers because he lacks the knowledge and training to create his own mashups.
Ubiquity 0.1 will let users perform such tasks as e-mailing friends or colleagues maps of locations; translating text to a different language directly from a Web page; searching key sites including Google, Wikipedia, Yahoo, YouTube, Amazon.com, Digg and Twitter; and finding and inserting reviews from local search site Yelp.
Here is Raskin's reasoning for why we need Ubiquity:
"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."
In a video demonstration, Raskin used Ubiquity to highlight a restaurant in a Gmail e-mail to a friend, select a "map it" instruction from the Ubiquity tool bar in Firefox, tailor the map and insert it into Gmail. Then he added a restaurant review from Yelp to the e-mail and booked the appointment into his Google Calendar.
"It's 2008 and I can't actually add a map to my e-mail," Raskin noted in the video. "We want to empower the user to be able to make mashups on their own, not have to wait for a developer to do it for them."
All of the code for the Ubiquity experiment is being released as open-source software under the GPL/MPL/LGPL tri-license.
Ubiquity is very forward-looking, so forward-looking that I think it's Web 2.5-worthy, for lack of an official descriptor for the next iteration of the Internet.
I haven't had a chance to play with Ubiquity yet, but if this service works as easily as what I saw in Raskin's video demo, the tool will be a huge hit with users, particularly because of the integrations with Yelp, Twitter, Google and other Web services.
Giving lay Web surfers the ability to mash up and manipulate content to their hearts' content is great, especially because it's open source. Let's hope more Web service providers hop on board to support Ubiquity if it passes muster with testers.