The Internet is a snazzy place. Many of us have come to rely on it for tasks as varied as reading news from around the world, keeping in touch with people we'd rather not call, exposing ourselves to hip new music and auctioning off prized junk of questionable value. While the possibilities are vast and exciting, keeping track of all the widgets in our Internet toolbox is getting to be a messier and messier affair. Innovation is grand, but we need simplicity.
Fortunately, the online universe is rife with clever software-developing enthusiasts like Jonathan Aquino of Victoria, British Columbia, who donate generous helpings of their time and creativity to lead the charge toward a simpler, better Internet experience. Aquino is the brains behind YubNub-a new Web-based application ambitiously designed to be the universal resource that will house every website, news resource, online retail catalogue-you name it-one would ever need to consult.
The YubNub (which translates into "hooray" in the fictional Ewok language) Web page possesses a distinctly Google-esque look -and feel: clean, simple and organized around a one-line text box. But unlike Google, YubNub can leverage (i.e., get inside and pull information from) almost any other search utility on the Web today, and not just find pages strictly under the purview of the Googleplex.
Consider that the surfing you might do during a typical day could take you to several different sites to perform a number of tasks: perhaps you'll browse for a CD title using Amazon, search for a new blog on Technorati, seek a phone number from Canada411, get directions using Google Maps, or check stocks on Yahoo!. Using YubNub, you can perform any of these tasks directly from its front-page text box using short, convenient commands. Typing "am radiohead" will perform a search on Amazon's database for Radiohead products. Keying in "tec george bush" will use Technorati's search engine to find the latest blog posts about the US president. Taking this further, you can even specify multiple parameters. For example, entering "c411 -l smith -c montreal" will instantly extract from Canada411's directory all Smiths living in Montreal.
Confused? While the commands themselves may not seem intuitive, suggested command lines are listed just below YubNub's text box. After experimenting with a few of these easy functions-and seeing their instantaneous results-what emerges is a picture of simplicity where once there was chaos, or at least a lot of wasted time. Aquino calls it "a social command line for the Web," which harkens back to those pre-Windows days when personal computers only took orders in the form of textual commands. While reverting to an arcane interface may seem like a step backward, it takes only a few uses to appreciate that consolidating the dense jungle of Web applications into a single easy-to-use text box makes a heck of a lot of sense.
Perhaps the best feature of YubNub is its ability to allow users to contribute their owncommands for searches they find useful. This means that anyone with an idea for a useful function has the freedom to define how their new command will work.
This collaborative, communal culture is reminiscent of Wikipedia, the wildly successful free online encyclopedia written and reviewed by its readers. If you're not yet familiar with it, the "wiki" movement encourages users to submit their own content, thus creating an ever-morphing body of knowledge that (theoretically) improves as it grows. Wikipedia-with its 1.6 million articles and its 60 million hits daily-proves that open, collaborative projects can become authoritatively important. It is only by embracing the wiki's co-operative ethos that YubNub's laughably small group of developers could create-with no financial backing-a robust technology that may one day be used by millions.
Co-operative philosophy notwithstanding, the cynical may view YubNub as a superfluous tool, failing to contribute much to an already rich and user-friendly Web surfing experience. This outlook, though, fails to grasp the essence of the Internet age: simplicity rules. The rise of the Web speaks volumes about our insatiable desire to have more and speedier access to information of any kind. Today's inherently lazy Web surfer (it's okay to admit it) will invariably seek the most convenient way to get things done. YubNub's command line-which represents the height of convenience by doing away with the need to navigate a maze of links and bookmarks, fumble through menus or type long addresses-will succeed for the very reason that it understands the modern necessity to simplify, consolidate and enable. Type a few easy commands, hit enter, and just like that (insert finger snapping sound here) you're looking at the results you needed.
Convenience may be the mantra of today's YubNub, but its core purpose is already evolving into something far more fascinating. Emergent functionality will allow you to chain YubNub commandstogether, letting you not only access data but manipulate it as you see fit. How might this work? Think of performing a Web search for North American cities, then piping the results into another command which looks up the weather forecasts for each, and displays images of their skylines-only an example of what may one day be possible.
This kind of unprecedented flexibility is pretty cool but, more than cool, it represents a significant stride toward the realization of the much-heralded Web-based operating system (webOS)-still a nascent entity today, existing in concept only. The idea of a webOS embraces the notion that the Internet, once thought of as the interconnection of myriad computers, has now transmogrified into a vast computer in and of itself. We've seen this trend in action: consider the movement from desktop-centric software (e-mail, and road atlas CD-ROMs, for example) to Web-based counterparts (Gmail and MapQuest). Technologies like YubNub, which put these new Web applications to work in concert under one umbrella, empower Internauts to be ever more creative in how we use the Web.
Extreme convenience now and near-limitless power over how we access and play with the world's information tomorrow: that's YubNub in a nutshell. And as it matures, YubNub will allow so much more. Searches feeding other searches. Information begetting information. Mashing up the entire Web. All this with YubNub at the center, the beating heart of tomorrow's creative and communal Internet landscape. Wishful thinking? Only slightly. But snazzy? No question.