Marketing in a Minute

Ubiquity LogoAza Raskin is one of the smartest people I know, but sadly I have not kept up with his endeavors since before he and some of his colleagues at Humanized joined Mozilla Labs last year. In recent days, he’s popped up on my radar again because his latest product, Ubiquity, has garnered a lot of buzz on the Internets.

While I have great faith in Aza and his team’s talent, and while I’m pretty sure that the product itself is almost certainly worthwhile, I have to be honest: I have no idea what it does. As of this writing, I lack a clear understanding of its function or purpose. This is largely because, though I’ve come across references to it many times, the marketing hasn’t worked for me.

Blow by Blow

By way of illustration, here is a quick recounting of those initial first few minutes of my exposure to Ubiquity.

First, I came across this simple mention of the product in Tina Roth Eisenberg’s Swiss Miss blog. This is actually a great example of how little help a software publisher can expect from a blogger in telling a product’s story, as Tina provides a very pure vessel for communication, typically refraining from commentary on most all of the links she provides. In this case she links to an introductory video for Ubiquity — my first real exposure to the product — and allows it to explain itself.

Ubiquity on Swiss Miss

Or to fend for itself, as the case may be. Notice that the player indicates that the video is six minutes and forty-three seconds long. That’s about five minutes and forty-three seconds longer than I have the time for during the workday. Still, the post had Aza’s name on it, so I watched the first half-minute or so, which unfortunately were spent establishing the rationale for the product, and not explaning what the product does.

Feeling impatient, I clicked through to the Vimeo page, shown below, in hopes that it might provide more information about the product.

Ubiquity on Vimeo

While it certainly features more text than the Swiss Miss post, most of the copy above the fold again focuses on establishing the rationale for Ubiquity at the expense of telling me exactly what the product does.

Even clicking on the apparently high-value link that appears on that page and going over to the Mozilla Labs project page yields more of the same.

Ubiquity on Mozlla Labs

Here again, there is more sizzle than steak. I’ve already actively clicked through twice in search of a succinct explanation of the product, with little result. And, frankly, at this point my attentions were drawn elsewhere, and I never dug any deeper.

Granted, the amount of time I’ve spent absorbing information about Ubiquity, distributed across a few Web browsing, Twitter and RSS sessions, probably totals less than five minutes. That’s not a lot of time in which to make a pitch… except that it’s all that many products get. I happened to know Aza and so I was predisposed to an interest in his work. But in any other instance in which I would have no personal connection with the people behind a product I doubt I would’ve gotten even as far as I did.

However, here’s the saving grace of missed marketing opportunities: I spotted this Twitter post yesterday afternoon:

Ubiquity on Twitter

That started to rekindle my interest in Ubiquity, and I expect I’ll do a little more digging to learn what this product really does. Marketing isn’t everything. If you build a really good product, people will use it and talk about it.



  1. Now I still doesn’t know what it does… and I don’t want to waste five minutes on it either! 😉

    At least this is a good lesson in marketing…

  2. Given that the intro video labels Ubiquity as an “alpha 0.1 prototype” its not surprising that very little quality has been invested in its “marketing”.

    It reminds me more of a developer’s brainstorm implementation. I would interpret this as an attempt to raise interest and provoke feedback/collaboration from other developers as opposed to launch a product for the general public.

  3. I agree that they have some work to do on marketing, but it’s in alpha. And if you have the time to write this post, you certainly have 5 minutes to watch a video of a product from a trusted source.

    Ubiquity is a command interface that allows you to use plain language to complete complex tasks across your many web services and social networks.

    Example: Want to map 6 apartments from Craigslist on one map? Simple, just select the apartments you want with the cursor, then invoke Ubiquity (with Option-Space) and type “map these”. Ubiquity parses the data from Craigslist and produces a map with all 6 of the apartments you wanted.

    Ubiquity also allows you to write your own plugins to interface with any web API. I’m currently using it with Evernote to collect clippings. Here’s a list of available add-on commands:

  4. In essence, it aspires to be Quicksilver for the web, allowing you to quickly email/twitter/search, etc, right from a quickly summoned key combination within Firefox. That and the Firebug/Web Developer Toolbar combination are the reasons I moved from Safari to Firefox.

  5. “Given that the intro video labels Ubiquity as an “alpha 0.1 prototype” its not surprising that very little quality has been invested in its “marketing”.”

    Actually, the video is nothing but marketing. It’s not a demo, it’s a disembodied voice yammering endlessly about how awesome Ubiquity will be, without showing anything.

    I should have had the wisdom to check out even earlier than I did, like KV did.

  6. I had the same “what does it actually do?” problem with Ubiquity. And after finally figuring it out, I made the same realization that Jodi points out: it’s Quicksilver for the web. This, to me, is extremely amusing, considering the fact that back in the day when the Mac world was all abuzz about Quicksilver, it took me SO LONG to figure out what THAT was.

    That said, I feel that both Quicksilver and Ubiquity are indeed interesting, but totally not for me. I don’t need to learn yet another interface. I would prefer to spend my time mastering the interfaces I already have. Until Apple starts designing their OS specifically for quicksilver, or web designers around the world start designing their webpages specifically for Ubiquity, I’ll pass.

  7. Uniquity is a set of tools that let developers combine or interact with websites in ways unintended by the site developers. By installing it you can subscribe to a developer’s hack stream and take advantage of his work. This is just a different way of saying that it’s quicksilver for the web.

  8. Hey Khoi,

    I’m blushing hard enough that you can probably see me turn red all the way from NY: that’s quiet a compliment coming from you.

    That’s excellent feedback, re: not knowing what Ubiquity does. As others have mentioned, it is an early-stage Mozilla Lab’s alpha project, so we haven’t really turned on the marketing juice — and like most things viral, Ubiquity’s popularity despite its fledgling form took us by surprise. (I also admit, I got carried away with playing with flying typography in our made-in-an-afternoon video).

    Ubiquity, though, is a large concept. Connecting the web with language seems like a good tag-line, but even then that only captures some of the vision. Part of the problem is that it is a platform, and part of the problem is that it is a new paradigm of interaction: Imagine trying to describe what exactly Windows did before people knew about operating systems. And now do it in a minute.

    That all said, we could do a lot better. And the answer probably revolves around focusing on concrete use cases: a major contributing factor that made Ubiquity viral was including a Twitter command by default.

    I’d love to see a follow up post, Khoi, which explores answering the question: How do you market a platform in a minute? How do you set context without committing point-last exposition?

    @Dennis: I think you are reacting to the old form of command-lines. The one’s written by overly parsimonious engineers from the 60’s. The most expressive form of communication we have is language — and that’s largely missing from our interactions with the computer. Think people, not technology.

    There are a number of linguistic interfaces that everyone uses. It might surprise you.

  9. I have to agree. I find Ubiquity very tough to find out about, even though I use it quite a bit. I recently moved to Copenhagen and use it all the time to check out maps for shops & people, and also to translate sections of pages quickly. It’s invaluable when apartment hunting through danish langauge websites.

    However, getting any info on it is tough. There doesn’t seem to be one single central page of info on it, what it is, where to download it. Even given it’s in alpha it should have a somewhat central home, even if they just link off to other sites.

    Lads, if you’re reading this – make one primary page for ubiquity that I can use as a starting point for me & other people.

  10. Hey Khoi, thanks for the post. I’m really digging this idea because once polished, sites can finally kill those social networking chiclets running amuck at the base of every article page. Also, no more article tools (i.e. “print this, email this, etc.”)!

  11. Actually, I really like Ubiquity. I was first turned on to it by referral from Subtraction, but now that I’ve seen the tutorial I know that this is a tool that I will use on a daily basis. The tutorial was simple in explanation and surprised me at every step, and it was worth watching. With all the “look what I found!” sharing that I do with family and friends, it was automatically understood that it would suit my needs. I think that this product will have no problem explaining itself when time comes.

    Perhaps it’s simply premature to argue about its marketing tactics just yet… at least until it hits beta.

Thank you! Your remarks have been sent to Khoi.