The Modern Command Line

Jeremy Zawodny notes that most of Google’s applications present two UI modes.

“1. Type into the box and hit the button. Look at results.
2. Use other navigation to browse. Repeat.”

With search and others use mode 1, and others use Mode 2

He closes by asking;

I’m not convinced that the “one box” view of the world is going to be the primary mode of interaction over the next few years. Are you?

I’m not convinced either, but I do think that the ‘one box” interface is pretty powerful and 3 years ago I observed that Google seemed well on their way to becoming the command line for the internet age, which sounds a bit like I’m damming them with faint praise, but the truth is quite the opposite. Command lines offer you an entrypoint into an almost infinite world of information in a tiny space.

Google is evolving into the command line for the information age, and I think it is great.

I just stumbled across its ability to give a phone directory listing for people when you include a city along with their name in the search box. Once it works properly for businesses, this will soothe a long-time frustration with web phone directories.

It always seemed to take too much clicking and typing to get a useful answer, but I never looked up numbers often enough to justify having any dedicated UI exposed to facilitate finding them. Now, I don’t need to, because the functionality is hidden on the google toolbar.

The great power of the command line is that it can provide access to a nearly infinite amount of functionality and information in a small amount of space. The classical limitation of a command line is that the means to accessing that information is opaque. The user must know before and the proper commands.

This limitation is addressed by the Google example in two ways. First, Google uses what can loosely be termed “natural language processing” to guess at what answers the user is looking for. Then, it uses the space afforded in a web page, and the navigational ease of a point and click interface, to offer those answers to the user.

Google has added a fair amount of functionality to that interface int the past 3 years, and I’d say they still have more they can do.

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