Search as a natural language user interface

One of my last jobs at Yahoo was to think about the future of the search box; thanks to the work of innovators like Tom Chi and David Watanabe, as well as countless hours of sitting behind a one-way mirror watching users search, I realized that people didn’t really think of a search box as a “search box.” Rather, they used it as a natural language text interface to the web. Sometimes it worked well – like the auto-complete drop down in Yahoo Search, or the various vertical search features on Google. But it was mostly terrible.

We tried doing more sophisticated things, like detecting intent, or building “templated” searches to go with a given news headline (“flights delayed across the north east – check your flight status now”) but the technology wasn’t there yet. But users loved the idea.

Siri is a breakthrough product not because it’s a voice interface, but because it seems to be a natural language interface that works well enough to use everyday.

This morning, I was delighted to see that the ubuntu team is releasing a search-box-like, adaptive, natural language UI in ubuntu 12.04 LTS. It’s called the HUD, or Heads-Up Display. I’m not a Linux user, but I’m looking forward to trying this. Check out the video:

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