In writing and talking about WolframAlpha yesterday, it occurred to me how much I like being able to get stuff done without clicking around. That’s especially important when clicking around is slow (because of latency and processor speed) and clumsy (because of tiny screen), such as is the case on phones. In other words, I want to go back to the beginning with a command line. The Unix command line is of course all powerful for those who really know how to use it, but requires a lot of learning of commands and thinking about how to chain them together. For mobiles I have something slightly different in mind, an intelligent command line.
An ideal starting point for it would be text messaging and by extension twitter. In twitter, all it would take would be a new syntax, say a “?” at the beginning of a tweet. I want to be able to say things like
- ? AA177 - and get the status for American Airlines flight
- ? AAPL - and get a stock quote for Apple
- ? how old is Barack Obama - and get the answer (see yesterday’s post)
It is easy to think of many more general query types that should be handled by this command line. But with a little bit of initial setup, I should also be able to ask more personal queries, such as
- ? balance - to get my bank balance
- ? next train - to find out when my next commuter train goes (get both directions in result)
The answers to the questions would simply be delivered as an SMS reply to my phone. There are services out there today, such as kgb, which do some of this, but they tend to be needlessly expensive and don’t actually connect to an information services backend.
Somebody could implement this today on twitter using the “d” mechanism. But unless they implement all the queries I might want, I will have to remember who to send the message to for different types of queries, e.g. “d flightstatus aa177.” If twitter stepped in the middle with a “?” syntax, then it could make the connection to the most appropriate information provider for me (or create an open architecture in which I can select information providers).
Until then, the closest we have to a mobile command line is simply pointing my Blackberry browser at google and hoping for the best.