Firefox Search Shortcuts – the Keyboard Returns to Power

A while back, I was watching Scott Cruzen browse to a site via Firefox. Quite the clever guy, he was just using the address bar to do searches. For example, if he was searching for widgets on google, he could just do:

    g widgets

if he was searching wikipedia, he could just do:

    wp widgets

if he was searching ebay, he could just do:

    e widgets

… and so on… all right in the address bar. This was quite cool since it let you perform this without having your hands leave the keyboard. (Note: to get to the address bar via the keyboard hit ALT-D on a PC or ALT-L on a Mac). This was very cool, so I had to copy Scott’s trick and it has become a standard modification on my Firefox.

It is really easy to install, as well. All you have to do is right click on any search box on any site, and choose ‘Add a Keyword for this Search…’. Then you get a dialog box that only requires a name and the ‘shortcut sequence’. It then stores these shortcuts as bookmarks.

Just yesterday, I showed this to a co-worker. Today he thanked me for this trick. He started adding shortcuts for all sorts of sites that he uses. Oddly enough, I only used it for Wikipedia. I had never thought of using it for stock quotes. I immediately did the same and added shortcuts for a bunch of sites that I frequent for simple searches (stock quotes, whois, etc.)

This got me thinking about keyboards in general. This is a consistent trend with the power users on GUI/Window systems. They want the power to invoke a simple or complex action, as quickly as possible. If you are using a computer a lot, chances are that your hands are almost always on the keyboard. YET, if you look at the history of Windowing systems, the point was to get away from the keyboard for actions.

It wasn’t until I worked at Plaxo, that I really got to appreciate the power of the keyboard. One of the founders there, Cam, was a master of the keyboard and its shortcuts. He could perform the same operations that I was doing with a mouse about 10x faster. He was able to do this because Windows has excellent keyboard navigation support from the 80’s. He mastered that system and he was blindingly fast on his computer.

At the same time, the trend was obvious on other platforms as well. Look at what any Mac user says about Quicksilver… they love it. They cannot imagine their machine without it. (In a way, the Firefox shortcut system is like Quicksilver for the web) Look at what the Lifehacker people think about the AutoHotKey system. Even Steve Jobs changed his mind and made Spotlight a simple key sequence away (ALT-SPACE).

The mouse is a great input device, but it is clear to me that empowering power users via the keyboard will only become an essential element of any system going forward.

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One Response to Firefox Search Shortcuts – the Keyboard Returns to Power

  1. Joseph Smarr says:

    Well said, and I totally agree. Gmail’s keyboard shortcuts are one of its best features, and I can’t go back. When Mark added keyboard shortcuts to Bloglines, I thought “this is unnecessary”, but now I’m hooked on “s jjjj s jjjj” to browse through all my feeds. It’s also a great place to put power-user features, because it adds capability without burdening the UI for simple users (kind of like right-click menus). But of course that’s also the challenge for discoverability–how do you make people aware of keyboard shortcuts so they can learn them over time? There are probably some good general solutions there, but I haven’t seen many of them so far.

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