Amazon search results in the Dash

Sunday, September 23rd, 2012

It makes perfect sense to integrate Amazon search results in the Dash, because the Home Lens of the Dash should let you find *anything* anywhere. Over time, we’ll make the Dash smarter and smarter, so you can just ask for whatever you want, and it will Just Work.

The Home Lens of the Dash is a “give me X” experience. You hit the Super key, and say what you want, and we do our best to figure out what you mean, and give you that. Of course, you can narrow the scope of that search if you want. For example, you can hit Super-A and just search applications. But if you throw your query out to the Dash, we need to be a smart as possible about where we go looking for answers for you.

In 12.10 we’ll take the first step of looking both online and locally for possible results. The Home lens will show you local things like apps and music, as it always has, as well as results from Amazon. Note – these are not ads, they are results to your search. We don’t promote any product or service speculatively, these are not banners or spyware. These are results from underlying scopes, surfaced to the Home lens, because you didn’t narrow the scope to a specific, well scope.

What we have in 12.10 isn’t the full experience, so those who leap to judgement are at maximum risk of having to eat their words later. Chill out. If the first cut doesn’t work for you, remove it, or just search the specific scope you want (there are hotkeys for all the local scopes).

Here’s a quick Q&A on the main FUD-points.

Why are you putting ads in Ubuntu?

We’re not putting ads in Ubuntu. We’re integrating online scope results into the home lens of the dash. This is to enable you to hit “Super” and then ask for anything you like, and over time, with all of the fantastic search scopes that people are creating, we should be able to give you the right answer.

These are not ads because they are not paid placement, they are straightforward Amazon search results for your search. So the Dash becomes a super-search of any number of different kinds of data. Right now, it’s not dynamically choosing what to search, it’s just searching local scopes and Amazon, but it will get smarter over time.

I don’t wan’t to search Amazon for the Terminal

Use Super-A. You can tell Unity exactly what you want to search. And in future you’ll be able to do that from the home lens, too, more easily than the current Lens Bar at the bottom of the Dash.

I want to control what is searched on the Home Lens

So do I! Designs and patches welcome in the usual places. I’m pretty sure by 14.04 LTS we’ll have the kinks unkinked. Till then, come along for the ride, or stick with 12.04 LTS. We can’t wait till it’s perfect before landing everything, because the only way to learn what’s not perfect is to have other people – real people – use it.

I can’t believe you just changed Ubuntu. I liked it the way it was.

Looks like those six months are nearly up again 😉

This is just a moneymaking scheme.

We picked Amazon as a first place to start because most of our users are also regular users of Amazon, and it pays us to make your Amazon journey  get off to a faster start. Typing Super “queen marking cage”  Just Worked for me this morning. I am now looking forward to my game of Ultimate Where’s Waldo hunting down the queens in my bee colonies, Ubuntu will benefit from the fact that I chose to search Amazon that way, Amazon benefits from being more accessible to a very discerning, time-conscious and hotkey-friendly audience.

But there are many more kinds of things you can search through with Unity scopes. Most of them won’t pay Ubuntu a cent, but we’ll still integrate them into the coolest just-ask-and-you’ll-receive experience. I want us to do this because I think we can make the desktop better.

Why are you telling Amazon what I am searching for?

We are not telling Amazon what you are searching for. Your anonymity is preserved because we handle the query on your behalf. Don’t trust us? Erm, we have root. You do trust us with your data already. You trust us not to screw up on your machine with every update. You trust Debian, and you trust a large swathe of the open source community. And most importantly, you trust us to address it when, being human, we err.

The query should be encrypted!

It will be in the release version.

I want to control this in the settings!

Yes, we agree, and designs and work are under way to make that possible. That should land in 12.10 too, or as an update, or in 13.04.

In summary – please don’t feed the trolls. We’re interested in feedback in what sorts of things would be useful to search straight from the home lens, and how to improve the search results, as well as provide better control of the process to you.

Here is the key question, as I see it:

Can Canonical and the Ubuntu community handle the responsibility associated with this sort of service?

Well, if we want to run a modern platform, that updates automatically and provides users with the full benefit of living in a connected world, then we have to be able to do that. If we can’t we won’t be relevant. So we should talk about the appropriate kinds of privacy policy, appropriate encryption, appropriate settings and preferences, to make this all world class.

260 Responses to “Amazon search results in the Dash”

  1. Die Woche: Ubuntu und der Kommerz | Says:

    […] aber trotzdem, und den Grund dafür liefert Ubuntu-Sponsor Mark Shuttleworth ausgerechnet in seiner Verteidigung der Amazon-Suchergebnisse im Dash. Da spricht er nämlich davon, dass die Amazon-Links nur der erste Schritt sind, die […]

  2. Effenberg0x0 Says:

    One example: Where’s my doc from the “National American Insurance Company” (NAICO). Saecrh the dash for NAICO.

  3. mark Says:


    There is an “opt-out”.

  4. Michelle Knight Says:

    Dear Mr Shuttleworth,

    I don’t like complaining about something without having offered an alternative.

    Might I put forward the following to you.

    We already have Ubuntu One through which I am now buying my music; I use it because it is part of the spirit of Ubuntu and I hope that my purchases there go a little way towards supporting Canonical.

    Why not make an “Ubuntu Shop,” which effectively does the same thing as you wanted to add in to the lens.

    By having something like this, which I know would support Ubuntu, I’d be more inclined to use it as a first stop for my on-line shopping; and given what I know about my own behaviour I would only be likely to shop outside this if I found the prices to be unreasonable.

    As it is then in Canonicals control, other merchants can join the store, just like other merchants operate through Amazon now.

    I think that initially, suppliers like clothing stores that offer Ubuntu branded goods, people who sell computer hardware, etc. might be attracted by the Ubuntu user base as potential customers, especially if locality can be utilised; eg. merchants only appear who are willing to deliver to various countries, because there is nothing more annoying than trying to order something from to be told that they don’t ship to the UK, while others do.

    I feel that there is potential here for an actual improvement on on-line shopping, and done through Ubuntu.

  5. cosmix Says:

    One of the biggest gripes I’ve had with Unity, before dropping it completely, was that I found the ‘lens-based’ approach to be a regression to existing, successful and vastly superior versions of ‘desktop’ search, viz. Spotlight and variants on OS X, where the user by default searches for ‘everything’ ala Home Lens (only in that case it includes the contents and metadata of files, indexed almost immediately after the files are added to the filesystem) and the query is handled lightning fast with a well-sorted, grouped set of results.

    In Unity, and in practically every other variant of desktop linux, this feature has never matured to a state where it could be considered useful on a daily basis, be it due to the flaws of the indexing subsystems and the associated drain on resources (viz. early attempts, like Beagle), the flaws in the UI design, the lack of proper integration with the file management tools etc. I always found ‘lenses’ are a poor conceptual choice as they introduce an additional user action, making search less direct and intuitive. Microsoft made the same mistake in Windows 8.

    Obviously there is an extensibility aspect to lenses and I’m sure they (could) play a useful role as an indexing/backend API, allowing developers to write ‘reader plugins’ for the framework, but exposing them as first-level user-interface elements seems contrary to the simplicity and elegance that Unity claims to represent.

    I don’t think having the *choice* of Amazon results is bad per se, but it does demonstrate how Canonical is still not focusing on creating a useful, fast and innovative desktop platform, but maintaining balances between hype, profitability and the open-source paradigm. And while the success of the product and company are admirable, I wish you could focus more on creating an advanced, open ecosystem with extremely solid open-source foundations that’s truly world-leading, instead of marginally useful stints like Amazon results in Unity.

    Having a ‘smart’ universal Spotlight-like search instead of dozens of ‘lens’ buttons should be a top level priority. Providing the option for users to choose what the Home lens searches or making sure that internet/network searches are secure are not ‘user wishes’ occupying in a long and dusty wishlist, they are fundamental parts of the search function that should be included in the first release.

  6. Ubuntu 12.10 « Quantal Quetzal »: ya esta disponible la segunda BETA | Gustavo Pimentel's GNU/Linux Blog Says:

    […] que no fué del gusto de todo el mundo, y que se agravara con unas explicaciones algo tortuosas de Mark Shuttleworth en su blog negando todo y sobretodo jugando con los términos, generando una idea que huele a Azufre. Con lo […]

  7. Canonical performs u-turn over Amazon search results in Ubuntu | Technology News Says:

    […] chief Mark Shuttleworth defended the move last Sunday, saying the firm was “not putting ads in Ubuntu” as the returned results were not paid for, and […]

  8. Christian Says:

    ahhh little mistake… meant the online accounts instead of the online contacts..

    one more try.. what about connecting the dash-search to the gnome online accounts in future? could be interesting 😉

  9. J.I. Smith Says:

    Oh, no! That sounds awful. I may have to move from Ubuntu if it keeps moving in the prevailing direction. Amazon is a big enough behemoth on the web already (and, incidentally, pays no UK tax) without being further supported by supposedly freedom-loving OSes like Ubuntu. Monopoly (or even, to a lesser extent, oligopoly) is not freedom!

  10. Kanishk Says:

    Integrate tribler in unity.