The “More suggestions” feature (aka the shopping lens) in the Ubuntu 12.10 release, brings the Dash a few steps closer to becoming that go to place for immediate access to “stuff” – whether it resides on the device, in the cloud or is available for purchase online. This mix of personal and commercially available content is still a research area for a number of major platform and online services companies, so in 12.10 we’ll be breaking new ground. And as it happens when you break new ground, we’re bound to get some things wrong at the start. As such, we’ve been furiously sorting through user feedback, and this has helped us focus our efforts on quickly tackling some of the deficiencies introduced a few weeks back.
On Privacy – Communication between client and server has been encrypted by serving results over HTTPS, which went live on September 28th. This has introduced some latency to our search-as-you-type implementation and we’ll be optimizing it over the next several months. Fetching of images is still happening directly from 7digital and Amazon as immediate solutions are either inadequate or unavailable via the Amazon API (such as the suggested ssl-images-amazon.com), so this is an area still requiring attention. Over the next cycle, we will be looking at replicating the solution we already have when searching the Ubuntu One Music Store from the web, which is to proxy images from our servers. We are adding a legal privacy notice to the dash and this will be easily accessible to all users. For reiterated clarity, we have no intention of either storing or sharing user-identifiable data beyond what is necessary to deliver the intended search service. We have always recognized the trust that Ubuntu users place in Canonical and in Ubuntu, and we take data privacy very seriously.
On Unintended Mature Content – Content not safe/suitable for work (NSFW) appearing in search results when not wanted is now being filtered out via a number of client and server side changes and the use of black-listed terms applied to search-as-you-type. While this implementation will cover many NSFW cases, some exceptions may still occasionally happen.
On Improving Search Quality – The team is currently focused on tackling the most obvious search quality issue – the return of commercial content when searching for software and applications on your computer. The Dash gives you what you want – every time. Sometimes that’s a product from Amazon, most often its not, and the better we judge that the better the experience will be. Search quality is an area where we expect to learn a great deal from and we will be looking at other improvements over the next cycle – along with the introduction of more user controls such as filters for personal and online content, and there will be sessions scheduled at the next Ubuntu Development Summit to discuss this.
On the “commercial” factor – Keeping the Ubuntu project sustainable requires the development of services that continuously improve the user experience and can at the same time be “monetized”. Evolving the Dash from a place to search for local files and software into a place that can give users instant access to any content, whether on your device or available online, personal or for purchase – is challenging, behavior changing, and if done right, potentially extremely valuable to users. Online commerce is a real and important part of our everyday experience, and with the Dash, we are inventing faster, slicker and more stylish ways for all of us to get more done with Ubuntu. Introducing it as a default in 12.10 recognizes that, and allows us to learn from intensive usage. For users who wish to opt out of online search altogether, we have introduced an “on/off” toggle in settings.
We’re excited about the journey taken to evolve the Dash, and to get where we want to, we’ll need the continued feedback we’ve enjoyed so far.