Intent in The Command Line

How Slash Keyboard is Changing Search

It’s fascinating to see the world go from a command line interface to a fully integrated GUI, and now to have GUI implementations go back to command line like interfaces. We see this in Facebook, Slack, and even SMS. According to #Homescreen, 7 of the top 28 apps on homescreens use text as the primary user interface for communication. This creates an opportunity to predict intent in new ways.

One way is inside the apps: Facebook launched M, an assistant that uses a combination of humans and AI to provide answers to questions; Magic created a phone number users can text, which utilizes a combination of humans and on-demand services to get things done. Both capture intent inside of existing text interfaces.

When @cemkozinoglu and @nsbarr released the Slash keyboard today, they took a different approach to capturing intent, incorporating it directly within a new iOS keyboard.

Two Types of Search: “Exact” and “Discovery”

One way to think about search is to separate it into two categories: Knowing the exact object you’re looking for (“Exact”) and more open-ended searches where the user wants to discover the available options prior to making a decision (“Discovery”). However, on mobile — and particularly in the context of communication apps, the command line UI introduces context-switching problems in both “Exact” and “Discovery” searches.

The Context-Switching Problem in Exact Search

“Where are we eating?”
“What’s so-and-so’s phone number?”
“What was the song you mentioned earlier?”
“Where are you?”

These are examples of “Exact” search questions. The user knows exactly what he or she is looking for. However, the answer is usually in a different app, so it requires the user to switch contexts — both literally switching apps and mentally switching from conversation to search.

using the /foursquare command in Slash keyboard

Slash addresses this by making both the sender’s and recipient’s lives easier. The /foursquare Artichoke Pizza command automatically searches for Artichoke Pizza on Foursquare, replacing it with the location and deep link directly into the Foursquare app. I don’t have to look it up. He doesn’t have to look it up. It just works.

The Context-Switching Problem in “Discovery Search”

When you don’t know what you want — especially in the context of communicating with friends — the keyboard is the first place in which you put your intent. For these “Discovery” searches, the Slash keyboard can be especially useful. Here’s what happens when Slash observes a text message with the word coffee:

Getting nudges during regular keyboard use is like having autocorrect running in the background, but now constantly monitoring your intent. The result is a superior user experience, provided directly within the keyboard.

Other Places to Capture Intent in the Command Line

Slash has identified that when we use technology to communicate, we are often also searching. But this isn’t limited to keyboards. The command line interface opens up multiple opportunities to capture user intent not only within the keyboard, but also in bots, text-based assistants, and products in the notification layer. Anywhere users are already having lightweight text-based conversations provides an opportunity to capture context, serve up suggestions, and improve over time.

Cem Kozinoglu and Nick Barr are setting out to solve this problem set of predictive intent with Slash Keyboard. I’m proud that betaworks is leading the investment in these amazing founders and look forward to see how they reshape our relationship with the keyboard.

Check out the keyboard and let me know what you think here or on twitter @matthartman. You can find my Live Weekly Product Roundup video and more of my writing at