When you search the web, you won’t get any personal results from apps like Dropbox, Notion, or even Google Docs. If you’re looking for a specific spreadsheet you created in Google Sheets or a Slack conversation you recently had with a colleague, you’ll need to look at each individual app. It’s a pain and a waste of time.
Today, a new generation of tools intervenes to make research more productive. With a keyboard shortcut, you can find and run quick commands in your apps without even having to launch them first.
The concept is starting to gain traction in the tech world. Last fall, Dropbox acquired a search bar app called Command E as part of Dropbox’s plan to create “an organized place for your content and all the workflows around it.” (Although the app is no longer available to new users.) Around the same time, a startup called Glean emerged on the sly with a unified search tool for enterprise customers. And Raycast, a command bar app that replaces the Mac’s built-in Spotlight search bar, raised $15 million in Series A funding.
Amogh Sarda, CEO and co-founder of another universal search tool called Eesel, says all of these startups are exploiting a widely understood problem: it’s just too hard to get things done on all your work tools.
“The space is popular because everyone feels the pain themselves,” he says.
In my experience, none of these tools are perfect. They all have limits on what they can search and what actions they can perform, and none of them offer seamless web searching alongside your personal documents. (What I’d really like is a universal search bar that handles both.) But compared to the system search tools built into Windows and macOS, they’re still a major improvement.
Here are three that you can check out for free.
Slapdash: search for apps on the go
Slapdash is a desktop app that integrates directly with popular productivity tools like Zoom, Slack, Google Drive, Dropbox, and Trello. Pressing CTRL+J (Where Cmd+J on a Mac) displays a command bar that lets you search through apps and perform actions like starting your next video call or creating a new to-do list item. Slapdash’s Chrome extension also lets you search through open browser tabs.
The app is super fast, with results appearing almost instantly as you type them, though it does have some noticeable blind spots in its integrations. You can’t use it to search Gmail, for example – Slapdash hopes to do that eventually, but it’s a big technical challenge – and other supported apps focus almost entirely on productivity. If you’re hoping to quickly load Spotify playlists or search the Netflix catalog, you’re out of luck. (Windows users should also note that launching desktop apps and finding local files only works on a Mac as of now.)
Ivan Kanevski, CEO and co-founder of Slapdash, said the company is working on broader app support and more functionality within those apps, and also plans to add people-related searches. This way, you can enter people’s names to contact them quickly or view files you’ve been working on together. The startup, which has employees in San Francisco, Toronto and London, last raised $3.7 million in seed funding a year ago.
“I think it will become a common tool for all knowledge workers over the next five years,” says Kanevski. “It’s too valuable not to be ubiquitous.”
- Platforms: Windows, Mac, Linux, Chrome
- Price: Free to search for up to three apps; $12 per month unlocks unlimited app search and clipboard history
- Try it: slapdash.com
Raycast: A Powerful Mac Command Bar
Mac diehards who have used Alfred before should see plenty of parallels in Raycast. Both apps aim to replace Apple’s Spotlight search tool, even allowing you to use the same Cmd-Space shortcut if you want and can quickly bring up files and programs from your local storage.
The main difference is how they connect to other apps and services. Raycast has built its own extension store, where you can connect to all sorts of quick actions and search tools created by its user community. While Alfred offers a similar concept with its workflows, Raycast’s extensions are more tightly integrated into the app itself.
“We have an end-to-end solution,” said Thomas Paul Mann, CEO and co-founder of Raycast. “You can create something, you can publish it to the store, someone else can discover it, and someone can install it. It’s really an ecosystem.
So far, Raycast offers over 250 extensions, which you can use to search YouTube, schedule Zoom meetings, listen to music from Spotify, and more. The company also plans to expand its extension sharing tools for teams over the coming year.
Raycast requires some tech savvy to set up and use. You have to type keywords into the search bar to use the extensions, and some of them, like Notion’s, require you to create and insert an API key to connect your account. Still, it can be a huge time saver once you get the hang of it.
“If you learned it once, you can basically apply what you learned to all of our 250 expansions in the store,” Mann says.
- Platform: Mac only
- Price: Free for personal use; $10 per user, per month for shared links, snippets, and extensions
- Try it: raycast.com
Eesel: Smarter Browser History Search
Instead of trying to integrate directly with other apps or build a vast store of extensions, Eesel simply taps into your browser’s search history to make productivity tools more easily searchable.
Once installed, Eesel’s browser extension offers a new alternate tab page that lists recent pages from services like Google Docs, Coda, Dropbox, and Github. You can then use the search bar to browse your document history or click on individual app icons to filter results. The extension also comes with a hotkey—Ctrl+Shift+E under Windows, or Cmd+Shift+E on MacOS, this opens the Eesel search bar from any tab.
Compared to the other tools above, Eesel’s out-of-the-box experience feels almost magical, as you don’t have to waste time signing in and logging into any of your apps. And as CEO and co-founder Amogh Sarda points out, it can work with virtually any website, including internal company web pages that don’t have APIs for developers to tap into.
The inherent downside to Eesel’s approach is that it can’t search desktop apps or files, nor can it be launched from outside your browser window. But if you’re the type who does all your work in a web browser, that might not be a problem.
“Eesel is here to make working across multiple apps easier by turning the browser into an operating system for work,” says Sarda.
- Platform: Chrome, Edge, Firefox
- Price: Free for individuals, with paid plans for teams
- Try it: eesel.app