Modern Software Experience

2008-12-14

Black Browser

new

Blackbird is a new browser, based on the Firefox code, just like the Flock browser and the Songbird media player. It is produced by a company called 40A. Blackbird is in open beta new. I just installed version 0.99a.

installation

Download and installation was smooth. The one problem I have with the installation is that it installs the program into Program Files\Blackbird\, I would be a little less worried about overwriting one program with another if it installed into Program Files\40A\Blackbird instead.

Although Blackbird is based on Firefox code, it did not offer to import Firefox bookmarks. Blackbird did offer to import bookmarks and settings from either Opera or Internet Explorer.

web 2.0

Technically, Blackbird is perhaps best compared with Flock, because it adds various web 2.0 features to Firefox. It integrates email access, social networks, social bookmarks and a news ticker.

However, Blackbird’s web 2.0 features are not as impressive. It does not support all the popular web 2.0 sites that Flock supports. Blackbird supports just two popular networks, namely Facebook and MySpace.

When you try the Share option on the toolbar that Blackbird added to the Firefox user interface, you are prompted by a dialog to log into Blackbird Networks, a social network owned by 40A. Thus, the browser seems to be a vehicle to promote Blackbird Networks.

Blackbird is adware.

commercial

The commercial nature of the browser is explicit : Blackbird is free for you because it is supported by advertising and sponsorships. You don’t pay to use Blackbird.. The advertising the site refers to isn't AdWords on their search engine page, it is advertising in the browser itself.

I do not mean adverts on web pages, or adverts in videos it shows. I really do mean adverts in the the browser itself. Whenever you show a sidebar, for example to select a video channel, Blackbird will show an advertisement below it. Blackbird is adware.

open source

Blackbird is ostensible open source, just like the Firefox code it is based upon, but there seems to be no link leading to Blackbird source code on their web site yet. There is a link in the license agreement but that that links leads nowhere yet.

Black

The one feature that Blackbird focuses attention on, and has gained it quite some notoriety already, is its blackness. The talk is not about some black theme like the current version of Opera sports, although it does indeed sport a black theme. It is a rather ugly black theme, there are many better ones available on the Firefox add-on site, but that is not a big issue.
The big issue is that Blackbird is promoted as a browser for black people, American blacks in particular.

The website describes it as a software application designed for the African American community by the African American community.

Another announcements notes that Blackbird will donate 10% of its 2009 revenue to charitable and educational organizations that are serving the African American community..

upsetting

Using a browser to try and fund charitable organisations does not sound like something to get upset about, but Blackbird has upset many people nonetheless.

Public reactions all over the net make it clear that many find the whole black browser for black people objectionable Do not think that those people misinterpreted the Blackbird message. The Blackbird web site has a Spread the word page that features with texts like PROUD TO BE BLACK Y’ALL! - GET BLACKBIRD and SURF BLACK - BLACKBIRD - BROWSER FOR AFRICAN AMERICANS.

The home page has a list of Blackbird features and the first three are Black Search, Black News Ticker and Black Bookmarks.

Black Search

The so-called black search is not a new search engine. It is simply a Google custom search engine.

custom search

Making a Google custom search engine is simple and free. All it really does is filter the search results. That is not very exciting, and it can be handy to have search engine that search just your own site, but Black Search filters all your search results to ensure, well, black content.

racist?

What to think of this? Is this a practical browser that caters to a real need, or is it a racist product that only encourages segregation? If this browser is okay, then where do you draw the line? What if this is the beginning of a trend, and we will soon see other browsers that filter the web for particular racial, political and religious groups?

What about a white supremacist browser? Or an orthodox christian browser that deliberately filters out all evidence of evolution? A political browser that filters out everything that does not correspond to the party line?

real

A christian browser for christian content already exists; You are assured of only Christian content in a wide variety of Christian topics from Christian news, teaching and sermons to Christian games and clip art. The browser's site is even hosted by TruePath, which describes itself as christian web hosting.

Then there is Flock: Gloss Edition, which is promoted as the only browser that makes you look even better!. This special edition of Flock is specifically aimed at fashion lovers, and thus mainly at women. Yes, the default theme is painfully pink. All it really adds is links to content from a bunch of fashion sites. Flock Gloss edition is a Flock 1.2 release only, users are expected to upgrade to Flock 2.0 regular.

fake

The Blackbird Browser has already provoked the creation of a White Bird website, that offers White Bird, A Browser For White People. Text on the web site claims that White Bird is the web browser for the White American Community. White Bird was developed by a team of white people and is in no way related to the Blackbird project.
Those last words are actually hyperlinked to the Blackbird site, and the Download Now button links to Apple Safari. The White Bird logo is the Thunderbird logo on top of the Safari logo.
The site is a just joke on the Blackbird browser but it sure drives the what if home.

different

Blackbird isn’t very different from Firefox. It is Firefox with a a toolbar, a theme and a new default search engine. Really now, do a few add-ons a new browser make?

Perhaps 40A should just release their toolbar, their theme and their search engine, and let users pick and choose. They could set up their black community site, and offer all three for anyone to install in their Firefox browser. If they had done just that, they probably would not have received so much criticism. They probably would have received no criticism at all, but praise for offering these free tools.

If they crossed a line, that line seems to be somewhere between creating add-ons and offering a black browser as they do now.

same thing

Flock Gloss and Blackbird do roughly the same thing, add a theme and some links. Some, Flock Gloss is received as perhaps a bit silly but okay, and Blackbird is rejected as unacceptable.

Blackbird also changes the default search engine, but that is nothing new either. Many browsers want to change search engine and home page settings when they install. And many browser setup programs are eager to install some toolbar as well.

marketing

There are important differences. Flock Gloss is just a special edition, and you can download Flock regular. Blackbird does not have special editions, it is just Blackbird, the regular edition.

Gloss was marketed as a special edition of Flock, Blackbird is not marketed as a special edition of Firefox, but as a new browser. When you already know Firefox, there just isn’t much there.

Marketing seems to be key issue here. Offering information for or about Africans is fine. Offering tools to find such information is fine. Offering these tools as add-ons is fine too. Marketing a browser as a black browser for black people is racist.

censorship

Perhaps the folks at 40A started with the best of intentions and are now promoting their product in a way that invites criticism of racism.

Still, the setup program does not ask what colour I am. Everyone can download and install it.
When you do that, a real problem with this browser is the default filtering of your search results, all your search results, all of the time. That comes awfully close to Google censorship as experienced in some countries. The only reasons it isn’t censorship is that you can choose another search engine or another browser.

Anybody interested in news for a particular group, can easily figure out what newsgroups, forums and sites that cater to that interest. You do not need to have all your search results filtered for that.

the filter

What’s behind Blackbird’s search box? Well, the makers of blackbird made a list of African American oriented sites. If they had just just put that list on a page, and offered their custom search on the page same, they would be offering exactly the same service.

search page

Would you object to such a page as racist, or consider it a useful resource for finding African American information?

Whatever you think about, that page already exists .A Google custom search engines must be hosted on a web page, and you can visit that page with any web browser.

black search

What’s more, it is far from the only "black search engine". Just type that phrase into google to find many such resources.

There are lots of resources on the Internet that cater to particular groups, and generally, even those who completely disagree accept that others have freedom of speech and publication just like themselves.

I don’t think many people would object to the page or the custom search engine to go with it, but installing such a custom search engine as the default in a browser seems wrong to me.

default

Simply offering a search engine for the elderly with a self-deprecating name like cranky is one thing, defaulting users to a custom search engine that filters their results is another.

The default search should be an unfiltered one.

attention

supporting

When you consider that 40A is commercial company with moral values low enough to shift adware onto their users, it is hard not to wonder whether they are really eager supporting the black community or just trying to exploit it.

40A describes Blackbird as an application designed for the African American community by the African American community, while it is really adware targeted at black people by a commercial company.

purposely

A thought I find hard to shake is that the whole Blackbird concept and marketing campaign could be purposely controversial just to get a lot of attention. That is not a new marketing trick.
Most of the press is they receive may be negative, but an undesirable Firefox adaptation like this is not likely to get much attention otherwise.

eyeballs

40A is a commercial company, and they are eager to find eyeballs for their adware. They promote Blackbird as a black browser for black people to get many black users, and pitch it as a targeted marketing channel to their advertisers.

traffic

The socially unacceptable marketing message gets them loads of media attention, and that drives traffic to their web site. More visitors downloading and trying their browser translates to more money from the in-browsers advertisements and more members for their social network.

adware

Additionally, all discussions about whether a targeted browser like this is acceptable tends to overshadow and draw attention away from the adware aspect, something reviews would have been almost sure to focus on otherwise.

conclusion

Blackbird is marketed as a new browser, but it is essentially Firefox with a few add-ons. Blackbird is adware and a promotion vehicle for a social network from the same company. Their default search engine filters your search results.

Blackbird is Firefox, but with an ugly theme, a useless toolbar, ads in your browser, your search results filtered and a socially unacceptable marketing campaign.

updates

2011-04-22 Flock

The Flock project has ended. Support will be discontinued on 2011 Apr 26.

2012-05-22 Flock

The cranky search engine seems to have been discontinued. The link has been removed.

links

targeted browsers

browsers

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