Modern Software Experience

2008-10-15

Flock

The Flock team describes Flock as a social browser. It is a browser based on Firefox with lots of support for web 2.0 services.

Flock 2.0

Flock 2.0 has been available as a beta for month. After three different betas, it is now available as the current release.

download

Although Flock is based on Firefox, and Firefox supports English, the download button defaults to the Amglish variant. In fact, Amglish is the only locale available right now, so Flock 2.0 is not really finished yet. The download is about 12 MB.

installation

The update of Flock 2.0 Beta 3 check did not seem to work to well; the beta said there was no new version available, but installation of the 2.0 release over the Flock 2.0 Beta 3 went without problems.
I just don’t like that the "Set Flock as my default browser" and "Allow gathering of anonymous usage statistics" box is checked by default. Moreover, once installation is done, the Flock installer connects to the Internet, without telling me why it wants to does that.

starting up

The first time you start Flock, it will show a brief Flock Tutorial. It is a pretty nice introduction to Flock. It shows how you can share things with your online friends, download and upload photos by dragging and dropping, use its integrated blog editor, use the integrated feed reader, organise your favourites into folders, and sync them with a social bookmarking site, and finally how the My World page combines all your friends, feeds and favourites in one personalised start page, with the freshest content on top.

Sidebar

Active Flock users will often open the People Sidebar or the Feed Sidebar on the left side, and the Media Bar along the top. These positions are fixed, and you cannot see both the People Sidebar and the Feed Sidebar. The left side is shared between the People Sidebar, the Feed Sidebar, the Favourites Sidebar, the Accounts and Services Sidebar and the Web Clipboard Sidebar.

start up annoyances

The Flock search box defaulted to Yahoo!, but you change that to any search engine you like.

Flock showed a page with an online survey.
I seriously question the wisdom of surveying people before they’ve had a chance to use the product. Annoying new users with a survey as soon as they start the browser for the first time, especially such a large one with hundreds of buttons to click, does not seem very smart to me either. It’s annoying enough to close the browser and uninstall it.

Firefox 3

Flock 2.0 is based on Firefox 3. You can think of it as Firefox 3 with an bunch of integrated add-ons. It has al the Firefox 3 features, including its speed, security, reliability and the so-called AwesomeBar.

add-ons

Because Flock 2.0 is based on Firefox 3, it largely supports the same add-ons as Firefox 3.

I immediately installed NoScript, AdBlock Plus and IE Tab. I then added PDF Download, Download Statusbar and FireFTP. All that worked just fine, but when I tried ChromiFox, a Firefox theme that makes Firefox look like Google Chrome, I got a warning that the theme was not designed for Flock. Many Firefox add-ons work fine, but themes generally don’t because Flock’s user interface is different.

Flock add-ons

Flock now has it own add-on site, from which you can install Flock-specific themes, extensions and toolbars. There isn’t much there yet and site uses JavaScript instead of a proper menu, so it does not work until you allow scripting, and That’s painfully unprofessional.
It also fails to either include the Firefox add-ons or link to the Firefox add-on site, so someone who visits it might think there are no almost no add-on for Flock.

The Flock should not just redo the site, but also actively engage Firefox theme authors to make sure many Firefox theme will be Flock compatible. The two themes that are there now hardly warrant a separate site.

web 2.0

Flock integrates many web 2.0 services into the browser.
Flock already supported 23 services, including AOL Mail, Blogger, del.icio.us, Digg, Facebook, Flickr, GMail, LiveJournal, ma.gnolia, photobucket, Picasa, Piczo, Twitter, TypePad, WordPress, Xanga, Yahoo! Mail and YouTube. Flock 2.0 adds support for MySpace and Revver.

Media RSS

Flock already supported RSS, Flock 2.0 adds support for Media RSS; this allows you to subscribe to media streams from sites that have not been integrated into Flock.
As far as I know, this make Flock 2.0 the first browser the support Media RSS. Well, at least the first browser to include it natively. Media RSS has been available in Firefox through the CoolIris (formerly PicLens) add-on.

Americentric

Flock version 2.0 is still very Americentric; not only does the download page default to the Amglish variant, but all the services it integrates with seem to be American too. That makes it great browser for American web 2.0 users, but not so interesting to the rest of the world.

integration approach

The real problem behind Flock’s Americentricity is its approach to integrating web 2.0 services. The Flock team integrates web 2.0 services one by one. Although custom integration of each service allows for the best possible results, it is also a rather slow approach. In the time it takes the Flock team to integrate one service, two or three others have sprung up.

web 2.0 integration standards

The flock team needs to come with some standards for browser-integration of web 2.0 services, that make browser integration easier or automatic.

configure

You need to take some time to configure the services you use, once you’ve done that, using these services is easier than before, and Flock will keep you up to date by streaming a river of interesting updates your way, and that stream may turn out to be huge time sink

Flock could perhaps partially resolve that by supporting personas; allowing you to make multiple configurations you can switch between, so you can keep your work out of your play, and your play out of your work.

conclusion

Flock 2.0 offers the latest Firefox technology, and integrates even more web 2.0 services then before. Its has its own add-on site now, but it is rather empty and makes an unprofessional impression. Flock 2.0 was announced before it was finished. Of all the locales Flock supports, only the Amglish locale is available for version 2.0 right now.

Flock is the best browser for some, the worst for others. You can save time using it and you can waste time using it. Download with care.

updates

2011-04-24: Flock

Flock is being discontinued per 2011-04-26. Most flock.com links no longer work. Removed all Flock links.

2012-11-08: CoolIris

The CoolIris plugin has been removed by its author. The broken link has been removed.

links

Firefox

Media RSS