Although I might spend an inordinate amount of time online, I like to think that I’m pro at maximizing my efficiency in my computing activities, both off and online, in-game and out. Usability is one of my favorite hobbies, so I spend a good deal of time tweaking things so that I spend less time accessing things in the future, and more time enjoying whatever it is I want to access.
I’m going to skip the dissertation on feeds, application launchers, and smart filesystem organization. Today’s topic is the browser Flock.
Based on Firefox and thus open source, Flock tries to maximize integration with the social networking aspects of the web. It provides out of the box support for major networks like Facebook, Flickr, and Twitter, but falls flat on spiffier, still hipper sites like Last.fm. (The list of sites it doesn’t support is of course massive, but striking out on Last.fm was a mistake in my book.)
The integration for Facebook, Flickr, and Twitter is quite striking at first. Flock imported my cookies and passwords from Firefox (once given my permission to do so), then asked me to re-login to those sites “to take full advantage of the features Flock offers.” The primary feature is the “People Sidebar,” which is a dynamically updating list of all your friends’ activities online. For instance, as I was sifting through my feeds after getting home from class, I saw that a friend updated their status to “is in FUCKING LAS VEGAS, BABY!” Once I saw that, I clicked on the person’s picture, then clicked “Wall post,” and was able to write an immediate response to the status update. (I wrote something less than witty about Fear & Loathing.)
Here’s an unpolished mock-up of the People Sidebar from the Flock site:
For Facebook, this is a tremendous time-saver. It keeps the information coming to me as I go about my life, and doesn’t make me seek it out by actually browsing to the Facebook page. In the past 24 hours I’ve participated more in the Facebook community than I think I have ever, but I’ve spent probably 5 minutes total on the actual Facebook site, thanks to this slick and efficient interface.
Unfortunately, the People Sidebar wanes in usefulness in regard to the other social networks with which Flock is compatible. For instance, do I really need to keep up to date on my “friend” on YouTube? I didn’t even know I had any friends on YouTube, but apparently I do. Maybe my social circle is just such that YouTube isn’t a frequently updated outlet of their expression, and other users will indeed find this cool. Flickr, for me, is the same way: I use Flickr more for myself than for its community aspects, though I do plan to change that.
Flock does try to compensate for this weakness in the People Sidebar, though, with the Media Bar. This eye-candy-licious feature reads content streams from websites like YouTube and Flickr and displays them in an orderly row, not too different in appearance from the look of a Flickr slideshow.
Flock Media Bar:
Flickr slideshow bar:
Certainly has that über-glossy, black-saturated, Web 2.0-gone-Vista-then-Leopard look.
Flock was launched a year or two ago, if I remember correctly, and I remember quite a bit of hype around it, as Firefox was rocketing to popularity in the media, and it seemed suddenly like the age of browser profusion to lazy tech journalists. I tried it then and was thoroughly underwhelmed. The implementation of the Flock philosophy is worlds better in this latest release, the big 1.0.
Recently I’d read a couple glowing reviews of Flock, so I figured I’d give it another go. The selling point for me was the promise of blog integration, meaning that I wouldn’t have to navigate to a webpage and compose my entries via a clunky HTML interface. (I have some plugins installed to add a few AJAX loads, but by and large the thing is slow as hell.) This had me particularly excited because I was unfortunately never able to configure ScribeFire correctly for Firefox, though it seems I’m not alone in that.
However, this feature has fallen flat on its face. It doesn’t work for me, and it doesn’t seem to work for anyone with a self-hosted WordPress blog. Given that it does work well with Blogger and Xanga and other such freebie accounts, it makes me feel like Flock is more catering to n00bz. I don’t like that.
Another huge point in Flock’s favor is that it has without fuss accepted my most frequently used Firefox extensions, and maintained their functionality. I haven’t imported all my extensions yet, as I have a ton, but of all those attempted so far, there hasn’t been a hitch. That’s just marvellous, and I wish the same could be said about themes, but I understand why that’s such a different matter.
I’m going to keep using Flock for a while, if only to whine about things like Last.fm integration. I think that in a few months to a year, Flock will be a tremendously powerful browser. If they manage to keep the code trim and fit, unlike the hungry-hungry-Firefox, it’ll be a true winner.
I do wonder, however, about how much of this functionality can very easily be mirrored by way of Firefox extensions, thereby downplaying the importance of Flock as a browser separate from Firefox. By allowing users to copy features of Opera, for instance, Firefox has managed to grow its own marketshare at the expense of the often truly innovative Opera crowd. Richard Stallman would be pleased, I suppose.
I’m sure I’ll be posting more, especially if I manage to work out the blog editing feature.