2 Way Web Gets Closer
October 21, 2005 8:10 AM   Subscribe

Flock is a being called a 'social browser'. It's been available to a select group of beta testers for a while, but today a developer preview of Flock was released to the public. Based on the open source Mozilla codebase, Flock integrates and synchronises with del.icio.us, Flickr and various blogging tools such as Blogger and Wordpress. Amongst other features, tags can be added to favourites and aggregated RSS feeds can be built and viewed from within the browser. There's been a mixed, if somewhat encouraging reception from the Web 2.0 crowd. Is this the future of browsing, or a plaything for early adopter geeks?
posted by davem (50 comments total)
I was playing with this yesterday, and it's still pretty rough around the edges. It's also very slow if you have a large number of links in del.icio.us.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 7:48 AM on October 21, 2005

Tell me about it ... bugger.
posted by davem at 8:13 AM on October 21, 2005

"Tell me about it .." was in reference to the double post, which has now been remedied.

I've noticed Flock's rendering to be quite fast, but then again I don't have hundered of del.icio.us links.
posted by davem at 8:16 AM on October 21, 2005

For people who don't have a blog or care to have a blog this is useless, so no it is not the future of browsing.
posted by riffola at 8:20 AM on October 21, 2005

The rendering is fine; it's only when I try and open my favorites that things bog down. Of course, I do have nearly 1200 links in there.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 8:21 AM on October 21, 2005

and who exactly is going to use this?

I'm sorry, but I'm missing the point. Why do I need yet another software app when I can build my own aggregator pages and use my current browser to view said pages.

You can tell the 2.0 bubble pushers that after exactly five minutes, I'v euninstalled it. Thanks.
posted by jsavimbi at 8:23 AM on October 21, 2005

Not sure what this accomplishes that a Firefox plugin wouldn't.
posted by selfnoise at 8:24 AM on October 21, 2005

Oh, don't be so poopy, riffola. I don't have a blog, and it isn't terribly useful to me as it is, but I see a lot of promise. I really like the idea that some people are taking the leap toward bringing the "social web" meme to more robust applications. There's a huge potential for synergistic growth- this may the app that del.icio.us has been waiting for.
posted by mkultra at 8:24 AM on October 21, 2005

I've got 2000+ links in del.icio.us, and flock was so slow as to be unusable.

I wish it was an extension to Firefox rather than a re-implementation of Firefox - means I cant use most of my normal extensions with it.

Nifty concept, but I'll wait for the next release...
posted by mrbill at 8:27 AM on October 21, 2005

I think the thing that flock does that nothing else has before is surface all those social apps into the browser. So yeah, it helps if you're a blogger, because you can pull up your flickr photos in one click and dump them to a post, but having it post something to delicious from just hitting the star button is kind of cool.

The only thing holding this back from being my primary browser is that you can't install standard firefox plugins, which is a shame.
posted by mathowie at 8:28 AM on October 21, 2005

Selfnoise, I agree that you could achieve a similar outcome with Firefox and extensions. However, it is nice to be able to interact with these services in the one app, with an interface that is designed for this purpose.

Also, some of the Firefox extensions that do these tasks can be buggy and virtually unsupported. With Flock, there is a team behind it that hopefully will provide support, ideas and future enhancements.
posted by davem at 8:31 AM on October 21, 2005

I really like the looks and feel of it, very clean. Like others, I'd probably use it if the rest of my extensions were compatible.
posted by prostyle at 8:37 AM on October 21, 2005

The only thing holding this back from being my primary browser is that you can't install standard firefox plugins, which is a shame.

Yeah, that and the fact that my homegrown blog software won't work with it holds me back from more usage.

But I also like how del.icio.us is used for bookmarks, and utilizes the star button for easy adding.
posted by jragon at 8:40 AM on October 21, 2005

Probably the only thing that really got more than a "Meh" from me about this is the "Shelf" feature. It beats a one-item-only clipboard. And for all its talk about social integration with Flickr and del.icio.us, it sure is hard to find anything which indicates one-click functionality with either. I was at least expecting big old "POST TO FLICKR" and "POST TO DEL.ICIO.US" buttons somewhere.

Oh, the Blog Editor works for you Movabletype users as long as you know where your mt-xmlrpc.cgi is.
posted by brownpau at 8:41 AM on October 21, 2005

On preview -- oh okay, the star posts to del.icio.us. I couldn't tell.
posted by brownpau at 8:42 AM on October 21, 2005

I use FF 1.5 + live bookmarks + a del.icio.us(this) bookmarklet to acheive most of the same effect.

why not just create a flikr side bar plugin for FF is you want easy access to your pics?

Well, whatever whatever... maybe it'll turn out cooler than it currently is.
posted by C.Batt at 8:44 AM on October 21, 2005

i prefer stepping outside and meeting people.
posted by yonation at 8:52 AM on October 21, 2005

"i prefer stepping outside and meeting people" yonation furiously typed into a text box on a website.
posted by jragon at 9:01 AM on October 21, 2005

"2 Way Web Gets Closer" davem furiously posted onto a public website for others to read.
posted by cillit bang at 9:09 AM on October 21, 2005

Just another useless piece of software that does something that's already been done for seven years under the new current hipster newspeak of 'Web 2.0'.
posted by angry modem at 9:11 AM on October 21, 2005

I do all the "things" that it is supposed to make easier/better, but I didn't find it very useful at all. It is a nice attempt, but not really as revolutionary as I was expecting given the buzz.
posted by shoepal at 9:18 AM on October 21, 2005

I would like to engage in maximum cuddles with angry modem right now.
posted by Josh Zhixel at 9:20 AM on October 21, 2005

I guess I'll be the one that links to the Joel Spolsky piece on the flaw in Web 2.0:

"[...] and we're all supposed to fall in line with the theory that cool new stuff like Google Maps, Wikipedia, and Del.icio.us are somehow bigger than the sum of their parts"
posted by cillit bang at 9:22 AM on October 21, 2005

Cool enough, I guess. But Damn, that's a lot of VC and a lot of employees for a free product. I know they're supposedly making money from search arrangements within the browser, which accounts for some income.

Just saying, the boom is back and boomer than ever.
posted by menace303 at 9:23 AM on October 21, 2005

It has a nice interface, I will give it that. But at this point I don't need another application. And I can do just about anything I want w/ Firefox and plug-ins. Plys, Iove Ecto for blog posting. Too many people trying to make killer "Web 2.0" applications that I don't think understand what their users are looking for.
posted by webranding at 9:32 AM on October 21, 2005

I love how some people look at something for 5 minutes and then decide there is nothing new there. Couldn't be possible that you missed something. Nope nope.
posted by spock at 9:34 AM on October 21, 2005

Looked at it for more then an hour. If after that amount of time I don't see a benefit then there could very well be a problem with the applications functionality.
posted by webranding at 9:39 AM on October 21, 2005

Right now it's pretty cool, not exceptionally cool.

Though, after talking to Bart at the blogon conference, about developing an interface for my web app with his browser, it seems like he is building more of a platform than a browser. Let me explain.

Think about it this way, if you do one thing, like bookmark a page, that action can be tied together with all of your other online expereinces. It's going to be sorta of a system for maintaining relationships between your personal web applications, whatever it is you happen to use. So your browsing can be seamlessly part and parcel of your more static, page based online persona. Basically, a browser that plays with all of the open API's that are out there in the wild.

If that happens, and that's what Bart explained to me, it's going to be exceptionally cool.
posted by Freen at 9:43 AM on October 21, 2005

Freen, there are exactly zero meaningful statements in your explanation.

It's not a platform. It's an ordinary web browser with marginally more convenient access to flickr and delicious plus an ordinary blogging tool that happens to run in the same address space. If all they have planned for the future is marginally more convenient access to other services, then I really don't see the point.
posted by cillit bang at 10:05 AM on October 21, 2005

I load less and less into my browser these days. I like my tools and info to not be tied to whatever machine I happen to be on. I've basically got all my stuff when I sit down at any computer in the world with web access. So the idea of tying more of my stuff into an app on my machine is a step in the wrong direction, to me. Don't get me wrong, I love my del.icio.us bookmarklets - but they're a lightweight tool I do fine without, and can set up on a new machine in 15 seconds without interfering with anything else.

A posse of lightweight general tools > A hardwired bundle of branched and branded components.
posted by freebird at 10:08 AM on October 21, 2005

I don't see the point either. Aren't those things like posting to a blog or delicious all things you can already do with a single click on a javascript bookmarklet anyway?
posted by funambulist at 10:28 AM on October 21, 2005

Plus, the blogging interface is (right now) not very useful -- you can't, for example, set the category of a blog post, change the timestamp, the extended entry, the excerpt, or any of the metadata. You can't turn comments on and off. Etc.
posted by eustacescrubb at 10:43 AM on October 21, 2005

Ah, yes, the great saviour - "Web 2.0". Nicholas Carr's take on it: amoral.
posted by GuyZero at 10:44 AM on October 21, 2005

I just don't understand why there's whole new browser to do this. Why didn't they just make a Firefox plugin and call it a day?
posted by waldo at 10:49 AM on October 21, 2005

I like the concept but the execution is lacking. I'm sure fix the following, but these things stop Flock being an option as my default browser:

1. If you have used the search box before, if you click in it, it does not highlight the existing text for easy deletion. You can't even highlight the text with the mouse and then delete/over-type. You have to delete the letters one by one with the keyboard, before you can begin your new search. It's quicker to go to Google.com.

2. I really dig that I can add del.icio.us links so easily with the star/favs feature, but if I add quick links directly to the browser front end interface I don't want those to be posted to del.icio.us (things like my Gmail inbox and router). At the moment it seems to want to add everything you add as a bookmark to your del.icio.us links.

3. Said quick links added to the browser interface: I can't middle-click them to have them open in new tabs. Since these are my most frequently visited sites, this would be most useful; and it's a feature I have come to rely on heavily in Firefox. In fact I can't even right-click, open in new tab. I have to ctrl-N, give the new tab focus, then hit the link. Eeesh!

These are the things I noticed in the short minutes I played with it. The reason I am saying all this, is that a lack of Firefox extension support at present (I gather they're working on it) is nothing compared to all the little UI tweaks you'll be used to as a Firefox user that make this browser at such an early incarnation a pain in the arse. But as they say, it's a an early developer release (so not open to the public as such, I don't think) and they don't recommend you use it yet as a primary browser.

People are going to go ahead and use it any way, and it was bound to get about; so I think they've made a pretty serious error by releasing it with the UI the way it is.

I was impressed LiveJournal was among the blogging tools supported. That says to me they're working on a browser that will make the web as accessible to as many people as possible, and not just the "early adopter geeks" as you put it. The signs are good.
posted by nthdegx at 11:05 AM on October 21, 2005

"I don't understand this. I can put it together myself using this, that, and these things over here."

Look, folks, freen pretty much nailed it. Yeah, you can go get some FF plug-in to do some of this, but it's NOT INTEGRATED INTO THE APP. Not everyone is a hacker. If you hand a non-del.icio.us user this app, they'll turn into one. Not so if they have to go download some extension.
posted by mkultra at 11:14 AM on October 21, 2005

but these things stop Flock being an option as my default browser

Most people would have stopped at "Developer Preview"
posted by mkultra at 11:15 AM on October 21, 2005

I agree with you, mkultra. Take the x's to close tabs, for instance. I need to install an extension to make that work on Firefox, but it should be integrated into the app because it's common sense UI design. I wouldn't mind so much but that extension used to be flaky as hell, though I don't recall what the specific problems were with it. Extensions are a good model for some users, but again the execution leaves a little to be desired. I run my Firefox installation almost extension-free by choice.
posted by nthdegx at 11:17 AM on October 21, 2005

Freebird: unix vs. windows. Some people want a monloithic solution, it's easier, simple, and they don't have to know a whole bunch of different interfaces.

Cillit Bang: Yeah, rereading my post, I don't think I explained it very well. Sorry. I guess we'll just have to wait and see. As it stands, I see it has potential, but then again, I sat down and talked with the guy who made it, so mabye I've drunk the kool-aid.
posted by Freen at 11:17 AM on October 21, 2005

I load less and less into my browser these days. I like my tools and info to not be tied to whatever machine I happen to be on.

Word up. Word straight up. Perpendicular. Wasn't the point of this whole web business to make us less dependent on our desktop software?
posted by aparrish at 11:18 AM on October 21, 2005

Most people would have stopped at "Developer Preview"

Fine, but that doesn't really indicate that this browser isn't ready for the road yet. It's because I think it is a worthwhile project that I'm pointing out the sort of problems that, in my opinion, make it unsuitable for mainstream use. I'd rather people waited a bit than were put off the browser completely (which might be the case with some, though probably not most MeFi readers. We can be a fickle lot: quick to judgement).
posted by nthdegx at 11:20 AM on October 21, 2005

You know what Flock should do? Integrate Meebo and IRC into the browser, preferably inline. If I could load #tapes into one tab (there's already Chatzilla, just make it tabbable!) and have a sidebar for contacts and another tab for messages... Wham, killer social app everyone is clambering over each other to download. You listening, Flock?
posted by brownpau at 11:23 AM on October 21, 2005

Nude pics of the devs, PLZ!!!
posted by eatitlive at 11:53 AM on October 21, 2005

Think it'll take a lot more before I'd switch over. Password manager pops up every time I boot flock up, opening the favourites manager causes the browser to seize up. The flickr add on is great, if you blog, otherwise I don't see the point. Overall it gets a meh from me.
posted by squeak at 12:40 PM on October 21, 2005

posted by BlackLeotardFront at 1:08 PM on October 21, 2005

I've had the chance to play with Flock since its 0.2 private beta release and it has had an interesting evolution. It began as a browser with a we-based app bundled with it, a service similar to delicious, but involving more than just links. One of the few features that I really enjoyed was the integration of your friends data into your browser's search bar. So, if I were to search for "bananas", it would show me all the links from my history browsing that had "bananas" in it as well as any links my friends (as defined by the web app) had marked as favorites that also included the word "bananas". I'm hoping they consider bringing that functionality back.

The 0.5 release, Albatross as it were, has really gone through and streamlined a lot of their previous features. It's young and aimed at a lot of generiec blogging and social features that people use. The blog editor may not be insanely robust, but it is useful and carries with it the same common denominators across all blogging platforms. The top shelf is going to continue to grow with new integrations and services that you can flip between. The RSS element does things that I have yet to see any other feed app manage to do.

It has some great potential, but it is obvious that this browser is aimed towards a specific target audience. The Flock guys themselves are great and really open to feedback and suggestions, so pass some their way if you've got any.
posted by erisfree at 1:27 PM on October 21, 2005

So, they're telling us what it does now? I'm sorry, I'm still pissed off about the Crying Game-style marketing.
posted by cali at 1:28 PM on October 21, 2005

I don't blog because I never had a diary and don't feel like starting one now; I don't use flickr because I have no pictures that I want the world to see, even if they cared to; and I hardly use delicious since I find plenty of interesting stuff here (how is redundancy cool?) (how is redundancy cool?). But... if it can make me coffee at the office from pressing a button at home, then I'm all for it.
posted by cleverusername at 3:05 PM on October 21, 2005

"and I hardly use delicious since I find plenty of interesting stuff here (how is redundancy cool?) (how is redundancy cool?"

Well del.icio.us is just as much about organizing and re-finding links as it is about finding new ones. When you have links in the thousands you want very quick access to, it really comes into its own.
posted by nthdegx at 12:36 AM on October 22, 2005

I'm sorry, but I find this utterly useless. I am offended at the way Flock is being marketed through this crying game bs approach they chose to go by.

Reading through some of your responses, I can honestly say I agree with what 90% of users are saying. There could be a simple Firefox extension that would take care of this. I read someplace that these guys are expecting to have 5 million users? What kind of a drug are they on? This is almost like dating an ex murderer and *hoping* for the best. Are they seriously so blind that they cannot see a dead end and a complete waste of time with this project? Credit goes for the effort, but this is kind of like giving A for the effort to hippies for example, because they are supporting something the majority of the public doesn't really care about.

Flock is just a waste of time, and they only people that are actually going to use it, and support it, will be developers close friends who have had this crap showed down their throats from its early stages. These are the same people who are 'Internet Challenged', so to have a cult-like web developer team with a few *neat*, yet useless ideas, tell them what they should use to browse, is insanely immature and utterly pathetic. I have seen their marketing team at a web convention and let me just say, the Flock web developers really need to grow up, and stop thinking that by having slutty girls promote their browser to a bunch of geeks is shady and cheesy.

I, along with the rest of the normal population, will continue to use the #1 browser in the world, Firefox. With extensions that Flock cannot measure up to.
posted by smoothie at 7:33 AM on October 24, 2005

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