November 3rd, 2007
At the suggestion of IBM’s knowledge-management/social-networking wizard, Luis Suarez (not to be confused with the football and baseball players also named Luis Suarez, described here in Wikipedia!), I downloaded a new Web browser called Flock last night (click here to see Luis’ review of Flock). A beta version has been available for quite a while, it has an official description (click here) on Wikipedia, and it actually began drawing some attention as far back as 2005; but the official Version 1.0 was released just today (according to this blog posting by Flock’s Shawn Hardin).
It would be easy to describe Flock as “yet another Firefox-based web browser,” of which we probably have more than enough. But what makes Flock special is the emphasis it puts on social networking tools. With very little effort, you can set up an unobtrusive sidebar on the left side of the screen, to show an up-to-date listing of Twitter, Facebook, and Flickr postings. Another click shows your RSS feeds in the same sidebar, and another click switches the sidebar to a list of links to Ma.gnolia, del.icio.us, Piczo, Photobucket, and YouTube. At the top of the same sidebar are a number of tiny icons that can be invoked to upload new photos to Flickr or Photobucket, open a blog-editor window (which you can configure so that blog entries can be posted on Blogger, Blogsome, LiveJournal, Typepad, WordPress, Xanga, or your own hosted blog service), or open a drag-and-drop Web clipboard.
Of course, most of these features won’t matter if you stubbornly believe that blogging and social networking are frivolous activities carried out only by lonely teenagers; but since none of these features intrude upon the old-fashioned, classic display of Web pages in the main window, it doesn’t hurt to have them available. Sooner or later, someone you know and someone whose opinions you care about (e.g., your boss) is likely to communicate with you through Twitter, Facebook, or some other service — and it will be much easier for you to participate if the features are right there, waiting for you to click on them.
In addition to the social networking features, Flock has a number of other nice touches; as the Wikipedia page points out, these features include:
- Flock’s custom homepage, “My World”, tells you when your friends have new photos and videos and when you have new feeds. My World gives quick access to your recently visited favorite sites as well.
- Bookmarks, in addition to being saved offline, can be replaced with del.icio.us. When a bookmark (known as a favorite) is added, it is added to the user’s del.icio.us account.
- Favorites can be tagged
- A favorites and history section are integrated into the favorites manager.
Flock also has a more sophisticated range of search capabilities than anything I’ve seen recently. In addition to the relatively obvious option of setting a “default” search engine to invoke Google, Amazon, Yahoo, Wikipedia, or Ask.com, Flock is smart enough to realize that a random Web page that you’ve stumbled upon has its own search engine; it then displays an unobtrusive little frame at the top of your page, inviting you — with one or two mouse-clicks — to add that search engine to your list of available engines. I’ve only been using Flock for a few hours, but I’ve already added the search engines from Technorati, Blogger Blog Search, eBay, and IMDb (the database of movies) to my repertoire. After all, you never know when someone will ask you who played the lead role of Pollyanna in the original 1920 movie by the same name (answer: Mary Pickford).
In his review, Luis Suarez (who has been using the earlier beta versions of Flock for quite a while) notes that Flock is not as fast as Opera; and since it is only a Version 1.0 product, I’m sure it will have a few other rough edges too. I’m not quite ready to give up my offline blog editor (Ecto); and I’m not sure if I’m ready to give up my standalone RSS feedreader (NetNewsWire). On the other hand, it took only a moment, and a few clicks, to automatically import all 65 of my blog subscriptions from NetNewsWire into Flock — with no instructions, and no experience from having done such a thing before. If everything turns out to be that simple, intuitive, and user-friendly, I wouldn’t be surprised if all of my browsing, surfing, scanning, twittering, and other Internet-related activities gravitate into the Flock environment.
Meanwhile, I invite you to try it out for yourself. You may not be sufficiently persuaded to switch (and I’m not going to delete Safari or Firefox from my hard disk quite yet), but I guarantee you’ll enjoy the experience!