The developer preview of Flock was released a few days ago, and the blogging geeks have gone nuts posting about it. This is not surprising; Flock received a quite a bit of coverage and hype leading up to its release, as it is positioning itself as a browser for bloggers (a “social browser”, as the cool kids are calling it). Consider this entry but one more pebble in the Flock “avalaunch“.
My favorite feature of Flock is that it’s built on top of Firefox, the browser I use for most of my internet needs. Its Firefox heritage provides Flock instant multi-platform compatibilities, with binaries available for Windows, Mac OSX, and Linux. Between work and home, I use all three of these platforms on a daily basis, and so this coverage is appreciated. I’ve installed Flock on all supported platforms, and the experience is typical of what you’d expect for each: a painless Windows installer, a “drag icon to your Applications folder” dmg file for Mac OSX, and a plain ol’ tarball for (i386-based) Linux (flock still hasn’t shown up in my yum repositories). Even better, Flock is (currently) completely open-source, so if you’re using a platform not represented in the above, you’re almost certainly geeky enough to know how to compile an application from its source code.
In fact, Flock in its default mode feels pretty much identical to a stock Firefox installation. And even though Flock doesn’t support every Firefox extension, they’ve gone to the trouble of ensuring the most popular ones are usable on Flock. So, even if Flock provided no additional value, it provides essentially the same experience as the browser I use normally. Of course, that’s a pretty crappy reason to switch browsers, so let’s discuss the value-add, shall we?
Flock provides a host of additional features that are right in my wheelhouse. It’s replaced bookmarks with “favorites”: URLs stored online at the site del.icio.us (provided you have an account there). Folders, of course, are gone, replaced by “tags” and “collections”. I’ve blogged in the past about implementing roaming bookmarks with del.icio.us; this is even better.
Flock also ties into the picture-sharing site Flickr. It provides a view into your (or someone else’s) photo collection at flickr, along with a handy drag-and-drop interface. While I haven’t had much time to use this feature other than for its novelty factor, I’m still optimistic. Given that I’ve been using Flickr for several months now, including integrating it into this blog, I’m sure I’ll find this feature handy in the future.
Speaking of blogs, this is the technical arena that Flock is really playing in. Flock wants to be the browser of bloggers, and all of its features are geared towards making the life of the active blogger easier, from its “Shelf” tool for easily storing URLs, images, and snippets of text (properly attributed to the originating site), to the blog editor that lets you draft and publish blog posts to a variety of blog applications/services. This last feature in particular has me more excited than anything else. I’ve lamented on multiple occasions about how uninspired I am about blogging when presented with WordPress’s default editor, even to the point of considering hooking up Google’s blogging service to my site in a rube goldbergian fashion. With Flock, that may no longer be necessary. Even though Flock’s actual editor is still pretty clunky (no undo, no spell checker, spastic cursor, etc), its integration into the rest of the application is inspired. Drag-and-drop blog creation, using either the “Shelf” or the “Drag stuff to blog it!” target, makes the act of starting a blog entry (usually my biggest hurdle) insanely easy.
This deep integration of the browser into the blogger’s experience has much potential, which Flock has only begun exploring. One nice subtle touch is that since I’ve associated my blog with Flock, I’m automatically logged in whenever I navigate to it. But there’s so much more they can do with this, both large and small. Phil, my CTO, had another such idea:
One thing that would incredibly cool is something like the WordPress “Edit” link which is displayed next to my posts could invoke the Flock editor instead of the wordpress page. Given their deep integration with the browser, Flock could make something like this work.
Anyone who follows this particular blog would never mistake me for an “active” blogger, but a browser like Flock may help turn this posting-challenged lurker into more of an actual interlocutor. Even with its myriad bugs and beta-quality features, Flock shows significant promise of rethinking the browsing experience, at least for those that are looking to do more than just browse.