Saturday, October 22, 2005

Thoughts on Flock

Wow. Flock is really impressive.? Yes, I know I'm a bit late in the game to take a look at this facinating browser, but I think it's worth discussing at length.

First off, for the uninformed, Flock is a browser based on Firefox. As such it has all the good ness of this rising force in the browser world. It's safe, fast, extensible, and the latter makes it a hot bed for browser innovation.? There are few browsers already based on Firefox and it's Gecko rendering engine. Some offer tighter integration with one OS or another like Camino for Mac OS X.? But Flock goes beyond OS integation and build into the browser a few simple tools directly into the browser that make the web, specifically blogs (insert your blogging platform of choice here), photo sharing (flickr), and link sharing (del.icio.us) into a single program. The combination is powerful.?

Replacing static bookmarks on your computer with a network social bookmarking service (del.icio.us) brings a whole new set of functionality to your bookmarks.? Since they are saved on the network they are available from any system.? But del.icio.us allows you to tag your bookmarks with keywords and Flock allows you to view your bookmarks by tag. Adding bookmarks with Flock is simple and Flock exposes the tagging feature of del.icio.us to the user.? One feature Flock should add is del.icio.us' ability to see other users' bookmarks, how they've tagged them, and other users' bookmarks tagged with your tags.? e.g. Say you bookmark a link from the NY Times on the Iraq War and tag it with the word 'iraq', del.icio.us will let you click on the link and see all other bookmarks saved by other users that have been tagged with the work 'iraq'.? Kind of interesting, eh?? This might lead you to new information that other people with similar tastes or interests are aware of but you have missed.? I'm sure this feaure will be exposed in the future.

Flock has RSS reading features similar to Firefox and Safari.? Point the browser to a web page that has an RSS feed an you'll see a "Feed" icon in the address bar.? Click on the "Feed" icon and you'll see the RSS content rendered in the browser window.? Bookmark the site and you'll be able to jump back to the RSS Feed simply by clicking on the bookmark.? Flock will automatically act as a blog reader by allowing you to view all the RSS feeds you've bookmarked in one aggregated view. It's hard to describe but download the browser and give it a try.

The downside of this automatic blog aggregation is there isn't a good way to import subscriptions other than bookmarking all of the sites your reading and then clicking on the "Feed" icon in the browser.? If there was a way to import OPML into Flock that might make things easier.

The browser also has built in blogging tools. Sure there are other blogging interfaces to browsers but Flock has added a tool called the Shelf which allows you to drag items (text, pictures, URLs) off web pages into this temporary store then when you want to blog about them you can drag them off the shelf and drop them into the blog posting tool.? Very cool.? The blogging tool could use a few upgrades like spell check, etc. but I bet most of them could be added by using Firefox extensions.

Like most browsers a search input field sits along side the address bar however when you type search terms,? links from your bookmarks and history appear, a la Spotlight, as you type.? So you can pick them immediately or you can run the search at any one of the integrated search engines. (Yahoo, Google, Wikipedia, etc.)

But wait there is more.? Flock also integrates into photo sharing, right now only with Flickr.? Your photos are available via the blogging tool for easy insertion into posts.

Stability is lacking in this browser but I'm sure that will improve over time.? That might be the one thing that would keep me from making Flock my standard browser.

There has been a lot of noise that Flock is the Web 2.0 browser.? I don't buy that kind of hype.? The Flock team has put together is a browser that reflects the current state of the web. A web where HTML is still important but where RSS, OPML, dare I say the semantic web, is increasingly becoming more important. I'll be watching this project very closely.


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