At first, Flock appealed to me in a purely superficial way. As you may have noticed, I’m a sucker for style, good design and pretty textures, and Flock certainly unites all of these features.
Fortunately, that’s not all there is to tell. Flock is based on Mozilla Firefox and was first released in 2005. Back then it may have been a little bit ahead of its time since social web was only in its beginnings. Recently however, Flock has enjoyed very positive media coverage and its popularity virtually exploded in the beginning of this year, reaching close to three million downloads and increasing the number of active users by 135% [Source via Wikipedia].
So what’s this Flock about?
First of all, it’s a new word in my English vocabulary and maybe yours, too!
flock [‘flÃ¤k] – as found on Merriam-Webster OnLine
Etymology: Middle English, from Old English flocc crowd, band; akin to Old Norse flokkr crowd, band
Date: 13th century
1: a group of animals (as birds or sheep) assembled or herded together
2: a group under the guidance of a leader; especially : a church congregation
3: a large number <a flock of tourists>
As the name suggests, Flock is a community tool, rather than a ordinary browser. It comes with a lot of built in features, tailored to instantly connect you to your Web 2.0 addictions.
Personally, I’m not a member of each and every social community. I refuse to set up half a dozen profiles and indulge in fake popularity, if any. It’s simply not my thing. If you’re like me, you’ll probably not feel tempted to try Flock in the first place, but you may change your mind, just as I did.
So let’s look at it in a bit more detail.
The installation holds no surprises. I had some issues with the Import Wizard tough, which seemed to take forever to copy my Firefox data. I quit and found that some of my Bookmarks (Favorites) and saved passwords actually made the transfer, but not all of them. I manually re-started the wizard, trying to copy just the Bookmarks, but it stalled again and I finally gave up. Google didn’t have any answers, thus I’ll assume it’s not a common issue. Needless to say I did close Firefox prior to starting the Import Wizard.
Anyways, once Flock is launched you can go ahead and use it like any other browser or inspect its characteristic features. If you’re familiar with Mozilla based browsers, you’ll feel comfortable using it right from the start. Assuming that you won’t have any trouble with the basics, I’ll introduce you to the Flock specifics only.
The menu bar in the upper left is where we’ll start. From left to right there are buttons to launch My World, People Sidebar, Media Bar, Feeds Sidebar, Favorite Sites Sidebar, Accounts and Services Sidebar, Web Clipboard Sidebar, Blog Editor, and Photo Uploader. That’s quite a lot. So what do all of these do?
My World is Flock’s custom start page. It serves as a platform to keep you updated on any changes around the internet. Per default there are four widgets. With Friend Activity you can see what your friends on Facebook, Flickr, Twitter or YouTube have been up to; just log into the respective accounts.
It’s easy to keep track of your Favorite Media and keep it right at your fingertips, I’ll explain how a little further down. You can of course follow your Favorite Feeds and see what your Favorite Sites, or rather your most recently viewed Favorites are.
The People sidebar is the equivalent to the Friend Activity widget. Here you can interact with your friends on various social platforms, see messages, invites, your status, who’s on, and share media with them while you’re browsing the web.
The Open Media bar per default launches on top of your open pages, but can be moved to the bottom through >Media Streams >Settings.
Within the bar you can conveniently browse pictures and videos, look at the latest and most popular items, or search for something specific. Clicking on a picture or video will open it in a new window (Truveo) or the active tab (all others). So be sure to middle-click to launch in a new tab!
If there is something you want to follow up on, click the star symbol to add it to your Favorite Media and it will be listed on your My World start page. To remove a piece of Favorite Media, simply click the star again while looking at it.
Easy to configure haven for all your Feeds needs. Manually add, import or export Feeds. Sort them into folders, mark as read or delete through right-click menu.
What is displayed in the sidebar is only the name of the Feed and how many unread articles remain to be seen. The actual list opens in the active tab, unless you middle-click to open. From that list you can pick individual articles to read. Nothing revolutionary.
Favorite Sites Sidebar
Pretty much the same as Firefox’s Bookmarks sidebar. What seems different is the separation into Local and Online Favorites. Online Favorites represent your links collected in a social bookmarking account such as del.icio.us or Magnolia.
Accounts and Services Sidebar
This section contains a comprehensive list of supported services categorized into People, Media Sharing, Blogging, Online Favorites and Webmail. Your accounts are shown on top of the list.
Web Clipboard Sidebar
This, I must say, is the most adorable and useful feature of Flock, definitely my favorite!
Instead of adding each and every discovery right to your Favorites, you can drop them off at the Web Clipboard and sort through them later. The Web Clipboard was clearly designed with love for detail and many possible applications in mind. You can add links, images and even pieces of text, which is great for writers. The little thumbnail along with the title remind you of what is hiding behind each item in the list.
Items can be re-arranged via drag and drop. Moving the mouse over View will trigger a small preview window of the item, and clicking View will open it in a popup window, from where it can be copied or opened in a new tab. Items can be pre-sorted by adding folders. Being able to forward items via Email or directly add them to a blog post within Flock is just extra cool. And of course Delete is the best way to get rid of an item. Worth mentioning is that you can safely restart Flock without losing items parked at the Web Clipboard.
What is lacking is a way to bookmark items or, in the case of text snippets, their source directly, without having to open them.
The included Blog Editor supports WYSIWYG, offline writing and publishing to Blogger, LiveJournal, Typepad, WordPress, Blogsome, Xanga, and self-hosted blogs. It’s quite useful and nicely integrates with the Web Clipboard by allowing to open it as a sidebar within the editor window.
Submit content to Facebook, Flickr, Photobucket and Picasa Web Albums straight from your browser. Easy to set up and use.
Web 2.0 has produced so many awesome sites that it has become difficult to keep track of all your accounts. Flock attempts to solve this issue by integrating the most popular services in its browser interface. The solutions offered are straight forward and well thought out. There may be room for improvement, for example a more flexible configuration of the My World start page, however keeping it simple should be the main focus. More complicated features can always be added via extensions.
Taken together, if you’re an avid user of social platforms, you will love Flock. If you’re not, you might still find a useful feature that will get you hooked. In any case, you won’t have to abstain from your favorite Firefox extensions, since most of them are compatible with Flock.
Have you joined the Flock? What is your experience and what are your favorite Flock extensions? Please enlighten us through your comment!