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Flock, the Social Web Browser

written by: •edited by: Bill Fulks•updated: 12/31/2008
4

Social media is hot, and now there is a web browser that focuses on integrating social tools with all the usability, security, and safety of FireFox. Read on for the facts on the new Flock Social Web Browser.

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    Social Browsing with a FireFox Base

    The Flock Social Web Browser is a recent offering, and I originally looked at it with much skepticism. I am a fan of FireFox and while I'm always looking for new social media technology, I am not looking to change browsers after getting all nice and comfy. However, after a little bit of time, I was convinced that, while Flock has places where it can improve, it is a promising new browser with plenty to offer that will soon become my browser of choice.

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    Stability

    Rating Average

    Being built on FireFox's base code, Flock is sturdy as a rock under normal browsing circumstances. I am one of those people who live on the web and have at least ten tabs open at all times. At a given point, I will have multiple microblogging services and mashups in various windows, plus Digsby, Outlook 2007, OneNote 2007, and Last.fm running in my tray. While I was able to make Flock stall out, it was nothing that wouldn't have made any other browser stall, such as loading tons of plugins and using everything the browser and plugins offer at the same time. Notably, doing the same thing in some other browsers, including FireFox 2, would have crashed the browser.

     

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    Features

    Rating Average

    Flock's features are where it really shines. The sidebar incorporates feeds, services, webmail, and friends list, while a collapsible media bar across the top of the browser allows you to stream pictures and video while browsing other sites. A built in blog editor allows you to blog directly from your browser in a standard WYSIWYG, source, and preview interface, while a compiled "My World" homepage compiles all your feeds and services into a single page for easy viewing.

    The friends list is a cross services and gives updates to status and microblogger posts through Twitter or Pownce with the ability to nudge or reply. The media bar is smooth and clean, scrolling and loading swiftly with no perceptible lag. The only problem with it is the lack of choices for media services. I use a subscription service which streams about 400 different shows and lets you build playlists, and being able to watch it while browsing on the same machine would be a wonderful feature.

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    Services

    Rating Average

    While it certainly incorporates the most popular services such as Flickr and FaceBook, many of the cutting edge services that users who focus on social media use are just not there yet. Lifestreamers such as FriendFeed or Profilactic and next-gen microbloggers such as Plurk are common for social media types, with many serious users already primarily using Ping.fm and BrightKite and other services still in beta. The internet moves very fast, the world of social media doubly so. The limited services really disappoints, but this is a product in early development. I hope for the addition of at least one common lifestreamer with the next major revision.

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    Security

    Rating Average

    As always, FireFox's network code is tight and clean, and Flock is able to build its extensions on that for maximum security. There is little to say here that has not been said about FireFox.

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    Look and Feel

    Rating Average

    This is Flock's weak point. The browser is shiny and fast, but its overall usability suffers because of the extensive use of the headbar for media and the sidebar for services. Everything is tabbed and the tabs are large and intrusive, which impedes the use of any other toolbars. Since the social media services are such a huge part of the appeal of Flock, using it without the sidebar open seems pointless, and so what you end up with is a lot of tabs and services with very little browser. The more you use the special features of Flock, the less of a web-browser it is and the more of a desktop social media application it becomes.

    When you add to this the fact that no FireFox themes work for it and it has no themes of its own, the look and feel rating of Flock really suffers. One of the great things about FireFox is the ability to customize the browsing experience, and Flock has none of that.

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    Summary

    Right now I am in FireFox, but that is mostly because of comfort. I am slowly figuring out how to configure Flock to where it is as useful as I have learned to make FireFox over the years, and then I will switch over completely. While the services that are built in don't include most of my current favorites, the addition of functional plugins from FireFox addresses that issue. The browser is young, so I expect themes to exist to change the interface and get those tabs out of my way soon. Overall, as a social media addict who works on the internet, this browser is almost perfect for me, and as soon as I can hack it to act the way I like it, it will be my browser of choice.

    Final Word: If you like social media and FireFox, Flock is for you, but you might want to wait until some themes are out for it.

    Looking for the best FireFox add-ons and plug-ins, read FireFox 3 Extensions Roundup