Flocking Again

by Christopher Paul on November 3, 2007

So Flock 1.0 came out recently and, now that I’ve joined the rest of the social web 2.0, I thought it would be nice to give it an honest try again.  Despite how tightly this application is coupled with famous sites like Facebook, Flickr, YouTube, del.icio.us, Twitter, and others, I still yawn at the thought of using this as my default browser.

First, the browser is still based off of Mozilla’s Gecko rendering engine.  A nice engine – especially compared to Internet Explorer’s bastardized one – but not as nice as Safari’s.  Gecko its not as fast nor as compliant as Safari’s; it still fails the Acid2Test and doesn’t display the reference image properly.  Again, its still better than IE but not perfect like the KHTML/WebKit engine found in Safari and my current favorite, Shiira.

And like Firefox, Flock supports extensions.  But not all extensions work.  So far, the only one I know not to work is the AdBlock Filter Updator – which isn’t that big a deal.  To be fair, I’m not a heavy add-on user because Flock (and Firefox) will often suffer because of poorly coded extensions or just have to many to load at one time; it hogs memory and slows down nearly every function of the app.  I will say this about both Flock and Firefox, the extensions are what make the browsers what they are.  Without them, they’re just a slightly better IE.  Nevertheless, you still aren’t guaranteed that your extensions will work.

Now the main draw to Flock over Firefox is supposed to be the integration I mentioned earlier.  That, too, seems to fail me.  Take Facebook, for example.  Your friends show up on the left sidebar.  Above them, is you and your status.  You can click on your status and change it; you can also clock on some of your applications.  Notice I said some.  Only the standard apps show up.  That might be because Flock can’t anticipate the functionality of every application but, at the very least, it could pull the link from the app and point to it directly in the browser when clicked on.  Also, the “news feed” of your friends doesn’t show up.  Sure, in the friends list, which (by the way) can get really hard to scroll through if you have a long list because each friend takes up almost 10% of the sidebar space, you can see their status.  But to get to their other stuff, you have to click on an “actions” button that lets you poke, send a message, write on their wall, and a few other things.  If you use apps like SuperPoke, you don’t have the ability to use them in Flock.

For the Flickr, integration, you have a similar setup where your contacts on on the side.  You see when they last updated their photo stream but you have to click on their “media” to view their uploads.  In the end, it takes you to the same Flickr page you would normally have gone to had you their Flickr page directly.  And your only options are to send them a message or view their profile.  Sure, you can upload your images to Flickr but that’s just about all you can do on yourself from the website.

With Flock you can also post to your blog.  I’m using it right now and find it comparable to most of the other thick client blogging apps out there like BlogGTK, Ecto, and others.  I guess because I’m not an active blogger – and WordPress has all that I need (including spellcheck) I don’t always see the need for these applications.  But when I was using Blogger, I’ll admit that I would have liked a Flock to handle all the editing and publishing.  I happen to think this is one of Flocks stronger features even if it doesn’t get all the glory of the Web 2.0 world.

I don’t want to make it sound as if Flock is bad.  Far from it, I think Flock is a great piece of software – especially if you use social media sites like YouTube.  It especially works well with del.icio.us – my only bookmarks site.  And it has a slick RSS reader if you don’t like web based apps like Google Reader.  One bonus feature that you won’t find on Firebox (not even as an extension) is extra stability.  According to Techcrunch, Flock’s developers paid special attention to Flock’s stability and is more stable than Firefox; Duncan Riley did a review of 1.0 not too long ago and liked it.  If your a PC user and are frequently seeing your Firefox crash, Flock may be your savior.

But when it comes right down to it, Flock is another Firefox with a few specific extensions that perform tasks that can (and often are) accomplished buy other plugins.  All the updates that are shown in the sidebar are nearly always available as an RSS feed and, if you’re like me and use Google Reader, have access to those updates 24×7 – even if you aren’t at home or on your laptop.  So the value, for me at least, is limited.  Still, I think one should give it a try and see if my observations warrant it.  I’ll be using Flock for the next week with all my sites and I’ll see if I come around.  If not, I’ll be going back to Shiira which, as I mentioned before, rocks!

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