July 8, 2006

Ok like a “Flock of sheep” or a “Flock of seagulls”? Nope, Flock as in the Web browser. I found this new browser by reading TechCrunch. I decided to try it out and I have been using it ever since. Sure it has it’s quirks and I don’t seem to mind some of the “pitfalls” (described below). I also, don’t use all of the features, but you know what? I like it… and here’s why.

1. It’s Firefox.
Yup, the core engine of this baby is Firefox. So, all of the same things I like about Firefox (read my earlier posts) are still here.

2. Best News Reader (for free!).
I was a huge fan of Sage – the extension for Firefox which handled all of my needs for news reading. Then I tried this. I have to say today that this is probably the single reason that I use Flock soo much.

2a. Downloads RSS Automatically
One of the things that I didn’t like about Sage (and I did not realize I didn’t like it until I tried Flock) was that you had to force Flock to retrieve your RSS. It did not do it on a scheduled basis. Flock is constantly reloading your RSS. That means it will notify you when there are new articles by changing the News Reader Icon (which is a part of the normal browser window icons – like Back, Forward, Stop).
2b. Reader is easy to use (once you understand it)
The news reader loads all of the feeds in the left pane (which shows and hides automatically whenever you go to an RSS feed). On the Right side it will show all of the posts pretty neatly.

2c. The look and feel is better
I like the way the news reader looks. Each feed has a little icon next to it (based on the icon located in the RSS or the favicon.ico on the site hosting the RSS feed). The layout of the content in the right page is preceded by a management header that allows you to mark all posts as read. Boy I could go on and on about the reader.

3. It’s cool.
The icons for the browser are a ton better than those of Firefox. It’s ice blue.

4. Integrates directly with Photobucket and/or Flickr
Yup, it has an integrated tool which allows you to upload images directly to your photobucket or flickr account. (I have since found this to not be as useful as the new Picassa – which I will post about soon).

5. Integrates directly with your Blog
Click Ctrl + B and it opens a little word pad window which allows you to post about something while your are reading. I have been using Performancing (which loads nicely in Flock too!) so this tool has little use for me.

6. Integrates the Stop button and the Refresh button
Yeah, never really realized how silly two buttons for Stop and Refresh were. When you start navigating to a site, you would not need to click refresh (at least not frequently – F5 works fine for me). So the refresh button automatically switches to a Stop button. Then when a page loads all the way it switches from a Stop button to a Refresh. No need to hit Stop when a page is loaded already.

It was some of these little things which interested me. Hey someone was thinking about how we use the web.

So what are some of the pitfalls for this product?

1. Doesn’t support folders (or sub-folders) in the bookmarks or Toolbars
I am a big fan of organizing. I have not switched over to this whole “Tagging” thing yet so I am much more efficient loading up a folder with common links. It makes it easier for me to manage my links. I may get better at using Delicious but for right now, I don’t have enough time to tag all of my links.

2. The settings on the News Reader were not intuitive at first and defaulted to a setting I found unuseful
The reader by default would not display anything. That is because by default when you clicked on the left nav to see a feed you had registered, it would immediately mark all the links in the feed as read. When I set the settings to be logical (or at least what I thought to be logical – to display only “New” items) nothing was “New”. They had all been marked as Read when I clicked on the feed so they were now all “Viewed” so, they did not show up.

Annoying at first, but with some help from a friend, we found the setting that “Mark[ed] feeds as viewed when selected in the sidebar”. Now the setting in the main window to only display “New” items was correct. Happy Day!

3. Some of the existing Firefox extensions were not compatible
At first it appeared that there was a complete difference between the two platforms when it came to extensions. Now it appears that there has been somewhat of a convergence and tools have been built to make Firefox Only extensions work in Flock.

So what does this mean (and why am I really using Flock)? For me it shows me how important (and powerful) the browser has become. This tool can now Read RSS, Aid in organizing and post pictures to your favorite image site, Post to your blog and oh yeah by the way…browse the Internet. I know that Firefox can do all of this with extensions but all of this is “Out of the box” with no extensions needed. It shows that there is some movement on the integration of applications with your web browser.

A quick note: Photobucket is now distributing a custom Flock browser which only supports uploading images to the Photobucket site. In addition, there are rumors that Yahoo will be doing the same (only removing Photobucket). Let the games begin.


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