Flock: Blogging Browser
by Wise Young, PhD MD
W. M. Keck Center for Collaborative Neuroscience
Rutgers University, Piscataway, NJ 08854-8082
14 December 2008
For over a decade, I have been administering web-based forums, starting first with Spinewire in 1997-98, then Cando.com from 1999 to 2001, and Carecure.org from July 2001 to now. I spend much time posting onto web sites with a Mac. So, I have become a connoisseur/user of web browsers and have tried almost every one that has come out, at least for the Mac. My current favorite browser is one that is called Flock (http://flock.com/). It has many special features and some frustrations. I thought that I would review my experience here.
What is Flock?
Flock calls itself “The Social Web Browser”. Based on Mozilla’s Firefox 3, the Flock browser is free and available in multiple languages (American English, Chinese, German, Russian, Spanish, and a few other languages. I am using version 2.02 for Mac and there are versions for Windows and Linux.
The browser comes equipped with built-in software to interact with each of the major networking, blogging, news, image, and video sites. It has all the capabilities of Firefox 3 and can use its extensions. For example, I installed Stumble on Flock with no difficulty. In fact, it loads Firefox’s preferences and bookmarks.
Most of Flock’s new functions are available on a little bar of icons located on the left hand side of the favorites menu. In addition, Flock has a “media bar” that downloads and displays image feed from each web site. Clicking each icon changes a left-sided menu bar which gives access to specific web sites.
Flock has ten special features, that you can access from icons from the minibar, i.e.
• World. This opens up a page which contains multiple columns that you can configure. One column, for example, is called Favorite Feeds, which contains news feeds from various web sites that you can add or delete. Another column is Friend Activity which lists all the updates from Facebook, MySpace, etc. and other sites that you may be a member of. Then there is a column called Favorite Media, which lists media that you select, including facebook pictures.
• People. This sets your left-hand column to list status and other updates from Facebook, MySpace, Digg, Flickr, Pownce, Twitter, and YouTube. In Facebook, for example, clicking on a person shown on the left side-bar will take you to their profile or show you their pictures in a scrolling media bar on the top. You can upload photographs directly to Flickr or post a link to your facebook profile without having to navigate through facebook, poke a friend, and answer friend requests.
• Media. This opens (or closes) the media bar which contains pictures from all the various sites that you may belong to and have images, including Digg, Facebook, Flickr, TrueVeo, and Youtube. One nice feature is that it shows little pictures that automatically enlarges when you put your cursor over them. If you click, it goes to the site to show the full-size image. I have not encountered a more convenient and efficient way to view internet pictures, videos, news clips, movie trailers, etc.
• Feeds. This allows you to select any news or website to get feeds from. To add a feed, just go to the site, press the feed icon by the URL address, and the browser automatically adds the web site to your feed sidebar. For example, I went to the CareCure front page, pressed the feed icon, and it automatically gave me a CareCure Forum icon on the side-bar, showing 14 posts with images. You can indicate which one you have viewed, want to save, blog, email, or digg it. There are buttons to refresh, mark all as viewed, show an excerpt or in full, in one or two columsn.
• Mail. So far, I have used it only for G-mail and Yahoo mail. Apparently, it will also work with AOL but Flock is not yet able to collect mail from Earthlink or other mail services. It will collect and display your latest mail in a dropdown menu. The primary mail service can set to always change to the one that was last accessed.
• Favorites. This is like the favorites bar of most browsers except that you can enter and move items on the menu directly by dragging and dropping. It also comes preloaded with the sites that Flock is specially designed to interact with.
• Actions and Services. This shows all the major sites that Flock can interact with and that you have signed up on. It will log into all these sites simultaneously and allow you to flip through them. Each time you have activated an account, it goes to the top of the left window menu.
• Web Clipboard. This is a drag and drop clipboard, where you can store, text, links, and images for later use. Once stored, the material can be viewed, emailed, put into a blog file, or deleted.
• Blog. This opens up a serviceable blog window which will upload to whichever blog service you use. It doesn’t have all the bells and whistles of WordPress but it is not bad. It has an <edit>, a <source>, and a <preview> mode. I use wordpress and can attest that it uploads the files quickly to the web site with no fuss.
• Uploader. This program provides drag and drop uploading of picture files onto facebook of other services. The Flock uploader works better than the applets from Facebook or the Facebook App for iPhoto. For example, the Facebook App for Uploading directly from iPhoto will not create the album for some reason. In addition, the uploader has cropping and some other simple tools for manipulating the picture.
Big windows. This is not a browser for computers with small screens. The top menu/url bar, the favorites bar, any special bar (like Stumble, the tab bar, and the media bar take up 5 cm of window space. If you have the left menu bar active, that adds another 2-3 cm to each window.
Site limitations. There are of course many web sites and services besides the ones that Flock is currently able to access. Unfortunately, only the Flock developers can put these features in. This problem will abate as more sites adopt standardized interfaces but at the moment, Flock cannot access a number of my favorite sites.
Slowdowns. A browser can only do so much. Because Flock interacts with multiple sites at a time, all this activity can make the browser feel sluggish. On the other hand, I am watching a movie, working on Facebook and Linkedin, posting on carecure, blogging of WordPress, and surfing the web on Flock at the same time.
Summary and Conclusions
The Flock browser is a Firefox 3 browser with special features designed for three types of activities. First, it automates interactions with networking sites such as Facebook, MySpace, Digg, Flickr, Pownce, Twitter, and YouTube. Second, it automates collection of text, images, and video from websites, displaying these for rapid viewing and actions. Third, the browser is designed for blogging. It will take image and text, place them in a blogging window, email them, and post them to major blogging sites, including Blogger, Blogsome, LiveJournal, Typepad, WordPress, and Xanga. These functions operate together seamlessly and better than third party applications, at least on the Mac.
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