What the… Flock 0.5pre?

It’s calling itself “the social browser” and claims to be the champion of Web 2.0.

Visit the site and you’ll find humongous type and a free-spirited blurb about the way the web should work, but what is Flock and should you be excited about it? It claims to be one of the first browsers that emphasizes the internet sharing experience, allowing you from within the browsers interface to add and share del.ic.ious links (cf. my post about that), post to and manage your blog(s), add and share Flickr photos and act as a fully functioning RSS news reader. Those are some ambitious goals and certainly some vital needs in this new age of Internet.

Internet Explorer essentially has none of this functionality built in. Opera has a decent news reader built into their mail client. FireFox has some decent plugins that can do some of this. But no major browser really integrates these tasks that have become the core of Web 2.0–sharing, integrating and expressing. I just got the golden ticket today to download the 0.5 Public Release of Flock, rife with warnings about bugs and such. So how does it live up to the hype?

UPDATE: It seems as though Chris Messina, one of the pioneers in the Flock project, is calling Flock quits/going insane. Check out the rant on his blog.

My impressions upon first launch were weak. Aside from a fairly clean interface, it was really just Firefox in Socks. Cruise the menus, much of the same. Until I hit the favorites menu. Star and tag this page? Hmm..

Seems as though Flock allows you to create “collections” of websites that can be easily opened as groups into tabs. They also integrate cleanly with your del.icio.us links and you can tag sites directly from your browser:

Unfortunately, you don’t have that cool Ajaxy functionality of del.icio.us that recommends tags for your pages or shows you what other people are tagging the page as. Those are vital when trying to standardize your tagging, and they’re certainly missed in the interface here. Perhaps a plugin later could include that functionality.

One of the better features of Flock is the ability to then take these collections and aggregate the news feed from them into a single list, all powered by Flock. For some reason, the aggregation window was extremely slow and didn’t like being made any smaller than 1024×768.

Then I moved over to the tools window and found paydirt–the ability to post to a blog directly from the browser. Since I use Movable Type, setup was easy. Just enter my MT installation directory, user name and password. It imported all of my blogs and all of the entries. There was no evident way to work with multiple blogging platforms. (Once you log in, the setup options disappear and can only be changed in options.)

A “Blog Bar” appears across the top with a “Drop Zone” that you can simply drag and drop things from your Flock window to and it will create a new post about it. Very handy, though a drop zone for local files would be nice as well.

Creating a new entry was also simple. A nice WYSIWYG editor pops up and lets you type away and publish with the push of a button. Tags are supported here as well, though I’m not sure how well they interact with the actual blogging software. You can also change the “Blog Bar” with a “Flickr Bar” that interfaces with your Flickr account and lets you easily drag and drop images into new posts. I’m sure this is a life saver for bloggers with Flickr accounts.

I dug around some more but really didn’t find anything else of note, except perhaps the shelf. Think of it as an enhanced clipboard, allowing you to drag anything from Flock–links, images and whatnot–onto it for later perusing. Not sure how handy it could be.

The final verdict? Well, it’s tough to say at this point because of it’s professed alpha-ness. The download page screams that changes are on the way, and I believe them. But the first impression is really nothing more than a “huh” and an eyebrow raise. Flock’s value is not so much in it’s groundbreaking technology, it’s really just in the convergence of many elements that traditional browsers overlook. Instead of requiring plugin and extension downloads and installations, it’s part of the core of the program (at least in theory).

In a nutshell, it brings alot of handy things together. Will that be enough to “revolutionize” the web? Not in the Firefox sense, but we’ll have to see.

See for yourself. (Shhhhhh…)