March 24, 2008

30 minutes with Flock

I was read­ing Plan­et Mozil­la and some­how got lead through a nest of arti­cles to Flock. I’d seen them men­tioned sev­er­al times in tech­ni­cal cir­cles but had­n’t tried the brows­er out. So I did, and decid­ed to do a stream-of-con­scious­ness review of my first half an hour with the prod­uct. Spelling and gram­mar beware!

8:24pm: Wow, very nice website.

install process is a lit­tle clunky if you’ve got a fire­wall that asks about pro­grams access­ing the net. Flock starts three or four times, and each time ZoneAlarm asked about Flock act­ing as a serv­er and then for access­ing the net.

start­up, wow the inter­face is a lit­tle busy. Styl­ish though. I like the star and the lit­tle “rub­ber” back and for­ward but­tons. Most but­tons under­neath I’m obliv­i­ous to except they look like UI clut­ter. White -> grey tool­bar tran­si­tion graph­ic looks good but I don’t know what that area actu­al­ly is.

Intro­duc­to­ry page presents a javascript alert box if google-analytics.com is inac­ces­si­ble (I have it blocked in my hosts file). Click Help in menu, Give Feed­back. Nice! Bug report­ed. That was easy.

Move on from the intro page. I like the “My World” thing. Get dis­tract­ed by a news sto­ry. Mid­dle-click to open sto­ry link, but it trig­gers mid­dle-mouse page move thing. Mid­dle-click again and the sto­ry opens in a tab. Strange but for­giv­able, except if it hap­pens in nor­mal web con­tent as well.

Want to see how the star works — expect book­mark­ing. Click it. Scary orange help bar appears with stuff I don’t care about. Text, links, graph­ic, but­ton, tick­box and cross. Close orange bar with­out read­ing it. Click star again to change the book­mark I just made, although if I was­n’t using FF3 I would­n’t know to do that. Slight­ly scary Book­mark Prop­er­ties win­dow appears. Looks very clunky com­pared to the oth­er UI: con­trols not aligned, Local sec­tion I don’t grok, and tags box does­n’t look like a text box. It isn’t a text box. Text caret does­n’t appear when I click in the box. Close Prop­er­ties box.

Back to My World. Some of the feeds I’m not inter­est­ed in. How do I remove them?

Right click­ing on a feed on the left does­n’t do any­thing. Left click opens the feed in a tab and pops a side­bar open. Side­bar looks con­fus­ing. Close side­bar. Close new tab.

No idea what the num­ber under­neath the feed’s icon do — no tooltip. Click on them to see if they have options for the feed. Opens the feed in a tab, pops side­bar open again. Close side­bar. Close new tab.

Left or right click­ing the “Favorite Feeds” grey col­umn title does­n’t do any­thing. Click lit­tle arrow in mild frus­tra­tion before real­is­ing it moves columns. Move col­umn back. Impressed by sim­ple cus­tomis­abil­i­ty. Click on “Stay in tune” but it only men­tions how to add feeds, not get rid of them.

Click on Wid­gets menu above grey col­umn title. Does­n’t offer any­thing useful.

Click on Favorites in the menu bar. I see Feeds! Unfor­tu­nate­ly I can’t delete ESPN with right click. Does noth­ing. Left click just for the hell of it. Opens the feed in a tab, pops the side­bar open. Close side­bar. Close tab. At this point the side­bar is piss­ing me off.

Work out what the lit­tle icon beside “Post to my blog” is sup­posed to be by infer­rence. It’s a quill.

Open Favourites Man­ag­er. Slight­ly put off by mix of native and cus­tom chrome. 

Can’t find any men­tion of my favourite feeds. Fig­ured they’d be in the Favourites Man­ag­er. Close Favourites Manager.

Start look­ing through the menus. Find Tools, Feeds. Hey, this is the feed side­bar I’ve been clos­ing con­stant­ly. Delete ESPN. Feel con­flict­ed about leav­ing CNN there. Isn’t it strange that I have to open a side­bar to con­fig­ure the feeds when they’re list­ed in the Favourites menu? Close feed sidebar.

Move on to Friend Activ­i­ty. Click on Flickr. Log in, but I’m not sure why. Flickr appears, and I’m dis­tract­ed by pic­tures. Not sure what the point of log­ging into Flickr was. Click back on My World to see if some­thing has mag­i­cal­ly appeared there. Ah, the orange bar has appeared again. Did­n’t see it. My friends will now appear when I’m logged into Flickr. Hmm.

Open a pic up. Orange bar appears again. Get­ting sick of read­ing it. Media streams — I’m assum­ing that refers to the pho­to­stream on the page. (At this point I save this text in notepad, almost call­ing it flockr instead of flock.)

Click the “Show me how” but­ton, which flash­es the movie/camera orange icon near the star. Nice. Click it. Oo! Black bar appears with the pho­to­stream, and pics fade in as they load. That’s real­ly funky.

Open my cur­rent image in Orig­i­nal Size and try to save it. Eek, I miss my Fire­fox exten­sions. Hey, that’s a haz­ard with every new piece of soft­ware. No dramas.

Get dis­tract­ed by real life and come back to Flock five mins lat­er. Momen­tar­i­ly con­fused that my tabs have dis­ap­peared, then I realise they’re under the media bar.

Decide I real­ly, real­ly like the media bar, which is quan­ti­tive­ly one bil­lion times bet­ter than using Flickr directly.

Close all my tabs back to the My World page.

The media bar is incred­i­bly dis­tract­ing. Click on “Media Streams”, Add to Favourites. Win­dow appears with info about what to expect now. Text at the top isn’t eas­i­ly scanned; could do with being a sin­gle-line sen­tence and two bul­lets. I close the Media Streams bar so I can focus on the oth­er My World stuff.

Open a new Digg link from the Favourite Feeds pan­el. Slight visu­al con­fu­sion between tabs and the sec­ond icon bar above them. Almost clicked on the wrong one a cou­ple of times.

Want to try the oth­er options in the Friend Activ­i­ty col­umn, but the options for sign­ing into oth­er ser­vices has dis­ap­peared, over­writ­ten by my flickr contacts.

Explore that icon bar above tabs, find Accounts and Ser­vices tooltip. Click it. Side­bar opens. Flock is obsessed with side­bars. Click on Youtube. Pre­dictably, the orange bar appears with yet more info. Nice, YouTube search engine in the brows­er. Click “Show me how”, add the search engine. Appears in the search list now. Will nev­er use it, since the first thing I did in FF was remove the use­less search bar, set the user­chrome val­ue for search­ing with the address bar, and use it instead.

BTW, I like that Flock down­loaded the Flash run­time on install. Prac­ti­cal­i­ty ftw.

Close YouTube tab and go back to the side­bar. Reflect on the fact I don’t have a twit­ter account. Meh. Won­der what the GMail inte­gra­tion is. Click it.

Old friend the orange bar appears. I’m halfway through read­ing the text when the orange bar inex­plic­a­bly dis­ap­pears. I know it’s spit­ing me for ignor­ing it all the oth­er times. Close GMail, and it remains logged in and avail­able on the side­bar. Imme­di­ate­ly close sidebar.

Click on Wid­gets in My World and enable Favourite Sites. Eek, hor­i­zon­tal scroll­bars are not your friend. Can’t resize Friend Activ­i­ty, which is need­less­ly wide.

Dis­tract­ed by address bar. Have been won­der­ing what the Mail icon beside the “go” but­ton does. Click it. GMail’s com­pose win­dow opens. Pret­ty funky. Notice it’s includ­ed my tab’s cur­rent URL in the mes­sage body, and the tab’s title in the sub­ject. Close GMail tab.

Back in My World and I’m feel­ing over­whelmed by Web 2.0 icons. Close Favourite Sites col­umn. Notice the Mail icon near the tab bar is orange. GMail is being mon­i­tored in the back­ground — nice!

Load slash­dot to get away from My World, which threat­ens to dom­i­nate me with con­stant­ly updat­ing feeds. 


My longest blog entry this year :P

Flock­’s fea­ture­set and inte­gra­tion feels pret­ty vast at first glance. Bar the ini­tial UI con­fu­sion I enjoyed play­ing with the whole My World fea­ture, and the media bar is great. The built-in feed mon­i­tor­ing should strike fear into the heart of any obses­sive-com­pul­sive users; I found myself look­ing at the My World feeds way too often.

The prac­ti­cal­i­ty of hav­ing so many com­mon web ser­vices inte­grat­ed direct­ly with the brows­er is obvi­ous. Right now I’ve got GMail mon­i­tored, there’s updat­ed news to read, and some­one’s post­ed new media con­tent. I can tell that just by three tool­bar but­tons being lit up. That’s great.

It’s tempt­ing to think that some, if not most of this func­tion­al­i­ty could be intro­duced to Fire­fox via exten­sions, and maybe it already is; I haven’t looked. Hav­ing only spent a short time with Flock I expect I haven’t dis­cov­ered two-thirds of the func­tion­al­i­ty. Just hov­er­ing the tool­bar hints at Blog inte­gra­tion, Pho­to upload and a web clip­board fea­ture. There’s the Peo­ple side­bar, which is some­thing unex­plored. A quick glance shows how sim­ple it makes con­tact man­age­ment over sev­er­al web­sites (maybe that’ll change with OpenSocial/DataPortability/Passport et al, but like­ly not). I haven’t ful­ly explored the range of sup­port­ed web ser­vices either.. there’s prob­a­bly an exten­si­bil­i­ty mech­a­nism for that.

Flock is well worth check­ing out.

posted by Andrew

2 thoughts on “30 minutes with Flock

  1. Pingback: log » Safari 4
  2. Eric says:

    I cant get that damn media bar to go away. Every time i open pho­to­buck­et it comes back. Then i close it. 3 sec lat­er its back. And so on. Have u fig­ured out how to make it go away? i already looked in set­tings, and tools and every­where. I swear I am almost junk­ing this prog just because of that flock­ing medi­a­barr grrr

    Email me. erixxxhouse@yahoo

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