It looks like Flock has finally landed. Thanks to Colin from TheUberGeeks for giving me the “scoop.” You can also see what Scott Jarkoff has to say about Flock in his review and also Even Eckard mentioned his thoughts. Also, thanks to Bryan Veloso for suggesting the “Flying with the Flock” title. Very snazzy. Anyways, there is a lot going on in Flock, so lets get started. First off, for those of you that don’t know, Flock is a new browser that is being developed that is to open a whole new world of browsing the web. Integrated with del.icio.us, Flickr, and other tools such as writing to your blog. Sort of a “social browser,” if you will. Now, lets take a look at it.
Flock did a good job at sticking to the basic structure of a browser and basically looks like a beautified Firefox, but with extra features. The buttons on the navigation bar has the basic back, forward, refresh, and home button. But you also get a few new buttons such as a button to open the blog editor, the favorites manager, and the star button to star a site (will get to this later). You also have the address bar and search bar just like Firefox. You will also notice in the screenshot above a dark gray shaded area with photos. That is one of Flock’s topbars. There are only two topbars as of now. The “Flickr Photos” and “Blog Topbar.” The Flickr is the one that you see above. You can enter a username and then it will load the photos right into the top bar. Then selecting and dragging a photo down into the browsers window, it will load the Flickr page for that photo. I absolutely loved knowing that I can be at any website and then open up the a topbar to view the latest photos. I also mentioned the Blog Topbar. With this Topbar open and setup with your blog settings, you can easily select any text from a website and click and drag it into a box that they provide. When you drag it into the box, it will actually bring up the Blog Editor allowing you to create a post very easily with the text you selected in a blockquote and reference to the source, where you selected the text.
Flock also said that there was del.icio.us integration with the browser, so I went straight to the Favorites Manager to see what they have done. When entering for the first time, it asked if I had a del.icio.us account. I filled in my information and then the bookmarks page refreshed with all the bookmarks that I have in del.icio.us… that was easy. On the left are your collections and tags. On the right are your bookmarks in columns with the name, url, tags, and any other information that you wish to select to list, such as description from del.icio.us, and last modified or added dates. Although, when I added the last modified or added dates columns, no values were shown. Maybe something that needs looking at.
In the left column of the Favorites Manager are your collections and tags. Focused in the collections area you can view your current collections, which are pretty much your own groups of bookmarks, You will see, “Your Library,” which are all of your bookmarks. I like how they used the term, library, for this. It makes me feel like im in iTunes. Now, something that I did feel weird with though was the fact that the History is also in the Favorites Manager. I like how it is in here, but it is just a little odd being that History is not my favorites (but could be) and also because I am used to doing “View > Toolbars > History” inside of Firefox. Not a big problem, it just means a little change for me. You will also see your own created collections. They start you off with one called, “Default” that has a few Flock bookmarks in it (note that it also added these to my del.icio.us bookmarks, which was unexpected). Your own collections are good for your own organization and not only that, but for the favorites toolbar built into the browser. You will see these links when you first setup the browser on the favorites bar (which is in the same spot as Firefox had your “Bookmarks Toolbar Folder”). The thing that I liked though was that it splits the favorites up by your collections you created and you can then select a collection on the right of the favorites toolbar to view. So, I can have a collection for my blogs, frequent visits, etc.. Something that is also really neat with collections is that if you have sites that have feeds, then it will detect this and show them. But, on top of that, on the side of the collection name, it will say, “Feeds.” When you click this, it will actually show you all the sites combined in that one file that Flock generates. It will use its built in feed viewer for this (I will explain this later).
Adding of favorites is also very simple. Now, remember that the favorites are integrated with del.icio.us if you provided login details, so when you add a favorite, it will add it to del.icio.us as well. Another difference is that they do not refer to adding of bookmarks as, “Add to Favorites,” but rather, “Star this Page.” Staring is your method of adding links to your favorites and delicious. If you look at the top address bar (where the URL of the site you are at is), you will see a blue star button. When you click this, it will star the page and add it to your favorites/del.icio.us bookmarks. If you look at the star closer, you will notice that there is an arrow on it as well. Click on the arrow and the favorites menu will open allowing for more options to select from. The favorites menu allows you to star a page along with adding tags to it, you can star multiple tabs at once (all tabs that are open), add the page to a collection that you have, and you can even see your most recent favorites or frequently visited bookmarks. If you do not like how it adds to del.icio.us, you can disable this in the options.
Now lets take a look at the Flock Blog Editor. The blog editor actually surprised me on what can be accomplished with it. It is a small editor but it does have some great features. In the screenshot above, I have the Blog Topbar open. This allows me to see a list of recent posts and drafts from my site (Note: I have it pointing to a different server right now. Flock is still in the works, so I’m not plugging it to Solution Watch yet.) You can have multiple blogs setup for it. When first opening the Blog Topbar for the first time, you will setup a blog for it. You can then go to the options for Flock to add more along with pinging services for when you update a blog. Now, back to the editor itself. It uses a WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) editor on the top and right below this is the source that you can edit. I really like that because being a programmer, I just don’t really trust WYSIWYG all the time. It does seem to work really well with producing valid code, however. You can bold, italic, change font size, tab, and insert links. One thing that I really felt was a necessity though that Flock did not have was a way to add images through the WYSIWYG. Just functionality like links would please me. You can open the Flickr topbar and drag the photos down from that though, which is great. You can also just drag an image from a site and drag it right into the text area, like other WYSIWYG. If the Flock team could create some type of image manager or something of the sort, that would be excellent. Maybe having a window that you can open that will show a list of images on your server that you can select from and insert into a post? I would absolutely love that. Moving along with the editor, you can also add Technorati tags to your posts using their simple tag box on the right on the text areas. If you are not done with a post, you can save it as a draft and when you are done, you can publish it and it will update your blog. Great work on the editor. I just want a little better image functionality.
The next thing that I felt was worth mentioning is what Flock calls, Shelf. Shelf is actually a very helpful little tool. What you do is go to the menu for Flock and select Tools and then Shelf. A small window will now open that looks similar to the Download window from Firefox and inside it will have a background image saying, “Drop Stuff Here.” So, that is what you do. Go to a website, select some text, and then click and drag it down onto the Shelf window and drop it in the white area. It will then add an item to it, similar to what you see above. Now that you have an item in Shelf, what do you do with it? Well, simply with Shelf open, you can now click and drag any item from it into a text area in Flock. It will then paste the HTML and everything for you. What I really liked about it though is that if you selected text from a site, put it in Shelf, and then dragged it into a text area, it will actually blockquote the text and link to the site where you got the text from. This makes Shelf very useful for blogging and quoting people.
The next thing I want to mention is that Flock has an inline feed viewer. Whenever you go to a feed, it will show it in a format, much like what you see above. Very clean and layed out page. You can collapse and Expand all the entries, sort by date, sort by source, and it makes it very easy to read with simpe typography that is at a readable size. They also have a button for switching back to the website the feed came from. It is perfect for getting a quick glance at an RSS feed or you can even add it to your favorites or a collection for your navigation toolbar if you want to keep up on it that way.
I am almost done! Let me just spit out some thoughts and ideas for Flock. First, Even Eckard has wrote his feelings about how Flock automatically adds themselves to your del.icio.us account when first setting it up. I don’t like this and I know that others do not agree with it as well. If you want, maybe even give the option or a warning? Have a yes or no dialog come up asking if we will allow it to add them to our del.icio.us accounts. Next, as I mentioned when writing about the Blog Editor, I feel that a method for browsing images from a directory online or even from your computer would be a great addition. It would make the environment a whole lot easier for me and other bloggers that use images a lot in their posts. Scott Jarkoff also stated in his review a feature request. The request was for adding a Topbar that will show images from Flickr based on the context of the site you are currently visiting. This is a great idea, but I understand it could be fairly stressful for the browser too, so I am not too concerned about that. It would certainly make the browser even more social. Now, an issue that I seem to be coming across as I am writing this post is that it has problems with refreshing content when submitting the form from WordPress. Let me explain first. I would write a few sentences and then save the draft. When it refreshes back to the same page, it did not show my updates, nor my content in the text area. At first I thought it ignored it, but I then when to a different page and then back to the draft again and it was there. Seemed like some sort of cache/refreshing issue when submitting a form repeatedly. I am not sure if this is only me experiencing this, but it definitely made me scratch my head for a while. (Note: I just saved at that last sentence and when it came back, the sentence wasn’t there. I then went to a different page and back again or a simple cache refresh of the page and it was there.)
Overall, I love Flock. It has some excellent features and it definitely shows the social and blogging side to it. The interface is designed beautifully and it is a great browser. Sure, there are a few issues here and there, but it isn’t complete yet and only in Beta. I was very impressed with what I saw and am sure they have more coming. Flock team, excellent work. I love what has been done so far and I see a great future for Flock.
Update: Just noticed another helpful feature built into Flock. When you have multiple tabs open, you can click and drag each one of them to the left and right. You will see small arrows pointing down in the position to drop it. I have been wanting draggable tabs for a while in Firefox. (Thanks to Tristan and Tom who pointed out Firefox Beta 2 now has draggable tabs.) Great addition to Flock.
Update: Geoffrey from Flock has left a comment and mentioned on his blog that they are working on fixing the del.icio.us issue with automatic adding of Flock bookmarks and it was not their intent. They are working on it, and remember, this is what Beta releases are for!
Also, my server seems to be a little bogged down today. Sorry if it is acting up for you. I am trying to get the issue resolved.