For the last week, I've been reviewing a new browser, Flock. I'm a big photography fan and store numerous photographs online in various sites, such as Flickr and Picasa In my exploration of other photographic web sites, I stumbled upon Flock. Advertising itself at "The Social Web Browser", I was intrigued, as it touts itself as being built to enhance the browsing experience of those who are involved in social web sites (e.g., Facebook, MySpace) and media sharing sites (e.g., Flickr, Picasa, Photobucket). Being the eternal skeptic, I nevertheless thought I'd give it a try. I was quite pleased with what I found.
When one opens Flock, a three-pane screen appears. On the left is a collapsible sidebar that can alternate between a listing of details of friends on social networks, a favorites listing, a feed-reader, and a web clipboard, on which you can drag text and photos for short-term storage for use in blogs or other purposes. Across the top lies the media bar. Depending on which of your media or social network sites you've logged into, the photos that you've places on that particular site are streamed across the top in a collapsible media bar. The largest area of screen real estate goes to the actual web browser which, I was pleased to find, was tabbed. The layout is pleasing to the eyes and looks very modern, making Windows Internet Explorer and Firefox look very antiquated.
Ease of Use
The underlying structure makes using the browser very intuitive. One feels comfortable with the use and the features right out of the gate. It should be that way because Flock is built on the Firefox architecture, making many features look and feel just like Firefox, only sexier. Since networking and sharing is the focus on this browser, it keeps friends and media on-screen at all times unless one collapses the media and friends bar. When the sidebar is put in the "People" mode, one can log into a social network site (e.g., Facebook) and immediately all friends on that site are placed, with photos, their media streams, and various actions one can take with each friend (e.g, email, Wall post, etc.). Click on any of the friends and one is taken immediately to their page. The people sidebar can handle multiple social networks at one time making it possible to be everywhere at once. Changes in friends activities and status are immediate, making you able to see changes rapidly without shifting between tabs in the browser. Friends, by default, are listed in order of recent activity. When a friend uploads photos, videos, makes a change in their status, or does practically anything online, their picture tile goes to the top of the list, making it easy to see the changes.
Drag-and-drop is featured in most tasks that can be done on Flock. Want to share a photo that you have on Flickr with a friend on Facebook? Just open your Flickr photo stream on the top media bar, scroll across to find the photo you want to share and then drag it on the friend's listing on the sidebar. Drag-and-drop can handle photos, text, videos and links.
Uploading photos to Flickr or other supported web-based photo storage sites is made easy with a built-in drag-and-drop photo uploader. Open your photos in the media stream at the top of the browser, drag the chosen photos to "My Media" and they are placed in the uploader. Choose the service to which you'd like upload your photos and send them in one batch. The web clipboard allows one to grab text, photos, and links to share with friend.
A built in blogging "client" makes it easy to post to blogs while surfing the web. Although very basic, it does the job for which it was intended: quick blogging. The blogging application supports tagging as well.
The media bar at the top of the browser is what really sets the browser off for me. Logging into Flickr results in all my photos being streamed to the top in the media bar, making them easy to see -- and share. Choose a friend on the People sidebar and click on their "Media" button and all photographs that they've posted on their sites flood into the media bar, replacing mine. If I want mine back, I just hit the Media button on my tile at the top and they return quickly. Hover over any photo and an enlargement appears. Right-click on any photo and a menu opens up that provides options to copy the photo's web address for sharing in an email or to copy the HTML code for large and small versions to include in a blog post or web page. Want it even simpler? A small arrow in the bottom of each photo opens up a mini-menu to provide sharing and copying options. Choose email in the sharing menu and flock creates a new email in your default email program and places the photo in it. Choose the "blog" option and flock opens the blogging application and places the photo in it, ready for your post.
New Version on the Way
Just a few days after I found and downloaded Flock, it was announced that the next version was on the way. The beta version is even available for downloading now, however, any settings that one puts in the new version will not migrate to the final version when it leaves beta. This is by design to make sure the unstable beta never interacts with anything related to the 1.0 version, keeping safe and sound. The new version will be built on the Firefox 3 architecture, so don't expect the final version to come out until a stable version of Firefox 3 is out of beta as well.
The new version will include:
- Integration with Picasa (Yay!)
- Integrated webmail for access to Gmail, Yahoo! and other web-based accounts right in the browser (I loved that in Opera)
- More integration with friend's activities in their Flock-supported services in the people bar.
Flock offers so much for what I do, that it has now replaced my beloved Firefox. It's ease of use and my constant ability to access and share my media makes my online time fun again. If you're into social networks and media, I think you'll love Flock! I only wish they would make a portable version that I could run from a jump drive at work to get around the fact that IT has locked down our hard drives, preventing us from installing anything "unauthorized".