Flock will release Version 0.9, as they inch towards the full 1.0. Version 0.9 is currently available to early adopters as a 'Release Candidate'. I had an in-depth chat with Flock's CEO Shawn Hardin last week and I have been testing the 0.9 version too. The actual version I have been running is 0.899.1, but the improvements over v0.7 are no less evident. Flock's latest upgrade is geared towards increased "discoverability" for users and further delineates it from conventional browsers. Shawn explained the reasons behind these changes...This Tuesday social web browser
Flock History and Version 0.7
Flock launched their social media browser amid a flurry of hype back in 2005. The innovation for the Flock browser was originally billed as a marriage of social media and Web 2.0 functionality. It initially met with mixed reviews, as Flock fell victim to over-stimulated user expectations and “too much” attention. Version 0.7, released June of 2006, was essentially not a great enough departure from Firefox - and even with its innovative features, many users considered Flock as just a Firefox clone.
The browser's “less than perfect” entry into the market has not daunted the over 1.5 million users who have downloaded it so far. Version 0.9 is really an overhaul of the UI - focused on “discoverability”, or essentially relieving the pain involved in integrating a new browser into a user’'s routine. As Steve O'’Hear said in a great article about Flock on ZDNet, Flock is not simply a passive browser experience, but a “write”-capable platform designed to enhance the social media experience. The list of v0.9 additions and upgrades is too vast to list completely, but Flock has added or upgraded features for: people aspects, the general features, media bar, favorites, feeds, accounts, the Web clipboard, blog editor, search and uploader aspects - all on a broad scale.
Flock is a very elegant and well organized browser. I am as good a “test rat” as there is, having been so anchored to IE over the years, so working with a new browser for some days proved illuminating. The first thing I noticed about Flock was the media bar, so prominently displayed at the top. This bar has superb flexibility and is the heart of the video and image interface. Searching and acting on the various services is a fairly "right in your face" function, as are most of the other inherent functions. Shawn and I talked about the need for reducing the amount of clicks needed to work with applications; this aspect was one of their main goals. From what I can tell, virtually every Flock task can be completed in one or two clicks - and typing is limited.
Media Bar in action
As an example: adding my WordPress blog was a two-click action. Posting straight from the Flock UI is also simple and the resultant postings looked as if they had been created in WP. Indeed every feature I tested proved to be a derivative of Wordpress. Flock has done an excellent job of making the "discovery" experience enjoyable and easy. What is less evident initially is the amount of time and pain saved in performing what Flock treats as simple click functions; where Fx or IE require more clicks. The bottom line is that an old IE user like me learned more advanced features and functions over 3 or 4 days, than I probably know about IE in years of use.
Best of Flock
There is not a lot to dislike about Flock. My favorite features tend to be smaller elements, but the most incomparable feature of this browser is its RSS display. Adding feeds is performed in the same "one click" fashion as other elements and the feed sidebar is excellent - but the RSS Reader really sets Flock apart in that full excerpts (illustrated below), single column, headlines and double column formats can be customized.
The media bar and the added functions within it are excellent as well. Scrolling playlists are not new - but simple, searchable, drag and drop versions do not abound and the Flock version is flexible. The current searchable services are Flickr, YouTube, Photobucket and Truveo; and results can also be filtered. The 'view as a mini' function, combined with drag and drop and the mouse-over preview shown in the next screenshot, make this simple and fun to use.
RSS for R/WW configured to "full" article view
Little Things Mean A Lot
I tend to like "the details" or smaller elements of these startups, because developers who pay attention to the little things tend to excel at making the more obvious features too. I liked Flock the moment I noticed that I could change my search engine. You will note that the options bar on the My World page displays several search engines and that I have chosen hakia as the default. Favorites are segregated into local and online categories, and they are also viewable in tree form as the graphic below points out. From mouse-over descriptions of virtually every button, to the picture up there in the corner of my son from my Flickr account, Flock has covered off all the little details.
My World with media bar collapsed
Despite the attention to detail in v0.9, there is currently a limited number of external services supported. Outside of this one negative aspect (and the fact that the tabs remind me too much of Firefox), Flock could be the most impressive browser of them all. In our discussion, Shawn overloaded me with information about upcoming features and improvements. Honestly, this version has far too many features to touch upon, but the partner-friendly business model and version 0.9's integrated search - which shortcuts searches internally to provide faster and more relevant results - are just two of a dozen or more great aspects to this version.
Flock is targeted at social networking users, but if more external services are forthcoming and development continues to differentiate Flock from the others, it will be a compelling product for its target users.