A few days ago, the social web browser Flock released version 2.5 of their software, integrating Facebook Chat, improving Twitter functionality, and adding a new broadcasting feature called “Flockcast.” As we evaluated the upgrade, a thought occurred to us: this browser should be the epitome of everything we love about the social web and yet the company has seen only moderate success. Flock has been downloaded 7.5 million times but has just 1.1 million active users. (Compare that to Firefox’s 270 million). Is Flock doing something wrong here? Or is the product just too niche to ever see mainstream success?
New in Flock 2.5
In the latest version of the Flock browser, they’ve integrated Facebook Chat for instant messaging. You can also drag and drop photos, videos, links, and text right into the chat window. The ability to move media around like this is actually one of Flock’s best features – no more browsing for files, everything is drag-and-drop in Flock, including posting media to MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter.
Twitter integration in the new version of Flock has also been improved, now providing access to trending topics and allowing you to save search histories.
The final improvement is the new feature called “Flockcast,” which lets you broadcast messages to multiple social networks (MySpace, Bebo, Facebook, Twitter) at once. It’s sort of like a scaled down version of social network updating tools like Ping.fm or hellotxt.
So, What’s Wrong?
On paper, Flock seems like it should be the browser of our dreams. All our favorite social media addictions wrapped up into one shiny package. It’s built on top of the Firefox code base, too, allowing our Firefox add-ons to work in Flock – a feature that should make the transition from one browser to the next that much easier.
So what’s wrong with Flock? Where are all the users? Allen Stern was recently pondering this same question, suggesting that Flock release some “lite” versions that just include one feature (e.g. Flock with a Twitter panel only). In doing so, Stern says Flock could appeal to a more mainstream audience. He might be right there, but that’s really not Flock’s goal, it seems.
Instead, Flock reminds us more of FriendFeed in that they want to appeal to only the most addicted of the social media superstars out there. But unlike FriendFeed, which inspires web-loving folks like our own Marshall Kirkpatrick to delve in and discover valuable ways to use the service, Flock sits idly, being ignored by many those same social media lovers. Why?
Too Much of a Good Thing?
Maybe the problem with Flock is that it has tried to include too much social media goodness into its web browsing package. To see what we mean, just look at its competition. Today, the hot new browser on the scene is no longer Firefox, it’s Chrome. Yes, Google Chrome, the same web browser that doesn’t even support add-ons or RSS! It’s simple to the point of being almost broken and yet here it sits as my new default browser. It even has web rockstars like Louis Gray admitting that the OS wars may be over and that the browser is the new OS.
Then look at the apps we turn to instead of Flock. Google Reader, for example – all it does is RSS. Or TweetDeck – all it does is Twitter (well, that and Facebook). The point is, these apps are simple, clean, and well-designed. They’re the opposite of the information overload that appears in Flock with all its various panels.
Are we subconsciously rebelling against the web’s info overload by turning to simplistic applications such as these (and Chrome)? Or does Flock having a winning formula on their hands but have just yet to master the UI design?
Or is the problem with Flock something else entirely? We’re curious as to what you think. Do you use Flock? Do you love it? Do you hate it? Tell us why in the comments.