The Geek Salon’s Chic New Browser

Flock of SeagullsThe current darling of the Web 2.0 movement is an unassuming little web browser called Flock.

Hailing from yet another dark cubicle warren in some sunny, smoggy California clime, this is a web browser that titillates the geek masses by its celebration of the web’s New Wave.

To the ignorami beyond the geeknoscenti, however, it doesn’t really offer too much of interest.
If you’re not into stuff like RSS, Flickr, del.icio.us, blogging or tagging, then Flock will seem like just another web browser.

On the other hand, frequent users of these online services will find Flock the be-all, end-all web browser to die for. I know I do.

Flock is the pretty sibling of the popular Firefox web browser. What sets Flock apart are its significant feature enhancements that take advantage of “Web 2.0”, the next generation of online applications.

The spirit of this “new and improved” web can be found in its inspired sense of utility. Applications similar to Word and Excel are popping up on the web. Netizens can easily contribute to the vast web universe by blogging, podcasting, sharing photos, and rating their every online experience with “tags” of appreciation. It’s a very complicated world.

The problem with a lot of these New Age Web applications (no longer are they just “sites”) is that they’re largely designed by geeks, for geeks. And there’s a tsunami of these things crashing down on us every day.

The majority seem to share the ragged-ass spirit of rapid development, leaving them rough around the edges, ever-changing, and often difficult to use. This sense of instability can leave the people who are actually expected to use them (that’s us, by the way) feeling quite drowned.

Take Flickr, for example. A couple of weeks back this massively popular photo-sharing web site experienced a significant update with no advanced warning and barely a whisper of information in support of the new functionality and interface.

Speaking as a frequent user experiencing a stressful and busy period in my life, it was a very disruptive change that I didn’t appreciate. I suddenly understood all those people out there who cling desperately to Microsoft Word 4.0. Change, especially when forced and unexpected, is time-consuming and troublesome.

Considering that I also use TypePad, del.icio.us, and a few other web-based applications, if I’m forced to experience an unwanted change in the way I interact with all of these sites regularly, that’s a lot of learning I should plan to do over time.

So here’s where one begins to appreciate Flock. This is a web browser that makes an earnest attempt to aggregate a number of popular web applications in a common, unchanging interface. In a sense, Flock is a portal of calm onto the raucous wild-west world of Web 2.0.

To learn Flock is to learn about a half dozen cutting-edge web technologies. Rather than visit the Flickr web site to post new images, I can just drag and drop photos onto Flock and the browser will take care of hashing out the gritty details. And Flock saves me the hassle of wrestling with del.icio.us’ drab and unintuitive web site. Instead, I just use the browser’s Favourites menu as usual and it transmits changes automagically.

But Flock not only enables one to easily publish information to the web, it also adds a touch of grace to one of the online world’s most ramshackle modes of information delivery, RSS.

Flock’s built-in RSS news feed reader puts many popular commercial products to shame. RSS stands for “Really Simple Syndication” and is a great alternative to browsing ad-ridden web pages for the information you want. Using RSS you can access a web site’s raw content — typically just text — and then engage it on your own terms.

Flock does a great job of aggregating multiple news feeds into a comprehensive and intuitive interface that makes it easy to organize and digest large amounts of information. It sort of makes it feel as though news stories from a variety of sources are being published in a custom newspaper just for you.

Unless you’re a dedicated webhead devoted to sharing your life with the minions online, Flock doesn’t have a lot to offer beyond what your average web browser can do. Of course, if you’ve always wanted to get started with blogging and photo sharing but were put off by the technical details, Flock is the perfect environment to dive into.

First published in the Yukon News on Friday, June 30, 2006.

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2 thoughts on “The Geek Salon’s Chic New Browser

  1. I’m wondering if you could post up the links to the sites on this blog and make reference to it in your Yukon News column? I know where flickr, del.icio.us and Flock are located, but many people don’t. It would help people out who were interested in learning more about these web applications. Thanks.

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