Flock Launches!

On Monday, I had my gall bladder removed. Yesterday, I worked a 15-hour day because we decided to launch Flock publicly. Today, I’ll be good for more or less nothing.

We’ve been releasing to larger and larger beta groups over the last week or so, and we decided yesterday afternoon to go ahead and release publicly. Of course, we had much work do to, as we had been focusing more on shipping a browser than on getting our public Web site in good shape, etc., and so our crew spent the evening whipping that stuff into good — not great, but good enough — order for public consumption. This meant crossing our fingers that we could withstand a slashdotting better than we did two weeks ago (because of some heavy-duty server infrastructure changes we made, we weathered it without issue). This meant working on our messaging a bit in order to help preempt some of the stupid sorts of comments that always seem to emerge. When we half-released for Web 2.0 a couple of weeks ago, for example, rumors abounded that we were taking Firefox, making it Windows-only, and slipping in adware. WTF? So we obviously wanted to have some blog posts and FAQs in place to explain some of what we’re doing. What we’ve got so far is available at www.flock.com.

The slashdot reviews have been much more even-handed this time. There have been the expected trolls (and let me just say that even though the trolls shouldn’t bother me, they do, because after all, I’ve missed bits of my daughter’s childhood to write the software they’re panning, and I’ve sat up with a hurting abdomen the day after surgery to do things to get a pre-release out; the whole crew has made big sacrifices to ship the software these trolls dismiss out of hand without regard for the human effort that drives its production; one would hope they’d at least download the software and try it out before dismissing it, but it seems that few do). But there have been some really good comments as well. Among my favorites:

Giving me quick access to something like a blog or Flickr isn’t “innovative”. A bookmark/favorite does the same thing with less overhead.

I thought the same thing until I actually tried the Flock Developer Preview that was just released. (I’m posting this from it now.)

I was all set to be unimpressed but I have to tell you, it’s pretty impressive if you have a blog how easy they have made posting Web content to it. There’s a “shelf” tool, for starters, that you use by just highlighting any text on a page and dragging-and-dropping it into the Shelf. Then, when you want to post about that text, you just click the “Blog this” button on the toolbar; this opens a new post (Flock autodetects the settings for your blog, so there’s no configuration if you use most popular packages) in a WYSIWYG editor. Drag the text from the shelf into the editor and it pops the text in, encloses it in BLOCKQUOTE tags, and adds the cite=”” attribute with the URL from the original page.

Revolutionary? Maybe not. But it’s so damn slick! Currently when I blog something I copy it from Firefox into an HTML editor (Movable Type’s built in editor sucks), mark it up there, log into the admin screen for my blog, then paste the marked-up text into a new post. Oh, and then I have to go back and find the original URL, copy it, and paste it in the appropriate pages. That’s a lot of back and forth that Flock eliminates.

Some people use a tool like MarsEdit [ranchero.com] or wBloggar [wbloggar.com] to combine the “markup” and “posting” steps together in one place. But Flock puts all the features of those products right in my browser — no switching between programs, no copy/paste gymnastics. There’s a market for those products, so it’s not a big leap to imagine a market for Flock, either (albeit a small one).

It’ll be interesting to see how well Flock holds up to ongoing use over time. But my first impressions are better than I expected them to be. You might want to try it too before you pass judgement…

Slashdot | Firefox-based Social Browser Flock Launches


Flock had me skeptical from the screenshots (ugly and useless), but having actually used it, it’s pretty gosh darn neat. The Shelf is an incredible killer feature. I’ve tried out a few similar extensions for Firefox, but none did it as smoothly and intuitively as Flock has. All it needs is a few hardcore snippet-management-tools, and it’ll be my new favorite research program.

Likewise, the blog editor falls under the “pretty neat” status. The formatting gets eaten by WordPress.com’s post-parser (to filter out nasty javascript and other malicious evil), but that isn’t a major downer, as it does tend to exhibit some weirdness like underline remaining after deleting a link. The WYSIWYG-editor part of it definately needs some work to be up to par with the rest of the browser.

Overall, I’ve been seriously impressed. For being a the first public release of a browser, it’s feature-filled and non-crashy. This must be attributed to it being based on Firefox. All it needs is a few months of polish and I can unconditionally accept it as my new primary browser. As is, I’m giving the idea serious thought.

P.S.: I didn’t use the del.icio.us integration, as I didn’t really use the service much before. But now that it’s seamlessly integrated into the browser, I’ll try it out again.

Slashdot | Firefox-based Social Browser Flock Launches

Of course, these appeal to me in part because I’m the perpetrator of the shelf (with its various warts and pimples), which gets pretty good reviews so far. But they also give me a little hope for the slashdot crowd. There actually are those who expect one thing, evaluate the software, and come away with a more balanced view rather than falling back on the old standby comments about how silly social networking is or how we must be making Firefox into a Windows-only spyware engine.

It’s been a good morning. I’ve been reading and responding to mail from our flockstars mailing list, where people are already submitting extensions that will work in Flock, and glancing over the hundreds of feedback emails that have come in over the last 12 hours. Response overall has been very good. Yes, we have a long way to go, and there are many crucial bugs we have yet to fix, but the people we’re aiming at seem to think we’re on to something, and that’s nice validation.

I plan to work until noon today and then to take most of the rest of the day off to try to spend with my daughter, whom I don’t think I even hugged or kissed once yesterday. Then there’ll probably be a regrouping/evaluation conference call this evening where the Flock crew will talk about the last day and the coming very busy days, deciding just how we’re going to keep up our momentum and try to deliver a better and better and better product. Stay tuned!

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