Flock

For nearly three years now, I’ve worked for a company called Flock. For nearly three years, we’ve been working toward releasing a 1.0 version of our product. And yesterday, we finally did it, amid much less fanfare than I might have expected (not even a company blog post). Starting as far back as version 0.5 just under two years ago, I’ve been using Flock as my primary web browser (that’s what we make, a web browser built on the same platform that drives Firefox), so I’ve been around to see all the changes the product has gone through.

Our first public beta was released to much hype with subsequent fizzle. It had a neat skin, a photo viewer/uploader, a rudimentary blog authoring tool, and something we called the shelf, and that was it, besides the basic browser functions. Although we had many early enthusiasts (some of whom are still with us), reactions tended to be along the lines of “this is what the hubbub is all about?”

In June 2006, we released version 0.7 of the browser and saw lots of downloads and a lot of press (I worked 20-hour days for a week to keep the new web site from dying under the strain of our traffic). We were thinking at the time that we’d have a 1.0 version by the end of the year, but change was in the air, and after some executive turnover, the end of the year had come and we didn’t have a 1.0. In the first couple of months of this year, I feel like we really hit our stride and started executing. We pushed a 0.9 version with subsequent updates that got tolerable reviews, and our 1.0 beta releases over the past few weeks have been met with the customary skepticism, but for the first time, a lot of that skepticism is beginning to turn over. People are posting that though they found our product either not compelling or too buggy in the past, they’re loving it now. And plenty of newcomers are saying that they’re addicted.

I’m going to do a little sidebar here on the social web. I’ve always been pretty cold to it. What need do I have to send to Twitter every half hour an update about what I’m doing, or to read in real-time that my social-web-addicted buddies are going out for coffee or sitting through a dull meeting? Do I really want to read another “20 Questions” type post on MySpace? Basically, I don’t often have time or the compulsion to fool around on social networking sites. I spend my day working on the computer and so don’t typically like to spend much time playing on it. A year or so ago, I signed up with MySpace and Facebook basically because my work compelled me to. It was another way for Flock employees to consume our own dogfood, so to speak, and to network with users of these sites who were interested in Flock. But there wasn’t much personal value to me in signing up on these sites. I had a profile but I didn’t use the sites with any regularity.

The latest version of Flock has changed this because it brings the social web to me. The nifty services sidebar notifies me when I have new messages or pokes in Facebook, and it lets me drag content from the web to friends’ avatars to share it with them. I can find individual friends within my network more easily than by using Facebook itself because I can type part of a name in a textbox embedded in my browser to filter my friend list. I can see updated statuses easily, and an icon lights up for friends who have uploaded new media. When I click a person’s media icon, a media bar appears and is populated with thumbnails of their media that I can scan at a glance, clicking through to actually view only the things that interest me. Probably the best thing is that Flock tells me when there are updates so that I engage only when I have a good reason to rather than having to remember and bother to visit Facebook to look for updates. Since I’ve been using Flock 1.0, I’ve been engaging with people in my network, sending messages I wouldn’t have sent and viewing photos I wouldn’t have bothered to view. Flock 1.0 for me is like the Reader’s Digest of the social web. I’d never go out of my way to read a full-length bio of Meredith Baxter-Birney, but if I’m sitting on the can and have read all the jokes in my Reader’s Digest, I might thumb through the RD condensed interview with her, and I might even enjoy it a little.

That’s the main thing that differentiates Flock 1.0 from previous versions for me. I’ve long been a fan of the built-in feed aggregation, and it was Flock’s Flickr uploader (which also works with Piczo, Photobucket, and I believe Facebook) that prompted me a year ago to buy a Flickr Pro account. It previously hadn’t been worthwhile because, as a Linux user, I had no painless way of uploading photos in bulk. Flock also has built-in del.icio.us integration, the aforementioned shelf (now called the web clipboard, basically a little drag/drop area that lets you store dragged items for later use in blog posts), the blog editor, and all the goodness that comes with Firefox 2.0’s underlying engine.

I’m an employee of the company, of course, and so I have a vested interest in our success. But I really really do like the product and would use it for the built-in feed reader even if I weren’t an employee. (I’m not only the president of the hair club for men…) I suspect that there are plenty of people for whom Flock provides no benefit that Firefox doesn’t. If you don’t upload photos or read news feeds or belong to social networks, Flock’s probably not for you unless you just think it looks pretty. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it for my dad, but I probably would for my sister and most of my friends. If you do do any of those things, why not give Flock a shot and let me (or our talented support staff) know what you think?

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