Flock Browser: The Reunion

When Flock first came out there was a big buzz surrounding it and the browser seemed to be hitting at the right time to capitalise on the emergence of social media into the mainstream. I was a big supporter for a long time, even going as far as to try new beta test versions and all kinds of other things.

At the time I used to use it as my main browser. I loved the stylish interface, the great blogging editor, photo upload options, feed reader and more. Those are all great things, and they have a point when they say that the browser business has stagnated for many years without real innovation. The issue is that it’s not necessarily going to help most people by making an incredibly complex, bloated browser with all of these things included. Browsers can move forward technologically in other ways, while still providing a clean interface and fast performance, like Google Chrome does and to a lesser extent, Safari and Firefox. Internet Explorer, well I’m sure they’re innovating, but they’re doing it behind everyone else in a way that only the mainstream will use because they know no better.

After a couple of years of not using the social browser I decided to try it again out of the blue, just to see how they were doing and how the app had progressed in that time. Upon downloading and installing, I quickly went about setting up as many services as possible. I quickly became overwhelmed with the amount of options available and some of the account logins, especially Flickr didn’t seem to work and kept logging me back out, so it did feel a bit buggy and not really polished as you would like.

I think the issue Flock has now is that I think generally speaking, the web is moving forward within the browser window itself. Websites are becoming more and more like the downloaded applications of the past, and that trend is set to continue. Take Google Docs and Google Reader for example. They provide the same tools that we’re used to downloading, and putting them in a browser in a way that feels almost identical. Also take things like Gmail and Facebook chat and sites like Meebo. You can even do voice and video chats on Google and Meebo from within the browser. If you told me that was possible 5 years ago I would have thought it was a joke. If websites are looking and feeling like standalone apps, then why would you need app style integration within the browser itself? It seems over the top and unnecessary to me at this point.

Of course, not every task can be done currently directly in the browser, and sometimes you’re going to want either a separate application entirely, or a way to integrate an online service into an existing app. For example, iPhoto on the Mac integrates seamlessly with Flickr and Facebook for photo sharing. Flock does these things too, but when I tried it recently, it seemed buggy and intrusive to the intended experience, whereas iPhoto doesn’t intrude on your traditional experience of using those sites when you’re actually on the site itself. It merely provides a useful extension of a great service.

What I’m saying really is that while Flock does a lot of cool sounding things, you don’t actually need any of the things it does. For bookmarks I now use Google Bookmark Sync in Chrome as opposed to delicious. For blog posting I use Windows Live Writer on PC, which is a fabulous free tool by Microsoft that I’m using for this post and most of my others. On Mac I use MarsEdit which is also very good but not free. I could go on and list everything Flock does and the methods I use for each of those specific tasks. Whether it be simply going to the website, using an external app’s integration or another method but it’s not really important to the point I’m trying to make.

I’m not trying to bash Flock at all, I just feel that they’re building on a gimmick and layering too much stuff on top of the core browsing experience. Web browsers are evolving slowly, it’s true. But Chrome and Safari, Firefox to a lesser extent in my opinion are where you should be spending your time. I love how Chrome feels to use. It flows so nicely and the new tab page is useful without feeling extravagant like Safari’s does. The bookmark syncing feature was just the icing on the cake for me. It’s a brilliant feature that hopefully is the trend for all browsers moving forward.

Flock is a decent social web browser, but because everything is moving towards the browser anyway, every single browser is basically as social. I guess Flock makes you aware of the social options available, but if you have a well organised bookmarks bar and new tab page, you’ll get the same effect and it won’t overwhelm you with countless options you don’t really need.