Flock and My World: Raving Madness

by sbh on Friday - 4 January 2008

in Reviews

Being a mac-ophile, loving that all my stuff looks somewhat coordinated, I am a Camino user. I’ve gotten to the point where surfing in another browser is just weird. When I’m forced to test my web work in Safari, Firefox, or (heaven forbid) Internet Explorer, shudders run up and down my spine. All of these browsers look bloated and ugly to me. NB: That doesn’t mean that they necessarily are…I’m just sayin’ how I feel. On the other hand, Camino seems slick and user friendly. Very mac-like.

While I typically don’t go in for the browser wars and hype, I do get excited about new ways of tying things together. It’s a Web 2.0 world, after all…let’s embrace it. Just looking at this blog you can see some examples of it. Flickr powers the images below the header, you can see my Twitter updates (which I can update via my cell phone, GTalk, or directly from this page) in the sidebar on the homepage. These Twitter updates automagically change my Facebook status. I’m going to be working on some Ma.gnolia integration soon. Blah blah blah…I could go on.

One new-ish browser attempts to start tying together all of these little threads: Flock.

If you haven’t heard of Flock, then you must be the J.D. Salinger of the social web. Flock is built on Mozilla’s Gecko rendering engine, just like Firefox and Camino, so it is a web-standards compliant browser. In fact, if you stripped away the (ugly) Flock skin, you’d find that pages in Flock look exactly like they do in Firefox.

Where Flock really emerges is in its integration with “social sites” such as Facebook, Magnolia, del.icio.us, Twitter, Flickr, etc. These features are numerous and well-blogged about, so I won’t go into them here as a Google search will suffice. Rather, I’d like to focus on one feature that I really like: Flock’s “My World”.

Essentially, Flock has a great start page built right in. By putting “about:myworld” into the address bar, you have instant access to:

  • The search engine of your choice.
  • Your most viewed websites.
  • Recently updated feeds.
  • Streaming media from whomever you please (e.g., Facebook and Flickr photos from all your friends…or youtube videos, or whatever).

Pretty cool, really. So cool, that I’m wanting to hack it and bring it to Camino so that I don’t have to deal with Flock’s ugliness (seriously, that skin and those web widgets gotta go!).

For all of it’s coolness, I have two issues with Flock’s “My World.”

Issue #1: Local—The Double-Edged Sword

As far as I can tell, “My World” is local. Really, this is both good and bad. There are plenty of sites out there that let you create little widgets with some similar functionality for a customized homepage (e.g., iGoogle, and NetVibes). The problem I’ve had with those services is that they are slow to load because of all the web crawling and server load and whatnot. Since Flock’s “My World” is local, it’s very snappy and responsive (as is everything in Flock).

The problem however is that I can’t port this to another computer very easily. When I’m at my mom’s house, or my brother’s, or the library, or whatever, I’d love to have access to this page. Without it, what will I do! How will I know what sites to visit?! How will I know that Mr. X has updated his Flickr? How will I know how much money John Chow has made?!?!

Issue #2: UI Problems…Li’l Changes

My other issue involves Flock’s UI. There are a few irksome things that just bug me. Let me describe them in detail.

First, a misaligned grid. This is so simple. Here’s an illustration:

Flock’s “My World” Misaligned Vertical Grid

Why, oh why, can’t these vertical grids be lined up properly? It would make things look so much nicer. I hate it when things are just a pixel or two or three off. Fix it, fix it, fix it.

Ok, that was relatively minor. So is the next one. Here’s the illustration:

Flock’s “My World” Boring Header

I’m calling this the “Boring Header.” Every other aspect of this browser is tricked out, all NASCAR’d up with Web 2.0-ish decor. The header, however, except for the search bar, is nice and plain Jane. Truth be told, I’d prefer for all of Flock to look this simple. It looks like it was stolen straight from Safari. That’s a bonus! Why do we need all of the glitz and glamor? Are 14-year old girls the only target audience? Honestly, I cannot wait for some themes for Flock to start appearing so that I can actually consider using it. Some people may like the look, different strokes…

Ok, the final UI problem is a bit more significant, and that’s why I saved it for last. Between the header and the main content is what looks like a navigation bar with handy buttons like “People”, “Media”, “Feeds”, etc. Now, up to this point, everything about “My World” has looked, acted, and felt like a webpage. But here things change, and it’s difficult to get used to.

For the most part, none of these buttons interacts in a web-like way. Sure, a few do. “Refresh,” for example, does what you’d expect. Others, however, behave in unexpected ways. For example, when I click the “Feeds” button, I expect something “Feeds” related to happen in the page. But that’s not the case. Instead, the “Feeds” sidebar opens up. See the illustration:

Flock’s “My World” Feeds Sidebar

This behavior is totally inconsistent with the way websites, which “My World” mimic, behave. For me, it’s disorienting and irksome. Not a fan.

What I Want

So, let me make a list of what I want in a browser:

  • Lightweight – Camino does this right. I love the streamlined feel and behavior. Very aerodynamic…gets out of the way and let’s me web it up.
  • Social Web Integration – I like Flock’s step into this realm. I’d love to be able to see my friends’ Flickr photostreams without having to go to Flickr or my Google Reader. I like the idea of being able to manipulate Facebook, Magnolia, Twitter, sbh*, etc. from the browser without having to hit each of those sites. Good stuff.
  • Mac-ish Web Widgets – Look, Firefox and Flock and the like never have looked quite right on my Mac. Camino and Safari look good. I’m sure OmniWeb and all of those other browsers do too, I’ve never tried them (OmniGroup…I love you, but I’m not going to pay for a web browser). If you’re going to make your browser for the Mac, make it feel like it belongs.

Really, it’s a simple list. Now I just need a developer who is REALLY bored.

Oh, for the curious, here’s a look at my fledgling “My World” page (with errata). I am the czar of the telestrator.

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