Getting Social with Flock


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Tech tips 172

Getting Social with Flock

By Scott Nesbitt- Sunday, June 8, 2008

Pull Quote 172There's no denying that social networking is all the rage right now. The popularity of sites like MySpace and Facebook, as well as blogs, photo sharing sites, and more really attests to this.

Obviously, you need to get to those sites using a Web browser. That, strangely enough, is when things start to get a bit cumbersome. How? If you want to use any of these sites and services, you need to add and manage bookmark and/or multiple plugins (assuming, of course, that your browser supports them). To make the social Web really useful and efficient, you need to have tighter integration between sites and your browser out of the box.

That's the promise of Flock. Billing itself as the social Web browser, Flock (according to its developers) is "a refreshing new approach to how people use and participate on the Web and simplifying social and Web-based applications by bringing them one step closer to the user and integrating them directly into the browser."

Flock_interfaceLooking at the browser

Flock is based on the popular Mozilla Firefox browser. It inherits many of the best features of Firefox, including strong support for Web standards, extensibility, and a fairly intuitive interface. Looking at the browser's interface, you're amazed at what the developers have packed in there. And what you see isn't all that you get.

As a plain old Web browser, it does everything that Firefox can do. The wrapping is a bit different, but at the core the two browsers are essentially the same.

mediaAs I mentioned, Flock packs a lot into its interface. But the interface is hardly cluttered. Using the main button bar, you can show and hide a number of Flock's features. One of these features is a set of sidebars that give Flock quite a bit of flexibility. More on the sidebars later, though.

More than just bookmarks

With most browsers, you'd bookmark the sites and Web services that you frequently use. In Firefox, for example, you select Bookmarks > Bookmark This Page. You can do the same in Flock, but you can do even more.

Earlier I mentioned Flock's sidebars. You open them by clicking an icon on the toolbar, and the sidebar opens on the left side of the browser. The sidebars give you quick access to a number of Flock's features and to services that you've enabled in Flock. The sidebars include:

  • People, which lists all of your contacts in the Web services that you've logged into in Flock

  • Flock_sidebarFeeds, which shows the RSS feeds that you've subscribed to an the number of new items in each feed

  • Favorites, which lists the sites that you've bookmarked

  • Accounts and Services, which lists your Web-based email, blog, and Web services accounts along with a number of services that Flock supports. Just click one of those services, and you're taken directly to it

  • Web Clipboard, which is sort of like a notebook that lets you collect text, images, and links

One useful feature for tracking your contacts, your favorite feeds, media, and sites is MyWorld. Just click the globe icon on the Flock toolbar to open your MyWorld page. You'll see the recent activity for any of those items -- for example, the latest post by a friend on Twitter or the latest photos that someone has uploaded to Flickr. It's an all-in-one stop for keeping on top of what the folks in your circle are doing.


Flock BlogWhile Flock doesn't have a Web page authoring tool built in, it does come with a good blog post editor. The blog editor is like a simple word processor. You can write posts add formatting, links, photos, and even add content from Flock's Web Clipboard. The range of blog services that the editor can talk to is limited: Blogger, Blogsome, LiveJournal, TypePad,, and Xanga. But if you have a self-hosted blog -- like WordPress or Movable Type that's installed on your Web site -- then you can configure the editor to work with that, too, within some limits, of course.

The Flock blog post editor is kind of bare bones, especially when you compare it to high-powered blog editors like MarsEdit or BlogJet. But it gets the job done.

Photos and video

What's the social Web without sharing photos and videos? Flock lets you keep on top of the latest photo and video posts by your friends, and to view a selection of random videos and photos. You're limited to viewing and sharing videos, but you can do more with photos.

First up is the Media Bar. It's a strip that you can load at the top of the browser window to view public photos posted by your friends, or to display interesting public photos taken by complete strangers on services like Flickr, PhotoBucket, and Facebook. The photos in the Media Bar look like a filmstrip of thumbnails that you can scroll through. The best part of the Media Bar, though, is that it takes up about 20% of your LCD monitor. You can be browsing the Web and have instant access to interesting photos while you surf. Just double click with your mouse and the photo opens in the larger portion of the browser window.

On top of that, the Media Bar can give you access to video streams on YouTube and video search site Truveo. Again, all you need to do
is click on a video to watch it.

Flock's photo uploader enables you to post pictures to popular photo sharing sites like Flickr, Picasa, PhotoBucket, and Piczo. So, if you have one or more special shots that you took with your new digital camera, you can use Flock to upload one or all of them, and even crop or rotate them before posting. I liked this feature of the browser FLock Photo uploadso much that I dumped the photo upload software that I was using.

One neat feature of Flock is its Magic Bar. When you hold your mouse over a photo or a video, a bar appears that enables you to blog about that photo or video or to email it to a friend. This only works with services that Flock supports, though, so your mileage will vary.

Everything in one place

Remember the Accounts and Services sidebar? It's not the only way to keep track of the various social networking sites that you belong to. There's also the People sidebar. Whenever you're logged into a service, like Facebook or MySpace, all of your contacts appear in the People sidebar. From the sidebar, you can send messages to your contacts, check their profiles, and share content (like videos and pictures) with them by dragging and dropping it from the Media Bar on to their avatars in the sidebar.

Of course, if you're logged into multiple services then your contact list could be very long and scrolling through it might be a bit slow.


Although it's based on Firefox, Flock doesn't support Firefox themes although you can use a number of Firefox extensions with it. Flock does, however, have its own set of extensions. No themes yet, though. So, while you can increase Flock's flexibility -- note that not all Firefox extensions work with it -- if you're a fan of browser eye candy, you're stuck with the bland though functional look and feel of Flock for now.

Flock is also a little slower to start up than Firefox. On Windows, it's quite a bit slower. I'm assuming that the same goes for the Mac OS version. If you have any experience using Flock on a Mac, please leave a comment and share that experience.