Why Flock Matters, But Still Sucks

December 20, 2005

I’ve been quietly reading all the various literature about why the web browser Flock sucks and is not useful in its current state. My opinion about this whole affair keeps shifting around like the tide, being against Flock, then being for it. Lately, I’ve been coming to the conclusion that it’s a silly argument to be having with Flock, or with any of the other so-called Web 2.0 websites/webware out there. What caused me to come to this conclusion? By looking off of the computer screen and seeing what else is on our world.

Right now, there’s currently one major web browser (Internet Explorer), a strong second player (Firefox, and a few other note-worthy browsers (Apple’s Safari, Opera, and Maxthon) and then the browsers hardly anyone is using at all (including Flock, Avant, Shiira, and so on). There’s easily more than three major brands of cars, and probably over a hundred models of vehicles running around today. I don’t see why people can be sold on the idea of buying one car over another, but can’t understand why we would need yet another web browser, or another piece of software, etc.

Each of these browsers operates differently from each other, enhances a part of the web browsing experience in ways the others don’t, has a different look and feel to it, and so on. But each has the similar ultimate purpose: getting information off or putting information on the world wide web and the internet overall. That’s a similar situation to what is happening with automobiles, televisions, mp3 players, clothing, etc.

The biggest issue surrounding Flock right now seems to be the argument of how it’s not answering any questions of need right now. To me, Flock is taking a different approach to designing its software. Instead of looking for a need and building around it, it’s more exploring how a user interacts with a web browser. I find nothing wrong with that approach, since it’s the same way theatre companies have been operating since theatre began. There’s no right way to put on a play, and the rehearsal period is more a time to play around with the text and actors than to be dictated to about how things are going to be. We can’t treat programs like Flock the way we treat software like Windows. One is from the past and is trying to keep its hold on the market, the other is having fun while thinking about what the future internet will be like.

One of the things I’ve enjoyed while having tested out Flock for a month was the ability to search for links by name or tag. This is just common sense for computing in the future. Why should I be the one doing all the thinking and looking for something specific? Computers right now are just fancy filing cabinets, in regards to how they handle data. The system for tagging favourites/links to me is what tabbed browsing was when Opera first came out. Now a lot of web browsers couldn’t survive without tabs, and I think that’s how tagging is going to grow in popularity.

The problem with Flock for me is their claim to be designing a browser for the future, but they’re stuck using a model that was designed for the current internet. The browser has been stuck in time for the past ten years. We still use the back button, reload, clicking the mouse cursor on the “down arrow” to scroll down on the page, etc. If the Flock team really wants to be revolutionary, they need to stay up late in their garage and start hashing out ideas on what could change with the browsing experience that would make things faster, easier, operate in ways that anyone could pick it up in a heart beat.

So while in its current version, Flock is rather subpar and not progressing too quickly, the potential is there for someone to come along and redesign the user experience.

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