Leading the Flock

Bart Decrem, one of the folks behind the Get Firefox campaign, and a founder of digital divide organization Plugged In, is now working on a new project called Flock.

Flock is a new web browser. As he points out, a truly new web browser is a pretty radical concept – despite Firefox’s stability, it’s still got all the same buttons as the original Netscape browser. Flock is based on a new paragidm, Decrem tells us – rather than treating the web as a library, it treats it as if it’s a stream of events and a set of interactions between people.

We get a quick preview of the browser – it’s in alpha and available for download, though there are lots of caveats to expect that the browser won’t quite work yet. A couple of interesting bits:

– Bookmarking is a single click. You’re welcome to tag pages, ala del.icio.us… or you can just click a button and put them into a pile of bookmarked pages. Either way, bookmarks are stored on the web as well as locally. Like del.icio.us, bookmarks are social – everyone else can see what you’ve bookmarked and use that information to find new sites.

– There’s a search engine built into the browser. It can search on webpages you’ve viewed in the past – very cool for finding the fact you know you saw and didn’t make a note of.

– There’s an aggregator built into the bookmarking function – you can suck in RSS feeds, including flickr and del.icio.us tags and have them assembled in simple, cruft-free pages.

– In the spirit of the Berners-Lee read/write web, blogging is tightly integrated into the browser. It’s very easy to hilight a passage of a page, click a button and get a post fragment that’s formatted and properly cited. There’s a “shelf” tool, which seems to act like the old Macintosh “scrapbook”, capable of storing several cut and paste entries. And Flickr is very tightly integrated, making it easy to add photos to a post.

On the one hand, I’m looking forward to trying it once I’m on broadband sufficient to download the tool. On the other hand, so far it looks like a good merger of a browser and Net News Wire – cool, both not earth-shattering. Technologically speaking, I’m a pretty conservative blogger – I write using BBEdit (notepad on steroids, for you non-Mac folks) – I’m not convinced that Flock is sufficiently cool enough to move me away from my simple but effective blogging tools.

And I wonder whether forking Firefox is a great recipe for innovation, or a problem, taking momentum away from one of the most successful client-side open source projects yet. But hey, it’s in alpha – why worry about the implications before we figure out whether or not this is the next big thing or just a cool idea…?


I will end up blogging Yochai Benkler’s talk, but it’s going to take me a few more hours to process. Several people needed to be carried out of the hall after they collapsed from acute information overload when he finished – the man is so smart, there should be a warning label. Give me a few more hours to digest.

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