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Why Flock is no good. 3 November, 2008

Posted by aronzak in Cloud Computing, Linux, Social Networking, web, Windows.
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

After selling out to the man and getting a wordpress and facebook account, I was reminded of Flock, a web browser focused on social networking. My conclustion is that it is no bloody good (NBG) after less than five minutes. Here’s why:

1. The flock website automatically prompts me to download a windows executable (.exe) unless I allow javascript. The installation instructions are for the windows one to. Linux users are just expected to know how to extract the program themselves and run it (and make their own links).

2. According to Wikipedia, Flock collects usage information, passed back to the company, but it is possible to turn this off during installation. I got no option, because I had no windows installer. I also couldn’t find any options in ‘preferences’. I don’t mind this, but as a matter of principle, the informed user should be able to choose.

3. The first thing after opening it up is you are confronted with buttons. Everywhere. It’s just like FF3, except that there are heaps of extra (useless?) buttons.

4. While the learning curve is high (for a browser), you get a constant stream of patently stupid notifications of the bleedingly obvious. Like, for example, if I didn’t notice that a big blue button turned orange after I clicked on it.

5. While it is good that many websites are supported, the browser is full of advertising, for the sites it supports, as well as some specifically. Stuck striaght into the main bar, in a place where it seems impossible to remove, is a bright orange link to digg.

Why is this elevated above an ordinary link? Who knows? There’s also a button to email a link to a friend. Just in case you weren’t on top of copy and paste.

As well as digg, there are plenty of links to the main Flock site. Also, the browser seems to choose to use Yahoo over Google as a default. This is annoying and counterintuitive to me given that the FF default is to use Google.

4. As well as the search bar, the web address bar by default incorporates searches from Yahoo. Great, you can’t even type a URL without it being passed to a third party. Clearly, this is a sensible default for idiots that cannot remember web addresses.

5. Flock guides you to their own extensions site, ignoring the main Mozilla addons site (many FF addons work). This is a good idea, except that there are 4 addons. Good one.

All of these annoyances are poorly justified by the features available. No, I haven’t subscribed to 26 social networking sites. While many of the features available are interesting, I didn’t find any particularly useful as essentially I don’t get control over them. And yes, I’d rather just rite up my blog posts in a browser window. That’s what google gears are for.

So, all in all, Flock undermines your privacy and irritates you for seemingly little benefit.



1. :// - 4 November, 2008

Google Chrome would be good but no plugins yet. Opera is in the same boat, but the plugins they have suck.

2. Evan Hamilton - 4 November, 2008

Hey Aronzak,

Thanks for giving Flock a try and voicing your feedback. You are of course entitled to your own opinion of Flock, but I wanted to clear up a few things that I feel are incorrect in your post:

2. The option to disable usage information reporting is contained within the Custom Setup…you may have gone through the Express Setup. You can disable reporting from within the browser by following the steps at: http://flock.com/faq/show/30#q_11592
3. Visual overload is definitely a challenge that we face with Flock. We have a lot more features than Firefox, and the trick is how we make it easy to find these without being overwhelming…clearly your experience was the latter. This is one of our top priorities for the next major release, and if you have any specific thoughts I’d love to hear them.
5. Like most of our UI, you can remove these buttons by right-clicking the chrome and choosing “Customize”, then dragging them off the chrome and into the dialog box.
Our business deal is with Yahoo!, and Mozilla’s is with Google. Thus we have Yahoo! as the default search and they have Google as default. You can change the primary search engine in Search Preferences.
Second 4. Not everyone is a power user like you, and some people find this very useful. If you want to change the search engine this points at, you can follow these instructions: http://flock.com/faq/show/66#q_11642

I’m concerned that you feel that Flock undermines your privacy…first off, as mentioned above, you can disable the usage information reporting. Second, we do not collect any personal information. The data we collect has to do with browser use: what features were opened, what services were activated, etc. Third, this information is entirely anonymous. We have NO way of connecting the data to a specific person, place, computer or IP. Lastly, this information is ONLY used internally to help us make Flock better. We do not sell this info or share it in any way.

I hope my comments have clarified things a bit.

Evan Hamilton
Flock Community Ambassador
evan at flock dot com

3. aronzak - 4 November, 2008

Two; Strange that you say that. Opera is innovating. FF got tabbed browsing from Opera, and brought it into the mainstream (~30x more market share(?))

Evan, thanks for the response.
Sorry about the numbering.
I take it that since you don’t respond to 1, 3 or second 5, they are valid criticisms. Especially 1, where a non-js link to all 3 supported OSes would be extremely easy to implement (already a non-js link to a Windows installer). Second 5 would be extremely easy to fix with a conspicuous link to https://addons.mozilla.org/ on the addons site.

I didn’t make this clear, but the main reason that I objected to Flock is because it has a Linux binary (and is based on FF) then it has received attention from reviewers. I don’t feel this is justified given the issues surrounding it. When compared to the familiar FF3 that I already use (and is universally bundled in all Linux distributions (including Debian rebranded ‘Iceweasel”), with packages in repos for easy installation and upgrading) I don’t think that reviewers should be recommending a product from a company that has doubts hanging in the air.

The other thing I dislike is that Flock is riding a bubble of “web2.0”. While the idea of having “your own personal internet” is indeed popular, a lot of the publicity and hype around social networking has been just that; hype. As Dvorak has hinted at, a lot of people are just going to move onto the next big thing. Just as I’ve heard friends talking about how they left MySpace for Facebook, some are getting “over facebook” and leaving it entirely. The future of the web will certainly be personal, but it won’t necessarily be like what there is now, and many people will be left behind.

Finally, I didn’t say this, but I did like the concept. I would like it if I was able to keep a local copy of all of my blog posts. It would be nice if I could group them locally, not as a way of web services invading my browser, but of me being able to keep my information for myself. Being able to integrate information with a contacts program (PIM/thunderbird) would be nice, if Facebook didn’t gobble up all of my personal information. Again, I’d like to feel that I was in control of the process.

As to UI, the only thing that I would sat is try to present a continuous learning curve. Use notifications (like the orange bars) to point out complex features, not just bookmarks and RSS.

4. :// - 5 November, 2008

scrapbook is a great plugin for FF to save info/pages.

Opera is great, I was not denying that… I will just never have it as a default browser due to the lack of useful plugins (they call the widgets).

5. Evan Hamilton - 7 November, 2008

Hey aronzak,

Thanks for the response!

I think 3 is a totally valid criticism, and one of our biggest challenges. I would say it is one of our top 3 priorities for the next major version of Flock: to make it intuitive without being overwhelming.

Second 5…we are not advertising products here, they are just built into our features. Digg certainly has significant placement, but eventually that button may contain multiple services. This is not simply a link to Digg, this is a feature: it reports the top 5 Digg stories, which I find very handy myself. It only turns orange when a story has over 5,000 Diggs. The links to Flock.com are supposed to be helpful, but we’ve been cleaning up the number of these lately. As for Yahoo!, yes…we have a deal with them just like Mozilla has a deal with Google. As mentioned in my response, you can switch search engines but we have to default to our business partner. That’s business.

As for 1, there is a link at the top of every page to the Versions page, on which you can download any build without Javascript. Having three links on our homepage would not look especially slick. Most folks have Javascript enabled, but of course this is a larger debate about web standards.

It’s up to you whether you like “Web 2.0” or not (you’ll notice we don’t use that phrase in our language)…if you’re not into social networks, then it does seem unlikely that Flock would be the browser for you!

Local blog posts: Unless I’m misunderstanding your want, Flock has this feature. Any blog post can be saved as a draft, and every post that you publish from our Blog Editor is also saved. Perhaps I’m not following though…

Thanks for the UI notes…like I said, this is definitely a huge focus for us.

Evan Hamilton
Community Ambassador
evan at flock dot com

6. flock browser and social networking | Flock Browser And More - 12 November, 2008

[…] Why Flock is no good. […]

7. Wally Mahar - 22 November, 2008

the fact that i can have all my flickr,myspace,facebook friends in a realtime sidebar, blows away a lot of the criticisms for me. having a desktop app that is hidden under windows is pointless I find.

A lot of the stuff is newbie complaints i would have with using any new software. a lot of those bugging you notifications i found handy at first and are all gone since I have clicked the not show again thing.

i dont know about u, but I have never gotten comments from ie,firefox,opera developers. I have asked a question here and there and top level people like Ethan have gone out of their way to explain ideas, and just acknowledge they are listening. I have been trying flock for years and quit because it didnt do one thing or another. when Delicious was intergrated, i have been a fan ever since.

web 2.0: Yes, all new concepts get overblown. But I don’t plan on ditching on keeping tabs on my friends,bands,local parties and family.

“Why I don’t like flock is a more truthful & apt title, but “why flock is no good” is fine at getting noticed on google.

all in all some good points.

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