I don’t generally get involved in these web2.0 brouhahas, but Flock has been on my mind recently. The most round of criticism comes after the release of Performancing a cross-platform browser plugin for Firefox that makes Flock pointless.
I was initially excited then skeptical of Flock, but it was at a talk about FireFox recently that I decided that Flock makes sense. Blake Ross and Asa Dotzler talked about how they had managed to create simple software in an open-source geek culture (not known for simple software). What struck me was that their method primarily seemed to be about having a small team that worked as gatekeepers keeping the non-essential stuff out. I am simplifying, but I have thought a fair bit about how to make usable software in an open source culture, and their method was definitely what I would term the “gatekeeper model”.
They also talked about Firefox’s current main challenge, which is to move beyond early adopters, and some early majority and go after more of the Internet Explorer crowd. Strategically, Firefox will be focused on a simple experience that is similar, but compares well to Internet Explorer. That is Firefox’s main battle especially with renewed efforts of Microsoft with IE.
You could argue that there are a lot plugins (like Performancing) and greasemonkey scripts that allow geeks to customize their experience. Yes, but how many people do customize their browsers (beyond Google toolbar etc.). I have not done that much. Very few people I know have bothered. And most of them have blogs, tag, upload pictures to Flickr etc.
That is the classic strategy for open source software BTW. Keep the complexity in the plugins, themes, etc. The onus is on the user to design their experience. It does not scale beyond a certain point. So Firefox could keep adding plugins (much like Drupal does) and we could have innumerable greasemonkey scripts, but the core software is not for supporting the “write” part of our web experience.
Clearly, we are doing a lot of things in the browser that the browser was not designed for. Flock is being designed from the ground up to accommodate us in our social web interactions. “from the ground up” is important. A solution designed for a problem that is different than the main problems with browsers when we started switching to Firefox. Remember the popups, the banner-ads, the spyware. And the tabbed browsing of course. That is why people switch.
I personally think that Flock’s problem is different. I believe they have not been able to articulate well or demonstrate (so far) what they are. “Social browser” that took me a while to wrap my head around. Is if for browsing social applications? What else is implied? What are some user pain points around the participatory aspect that can be solved? What should be the information architecture for a social browser? Chris, up for some classic user experience work?
Who knows, maybe Firefox will evolve to support this and end up being our read/write browser. But Flock might well lead the way.