Every once in a while, some piece of software surprises us all by releasing version 1.0 in this age of betas. Over the weekend Flock, which bills itself as “the social web browser,” joined this select club. Built on top of the Mozilla core, the basic feel of Flock will be familiar to anyone who uses Firefox. But the Flock developers have added their own interface on top of Firefox 18.104.22.168, adding tight integration for a variety of sites and services directly into the browser.
The integrated services are a reasonable cross-section of the popular social web: Facebook, Flickr, Twitter, and YouTube for tracking people and their output; Photobucket and Piczo for media sharing; Blogger, Blogsome, LiveJournal, Typepad, WordPress, and Xanga for blogging; and del.icio.us and Magnolia for keeping track of online favorites. If your own top service isn’t on this list…well, you’re stuck for now as far as deep integration goes, but Flock can run most Firefox extensions (and my own essential extensions, such as AdBlock Plus, seem to load just fine).
What can you do here that you can’t do in other browsers? Not much, really, but there’s a great deal you can do more easily and elegantly. For example, when you mark a page as a favorite, Flock can automatically add it to your online favorites as well as your local favorites. If a friend on Facebook or Twitter updates their status, you’ll see it instantly in the People bar (though only the most recent message for each friend, which can make tracking conversations difficult). If you want to browse Flickr or YouTube, you can use the Media Bar to see thumbnails without loading up a whole tab or losing the context of the page that you’re looking at.
Flock includes a built-in blog editor (not as good as most external blog editors, but it will do in a pinch) and a web clipboard that allows you to easily store media from any page just by dragging and dropping. Of course you can follow RSS feeds as well, via either a sidebar or the “My World” tab which offers an overview of what’s going on with all the accounts you have configured in Flock.
If you like Firefox and you’re invested in the social web, Flock is worth a look. The one caveat is that you’ll probably want to have a monitor with plenty of pixels; the real value here is only apparent if you have most of the extra chrome open, and that takes up a reasonably substantial chunk of real estate. In my early testing, Flock seems at least as fast and stable as the underlying Firefox core.