How I’m Using Flock

Even as an employee of Flock, I was a late adopter, or at any rate, I was late among the early adopters. I hate to say it, but our browser didn’t add much value that was useful to me, and it was a little flakey on top of that, so dogfeeding obligation aside, I had little incentive to fire the browser up. I’ve been using it as my only browser for six or seven weeks now, though, and particularly in the last two or three weeks, I’ve started to find that it adds specific value to my experience.

First, a bit on how Flock still doesn’t add value. I can’t use Flock to blog at my personal blog if I want to apply useful tags to my posts without having to double edit. I have a copy of wordpress installed, with the Ultimate Tag Warrior plugin installed to let me add tags complete with sometimes maligned tag cloud. Because wordpress doesn’t support real tagging and Flock understandably can’t just include a hack to address the issue, I can’t use Flock to write at my personal blog as I’d like to write there. For my Flock blog, however, where real tagging isn’t an option for me anyway and I’m happy to just use categories, I can and do use Flock’s blog editor. And it’s as fine and dandy as any rich text editor for composition on the web. In fact, Flock and wordpress.com appear to use the same editor, and having it integrated into my browser is nice, if not something I’d switch browsers over, particularly given the existence of the Performancing extension for Firefox.

Where Flock of late has begun to win me over and in fact to make me a more prolific contributor to the web (for better or for worse) is in the shelf. And it’s done so in not quite expected ways that may or may not be instructive to Flock’s user interaction designer types. I don’t often blog quotes or images, and on the rare occasion that I blog a link, it’s usually one like those listed in this entry that are familiar to me and easy enough to remember and type in without cluttering up a shelf. It’s the "Add Note" button that has drawn me in. You see, while I don’t often blog media or links, I am very forgetful. I frequently dupe myself into thinking I’ll remember to blog something when I have more to say on the subject at a later time, but in the absence of any sort of scratchpad to remind me about these things, I usually forget.

Enter the shelf, where I press the "Add Note" button, type a quick little memo, and dismiss the window, without losing browser context by going to a full blog entry window. My shelf currently contains the following items:

  • The Impeach Project
  • How I use Flock, the shelf being a very good thing (better than drafts)
  • Financing Choice: Why should we facilitate abortions but not facilitate the active (and unasked for) killing of people in vegetative states?
  • My Daughter the Whino
  • I Know a Chicken, VIctor Vito, Monster Boogie, Elvira, Gold Digger

The first is a site I want to mention in connection with a post I want to write about Harper’s Magazine generally and about the March cover story in particular ("The Case for Impeachment"). The second is a reminder that I wanted to write this very entry. The third is an ethical question I want to remember to spend some time ruminating on and to blog about. The fourth and fifth are little things from my daughter’s life that I want to blog about (my daughter is not a whino; please don’t call child protective services). These last two are the most important to me. My daughter does new things every day, and I’ve neglected to blog so many neat things she’s done and milestones she’s reached that perhaps you should call child protective services after all. Now that I can add notes to the shelf, I’m less likely to forget to blog these things, though. I just add a quick note and have them for later compilation and use. More often than not, what’s happened lately is that I’ve begun adding an item to the shelf to blog later but have gone ahead and blogged it anyway. So the shelf not only provides a repository for things to blog, but the fact that it’s so convenient to use and that I even bother to open it up and add notes in fact compels me to go ahead and blog short entries on the spot while I’m at it.

In short, Flock has helped me to salvage and record some threads from my daughter’s childhood that might otherwise have gone unremembered. How’s that for an endorsement? If part of Flock’s mission is to facilitate better use of the read/write web (I think we’ve said as much before), then, in my case, mission accomplished, if in an unexpected way.

Of course, it happens that Flock has a drafts topbar whose purpose lines up more or less with what I’m using the shelf for, and I’ve wondered why I haven’t been inclined to use that topbar rather than the shelf. I can think of a few reasons. One is that I wrote the first draft of the shelf and so maybe am biased in its favor, however different a beast it is now than when I wrote it. Another is that the shelf provides time-stamping, though I don’t think that’s the draw for me, as I don’t know that I really look at the timestamps when I use it. Yet another is that to use the drafts topbar, I have to open a whole new tab complete with all the editor UI if I want to create or view a draft, and that just feels intrusive and feels like overkill for typing a quick telegraphic idea about something to write about later. And then there’s the fact that using the shelf feels like less of a commitment to me. I’m just taking notes and not committing to staring at a blank page, filled with dread at the probability that I’ll fail to express clearly the precise impishness and delightfulness of my daughter that the thing I want to write about captures. If I’m just taking notes, what I write doesn’t have to aspire to perfection, so it’s less intimidating, and I’m (it’s been proven) more likely to write things down.

There are other things I find useful about Flock, of course (tagging of links on a web service, the history search [more and more, though it’s not something I use naturally, never having used that search box very much previously], and collections foremost among them), but the shelf has been the big plus for me. Add a keyboard shortcut that lets me toggle between the shelf and the last thing filling that top real estate and I’d be a very happy camper indeed.

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16 thoughts on “How I’m Using Flock

  1. Just an FYI — the latest version of WordPress does support tagging — via free categories. In fact, categories are marked up as tags in WordPress, so that’s already done for you.

    It’s actually Flock that needs to add this functionality since Matt already added it to the API. We just need to make our tagging system create categories-on-the-fly on the WordPress end when they don’t already exist.

    Other than that, I think you point out some of the UI issues with Flock that need to be addressed… it’s not great a blog composition yet — as in, going from inspiration to posting. We’ve got a decent writing interface, but we need a much smoother experience moving between all of the UI components.

  2. Daryl, I think this kind of post is useful because it offers what the Wiki doesn’t — some real life examples of how Flock can be used. It appears that I have been “eating your dogfood” longer than you have, since I made Flock my default browser back in November some time. It is MUCH more useful now that version 0.5.12 is out though.

  3. Very interesting Daryl. Factoryjoe and CaptQuirk\’s comments are both also very interesting.

    I don\’t keep my drafts in Flock at all any more, because they are not synced with my blogging service. I will continue to harass the developers until this changes.

    Anthonyand Jesse have been playing with some ideas to make the Shelf even more accessible. I wait to see if the ideas become designs.

  4. Daryl, great observations. I’ve only recently discovered the usefulness of the shelf. I’m going to start using it more. Like CaptQuirk, it sounds like I’ve been using Flock as my main browser long than you. The biggest reason is the collections. They’re so much easier to use than folders in a drop down menu. Being able to right-click to add a favorite and put it in a collection is so fewer clicks than the “Add to Favorites…” menu in IE (or trying to drag and drop the favorite icon though the menus).
    Now I’ve finally gotten del.icio.us working I had a very cool experience the other day. I installed Flock on my game PC at home and my first thought was, “Ugh. I don’t have my favorites and collections.” Then I realized, “Hey, del.icio.us!” I set it up in the web services options, and *BAM!* synchronized favorites (now if only the collections were sync’d too). I know it’s a small thing that should’ve been obvious to me from the beginning, but the experience was really cool.
    And don’t forget my favorite “DUH!” feature for the web browser: spell checker for web forms/fields. Why haven’t the other browsers integrated that yet? I had an add-on for IE called IE Spell. Invaluable. Since I switched to Firefox/Flock, there was no good solution for that. Thank you, thank you to the person who got that feature in the Flock 5.10+. It’s made my dyslexia much less pronounced on forums all over the web. 😉

  5. I’m glad Keil Wilson brought out the subject about an integrated spell checker in Flock. It’s a known fact that many bloggers around the world write in English, but that is not their native tongue. In an effort to write a post free of spelling errors or horrors, they have to continuously toggle between their posts and a physical dictionary.

    Having a speller right there is very convenient. Now one step further. Firefox has a “Spellbound” speller that checks your spelling as you write and signals out misspelled words underlining them in red. Pretty much the way MS Word does. I think Flock should do something like that. It helps the writer to correct errors immediately, which obviously saves time.

    Further down the road, I think Flock should include a Thesaurus. There are many bloggers writing for a living. For them having a rich vocabulary is part of their duties. Having a readily available Thesaurus would make their lives less stressful.

    Finally, I liked this post because it shows how Flock works in the real world doing things people actually do. I never thought Shelf was so helpful. Now I’m go concentrate more on Shelf and see how it can serve my needs.

    Great post.



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  8. Keil, Shadows even remembers your collections.

    Omar, we are trying to have for the next major release, “Spellbound” speller that checks your spelling as you write and signals out misspelled words underlining them in red.”
    spell checking done “on the fly” while authoring a blog post & textareas

    Daryl, the template you use is annoying because I can’t link to a particular comment.

  9. Just wanted to say thanks for this post—it got me curious enough to check out 0.5.12 and start playing with Flock again. I’ve already made (and edited) two relatively painless posts via the Blog tool which seems much smoother than i remember. I’ve been very hesitant, but i’ll probably be checking out Shadows or something similar soon, because i work from three different locations, and it’s tough to stay synched up.

    Lloyd, the comment IDs are in the source, they’re just not visibly linked—still kinda annoying though.

  10. “And it’s as fine and dandy as any rich text editor for composition on the web.”
    i like flock, i have recently installed it, i liked firefox but i had to give it up – too buggy. the flock’s blog editor isn’t so fine as qumana is. so, it doesn’t appeal to me – yet. i hope the improvement will come soon.

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