The science fiction child actor everybody loves to hate gave Flock a brief review today. To be fair to Wil, not everybody loves to hate him anymore. In fact, droves of people have enjoyed reading his blog for years, and I remember being impressed, when I first encountered it during my Fark phase a few years ago, that a celebrity had bothered to learn how to code and had written his own blogging software. It seemed so down to earth and cool and dorky in a way that appeals to me. But enough fan-boying. As a little aside in an entry about retooling his web presence, Wil mentioned Flock (along with Performancing and Ecto) as a blogging tool he had tried out. His verdict?
Flock is pretty cool. It’s got a nice editor, and I especially like how it seamlessly integrates Flickr images and del.icio.us bookmarks into your blogging experience. It integrates lots of tools and appears geared toward blogging and anything which involves a tag. If I was all about that sort of thing, I’d be really into flock, but since I’m not, I can’t see myself using it.
And a perfectly reasonable and fair verdict it is on the surface. We’ve known all along that we’re not going to appeal very much yet to the general web user. Of course, part of what we’re doing is trying to change the way people think about and use the web, so we’re hoping to expand our audience over time by improving the way the web works. We can do this in part by helping to showcase the usefulness of things like microformats, tagging, etc.
From a technical standpoint, using tags isn’t different at all from using categories. In each case, you have a database row tying a taxonomy term to another piece of data. The difference between tags and categories, as far as I can tell, has to do strictly with user interface (some would argue that it requires a different mindset). I find tags in Flock useful not because they’re trendy and web-2.0ish, but because they help me streamline how I manage my favorites. Here’s how:
- When I’m adding a link, rather than traversing a many-tiered series of nested menus to find a folder, I just type a tag. Adding auto-complete or a clickable list of likely candidates for tags would make this even more useful to me.
- When I’m looking for a link in the favorites manager, I just type a likely tag in the search widget at the bottom. It almost instantly narrows my list of favorites down to links I’ve applied a given tag (or fragment) to. It also happens to do a full text search and show matching links.
Part of the beauty of this approach is that even though we call the tool the favorites manager, I don’t actually have to do any management of my favorites. I save a link, and I can find it easily without being daunted, after months of browsing, at the prospect of having to navigate through six layers of menus to get to a link that legacy bookmarking systems allow me to categorize exactly one way without duplication of effort. If I’m not inclined to tag my links, I don’t have to, and Flock still provides a full-text search that lets me find relevant content I’ve visted more easily than otherwise. Which means that I don’t have to bother pruning old favorites or finding complex ways of categorizing them hierarchically in order to make it eaiser from a UI standpoint to find them.
So, Wil, if you happen to follow the trackback and read this, you don’t have to be a tagaholic to find Flock’s favorites features useful. If you (plural, generic you) don’t find the features useful, fair enough, but our goal — in spite of any buzz that may circulate about us — has much more to do with making it easier to use the web than with jumping on any bandwagons (though some bandwagons are heading in what we think are good directions). In order to find tagging in Flock useful, you don’t have to know much about tags or web 2.0 or whatever — you just have to see the value in the simple application of labels to links and the easy retrieval of those links later. In other words, you don’t have to be a fanatic about tagging, though it makes sense that our core audience for the time being is composed primarily of those for whom the novelty of tagging is appealing.