community, flock

Meetup Followup

I’m getting tired of posting things with “Meetup” in the title, and I’m sure you’re tired of reading them. Lucky for us, I held the Knoxville meetup last night, so this should be the last meetup post for at least a couple of months. There were five of us total, and for Knoxville, that really doesn’t seem too bad at all. Of course, one was a long-time Flock user, two were connections from past jobs, and the other was one of my good friends, so we weren’t exactly branching out to whole new markets in the area, but we’re nevertheless maintaining a small community interested in the browser.

Of the five of us, three of us are using Flock regularly. Perry‘s been with us through thick and thin since our first release in October, and my friend Dave became a user after the release of Cardinal. He says he’ll be switching his wife over soon, and he’s especially pleased that Flock has better support for unconverted Firefox extensions now. Mike and Gabriel I know from past jobs, and they both remain skeptical, firing the browser up mostly when I bug them about it. Mike cites a list of issues with the news reader that he sees as roadblocks (things that bloglines handles for him in ways he finds more useful). Gabriel doesn’t use many of the services that Flock is designed to make easier, and so there’s no compelling reason for him to use Flock. He has it installed and running but continues to default to Firefox.

Some of Mike’s beefs with the news reader seem legitimate, and some of our other discussion around feeds resulted in the following list of things that we thought could be improved in that area:

  • We should cap the number of items imported; some sites like digg apparently have massive feeds, and you have to wait while hundreds of items download.
  • If there are saved articles, the interface should indicate as much and possibly show how many have been saved. Else you forget they’re down there.
  • It’d be nice if Flock could poll an external OPML file for its list of feeds. Mike, for example, uses his OPML file from bloglines to build a blogroll. Obviously, you can’t use your local Flock data store to automatically populate a blogroll on your web site. Accordingly, Mike has incentive to continue using bloglines, which serves the dual purpose of reader and aggregator for his site. If Flock could ping his bloglines OPML file periodically, he could read his feeds right there in the browser without losing the blogroll functionality. My guess is that not terribly many people care about this, but it’s worth thinking about. If we’ve already got OPML import, how much harder can it really be to ping an external OPML file periodically? An obvious problem area, of course, would be maintaining read state between your local items and the items in the external aggregator.
  • In bloglines, you can opt to “keep” an article. This marks it as unread until you explicitly mark it read, and it overrides the automatic “mark all read” behavior. That is, if you keep something unread, even when all other items are batch marked read, it stays unread. This allows you to get back to it easily.  Arguably, our save feature provides similar functionality. In Mike’s case, our save feature is like the clippings feature in bloglines, which works independently of read state. I suspect Mike’s use case is marginal, but it is, again, something worth consideration.

Another topic we hit on for a few minutes was the search box. Of course, everybody wants the search box to be able to search all things (not just places you’ve been), and I believe that’s something we’re looking into for our next big release. But something we universally found problematic was the way the search box works when you actually want to search one of the engines. In Firefox, if you change the engine using the icon selector in the searchbox, your searches stay with that engine until you change it again. So if you’re doing a bunch of wikipedia searches, you just select the wikipedia engine and keep typing searches in the box. It makes for streamlined searching. In Flock, your search always defaults to your default engine, and to search another, you always have to scroll down and select the engine you want. This makes doing many searches within one engine cumbersome because you either have to change your default in the options (nobody wants to do that) or you have to add the scroll step for every search. I believe the search box is being reengineered in Firefox 2.0, and I don’t know how that’ll affect its functionality. And I suspect that we eliminated the default functionality at least in part because it conflicted with the nifty flyout we’ve added. So it may wind up just being a tradeoff, but it’s certainly something worth bringing up.

In preparation for the meetup, I looked through a high-level feature specification document, and I made a list of topics to touch on. One of them was media. We already have photos in the browser, and it makes sense, with the proliferation in recent months of video content, that we should do some diligence on the video front. But I don’t remember seeing anything in the feature document about podcasts, which have been hot for even longer than video. As we talked about media, our little group seemed to agree that a view of podcasts or other media similar to the feeds view might work well. Most importantly, of course, you should get updates of new content and have an easy way to view it (presumably with a player embedded in the viewing area).

We talked a bit about people in the browser, and everybody agreed that having a unified view of your contacts along with notifications of their updated content would be a very good thing. People in the browser is really what all these other sharing features ultimately center on. Content doesn’t generally create itself, after all.

I was either preoccupied or brain-dead and neglected to snap any photos of the meetup, but Perry came through with the photo above (and another in which you get a nice look at my gams but I otherwise look like a zombie, so you’ll have to hunt that one down yourself). Those who wanted them got tee-shirts and buttons, and feedback I’ve gotten so far indicates that it was a good event. I definitely look forward to holding another one when we release our next big milestone, if not before. If you’re in the Knoxville area, I hope you’ll stay tuned and maybe join us. I really appreciate the willingness of my partners in crime last night to spend an evening talking about Flock.


One thought on “Meetup Followup

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