community, flock

Flock in Print

I picked up Cal Henderson’s Building Scalable Web Sites the other night hoping to learn something about “The Flickr Way” of building scalable web sites. I’m about halfway through and have mixed feelings so far about its usefulness for my purposes, but I couldn’t help feeling a little thrill when I encountered a reference to Flock on page 142. This portion of the book gives a brief explanation of the http request/response life cycle, and Cal happened to be using Flock while generating his example request (which returns a 404, if you’re interested, though the example suggests otherwise 😉 ).

I suppose I shouldn’t have been terribly surprised to see a Flock reference in a book by a guy from Web 2.0 darling Flickr. That Lloyd and Cal are buddies (there are photos to prove it) and that Cal has been spotted at SuperHappyDevHouses (the creation and proliferation of which past Flockers Termie and Factoryjoe have been instrumental in) should have rendered it even less of a surprise. Still, when I saw the example, I flopped the book down and exclaimed to my wife, “Hey, Flock’s in this book! Woo hoo!”

community, Personal

Late-night confessions

From a late-night IRC conversation with a Flock staffer and a Flock community member. It’s sort of a running joke that, a Southerner, I partake of all the bad habits and am characterized by all the provincialisms generally associated with the South.

daryl: (sorry, it’s late here and I’m working on a blog post entitled “My complex relationship with meat,” so it’s fitting that I should be in a weird mindframe 😉
: mmmmmmmeat
: yosh, I’m occasionally eating meat again
: we ran out of vegetables in Tennessee
: except for tobacco, that is, and it tastes really bad
: well, TN really didn’t have that many
yosh: daryl: tobacco can be good with the right sauce
: like a durian sauce?
yosh: durian-natto sauce
daryl: heh
: actually, I’m mainly eating meat b/c my newly pregnant wife craves it and I’m tired of cooking two meals a night
: heh
[redacted]: daryl: you actually eat tabacco?
: [redacted], it’s a staple in Tennessee
: that and buggering cows 😉
daryl: (no, I don’t eat tobacco)
: (though I am married to my sister, who is also my grandmother and my third cousin six times removed; and my father)
: daryl is his own grandpa
daryl: and grandma
daryl: I’m also my own sandwich
: (my other grandpa having mated with a tobacco plant, that is)
[redacted]: daryl: good (you don’t eat tobacco) 😉
daryl: opium, now that’s a different story 😉

community, flock

Knoxville Blogger’s Meetup Post Mortem

Tonight, I attended the blogger meetup that Mike organized. Counting Mike’s brother and girlfriend (both of whom were mostly absent but were warm bodies in occasional attendance, so I’ll count them provisionally), there were eight of us, all tied to Mike through past or current jobs or the aforementioned relationships. One guy was an apparently random acquaintance of Mike’s who since connecting with him has gotten a job at Mike’s place of work through no help from Mike (more or less at random, that is). Weird. Anyway, so we had a pretty decent crowd for a first meetup, though I hope that for future meetings, we can expand our network a bit and bring in some new folk. (Which let me say is a strange thing for me to hope because I’m generally pretty reclusive and not interested in adding more people to the list of those I feel obligated to remember or communicate with. Let’s keep that our little secret.)

We had discussion of three items on the agenda: photo manipulation/hosting tools, Flock as the blogger’s browser, and video blogging.

First, Mike gave an overview of Google’s Picassa, which includes a desktop client for photo manipulation and a (beta) web service for display of photos in albums. The client looks pretty nice, with basic and pretty easy-to-use tools for manipulating photos. Want to bring out highlights in a picture? Just hit the highlights button and adjust the levels (or something like that). It seems like a great lightweight tool for doing the sort of basic operations that those of us who’re intimidated by Photosho or The Gimp are likely to want to do. As for uploading and displaying, there are some weak points. You can’t upload one-off photos, for example — they all have to go into an album. For most users, this is probably fine, but it’s nice to be able to post a one-off screen shot as well. The web display itself seems pretty weak. There’s a concept of favorites or friends, and there are settings to be able to publicly list albums, but there seems to be no interface for searching for photos or friends. If I happen to know Mike’s gmail username and know the base url for the photo service, I can assemble a url that will show me his albums, but that’s not user-friendly to say the least. I imagine the service will be expanded to fix these problems. All of this is basically moot for me, as the client isn’t available for linux, but it was interesting nevertheless.

Next, Mike gave a demonstration of Flickr’s capabilities. I hadn’t expected to learn much here, but he showed me some things I hadn’t looked into before, most of the details of which I’ve forgotten by now but will delve back into as need arises. There’s more you can do with Flickr’s organizer tool than I had ever discovered; I had always thought of it as merely a way to organize sets, but you can batch add tags, set privacy, etc., and with some of the gaps in Flock’s ability to batch edit photos, these things are very useful. There are also some neat views of photos and tags that I hadn’t looked into. My impression of Flickr in recent months has been a better one than previously. Things seem more discoverable since some features were added to the site. Between that and Mike’s demo, I may find myself actually using the site more than I’ve been accustomed to doing in the past.

At this point in the evening, after a late start, we’re more than an hour into the evening and it’s my turn to present. Mid-presentation (baby’s bed-time), I get a call from my wife that I dismiss. The moral of the story is that we need to plan less stuff for these meetings and trust the power of gab to carry us through to a sufficiently lengthy time. I thought at this point about suggesting that we push either Perry’s vlogging segment or my segment off to a future session, but I wimped out, not wanting to hijack the meeting.

As I result, I rushed through my segment, for which I’m a little embarrassed to admit I wasn’t terribly well prepared. It was clear that Mike had spent some time thinking about what he was going to demo. I had run through doing a blog post in Flock’s editor but hadn’t really scripted anything out, and I think that between that and my being in a rush, I probably did a pretty poor job of showcasing Flock’s capabilities. We’ll be releasing a new version of the software before too long, and there’ll be big changes then, so perhaps I can get some more time then and do a better job. The 30-second version of my presentation is roughly as follows: Hey, there’s an html rich editor, so you don’t have to code html anymore. There’s also this little shelf thing at the bottom that you can drag pictures and text into and then back out of to construct rich blog posts. And there’s this photobar that shows your Flickr photos (and those of others) for easy dragging into blog posts. And you can easily drag/drop upload photos straight from within your browser and get notifications when your friends post their photos. (Not covered in my presentation but important is the fact that this uploader tool works in linux and thus has caused me to upgrade to a pro Flickr account and actually bother to snap photos.)

Now Perry stepped up to the plate to talk about screencasting. A screencast is basically a movie of somebody’s desktop as they use software and explain the process. He reviewed several tools that I was interested in seeing but that were sort of dead ends for me because they can’t be used on linux. (Side note: A week or two ago, I briefly evaluated something called xvidcap for linux; after hacking the config so that it would compile on my system, I wound up finding the software difficult to use, but probably about as good as it gets for this type of software on linux.) In one case, Perry used a piece of screencasting software to do a screencast of the software itself. (It was during this window that my future self came back to visit me and prevented my future untimely demise by suggesting that I take an alternate route home; it was strange.) I found myself thinking during Perry’s presentation that the perfect synthesis of our evening would be Perry’s doing a screencast of Picassa and posting it to his blog using Flock. (My future self had nothing to say about whether this would actually happen, though I did press for an answer.) (Ahem. It’s late and I’m tired.)

After Perry’s talk, we briefly discussed finding a mechanism for publishing events. Orkut (which several of us had signed up for) sucks for this sort of thing, and who wants to pay for this? We discussed using Gmail’s calendar, which we should be able to syndicate for publication on a web site if we ever build one. We also discussed finding a plugin for WordPress and just having a blog site. I think we finally concluded to not worry too much about web infrastructure until the core group’s a little more established and we have any hope of attracting a broader audience.

And so concluded our meetup. I think Mike briefly proposed discussing next time (probably a month or so from now) some of the options for hosting your blog. All in all, it was a good meeting, and I’m frankly a little surprised to report (see note above about my being nearly pathologically anti-social) that I look forward to the next one.

community, flock

Knoxville Blogger’s Meetup

A couple of weeks ago, I was in the driver’s seat for a Flock meetup here in Knoxville. My pal Mike has since begun organizing a Knoxville bloggers meetup to discuss blog tools more generally. Details (straight from Mike’s blog):

Wednesday, August 23rd 7:00pm
Where: Mike’s Place (directions when you RSVP)
What: Knoxville’s local bloggers get together to talk about tools and services that help bloggers.
Who: Anyone who has a blog, wants a blog, or wants to learn about blogs.
Why: We don’t need a why!

You can RSVP to me or go over to Mike’s site to RSVP. Mike’ll give a little presentation on some image hosting/manipulation tools, I’ll give a half-assed demonstration of some of Flock’s features, and Perry will talk a bit about video blogging tools. From there, we’ll talk amongst ourselves about the tools presented and figure out where to go from here with the meetup group.

If you’re already a blogger or are just curious about what all this blogging stuff is all about, this first meetup should provide a good introduction to some of the tools and services available to you.

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.

community, flock

Knoxville meetup confirmed

It’s confirmed — Knoxville’s second Flock meetup will take place at 7:00 p.m. on Wednesday (tomorrow) at the Barne’s and Noble on Kingston Pike (yes, we do know about books here in the south). We’ll gather in the cafe area. We’re a small group so far (but bigger than last time), and anybody in the area is welcome to stop by. I’ve got some nifty buttons to give out and, FedEx willing, I’ll have one or two tee-shirts that people can fight over. Other than that, we’ll just talk Flock. I hope to have a chance to give an overview of things to come and to answer any questions I’m able to about where we are with the software. Admittedly, since I’m on the web end of things now rather than the client side, my knowledge on that front is more limited than in the past. In any case, it should be a good event. Naturally, unless it’s a real snoozer, I’ll report on how it went. Consider this an invitation to other community members to hold meetups and to do status reports afterward. You’ll have to check this with Community Ambassador Will Pate, but I gather we’re getting much closer now to being ready for spread-like campaigns, and meetups seem to me like as good a way as any to participate.

community, flock

Knoxville Meetup

Back in March, I more or less presided over a small Flock meetup in Knoxville. We’ve come a long way since March, and given the recent releases, I thought it might be a good time to hold another meetup event, this time with hopefully a slightly broader reach. Including myself, I can count on four participants this time and may be able to garner a fifth. If I break six, I’ll be pretty happy; Knoxville isn’t exactly browseropolis, you know. If you happen to be in the Knoxville area and are interested in meeting some other Flock users or just want to find out more, please let me know by email (daryl at flock dot com), and I’ll fill you in on the details as I firm up plans. Tentatively, I’m looking at finding a book store or coffee shop with wifi on Wednesday or Thursday evening next week.

There’s no set agenda, but I imagine we’ll talk some about where the browser’s been, where it’s come, and where it’s going. I fully anticipate the airing of some beefs with the browser, and I hope we’ve also given reason for some kudos to be awarded as well.