Oct 31, 2007

[Social Networking] First Look at Flock and the Multiply Toolbar

Flickr: mirsasha - Infinite photo
Infinite photo
by mirsasha.

While waiting for the new Gmail to reach me, I decided to finally spend some time for some initial testing of Flock, which is being called the "Social Web Browser" by its marketing group. At the same time, I also opted to test out the Multiply Toolbar. What can I say, I'm an avid Multiply user! =P

For now this is just an initial look at these two products and I promise to post a lengthier review once I've field tested them a bit more.

First up is Flock, our social friend. Now please note that ironically, I am not a social networking person so perhaps I'm doomed to underutilize this browser. However they have been talking a lot about this being a browser for bloggers as well, so let's see. Given that it's based around the Firefox engine, I'll be making a lot of comparisons between the two.

First up is speed. Given that my current setup for Firefox is pretty loaded as it is and this was me dealing with Flock "fresh out of the box" as it were, load times were similar with Flock being a tad slower. Given how many features already come integrated with the program, I suppose that's fair enough. Page loads were a bit awkward and a lot of the Flock-specific links for popular services were a bit buggy and would time out.

Because of my initial browser page loading issues, I ended up typing in the URLs of the various sites directly in order to log in. Once that was done, at least Flock was smart enough to detect my settings and realize that I had logged into an affiliated account with sites like Blogger, LiveJournal, and YouTube. Offerings are limited at this point while people still built more options into it and sadly my lone social network Multiply was not part of the compatible sites. Neither was Picasa Web Albums so I had to resort to Flickr and Photobucket that despite my having accounts there, I hardly use them.

Once that was done, I didn't really know what to do. I mean, what was the big deal? I tried blogging using the built-in tool and it was okay for basic WYSIWYG editing but I have to admit I'm a stubborn HTML who still likes to tweak a few tag attributes here and there. The blog editor loads in a separate window and when you try to use their integrated tools for media like clicking the Blog This link for a video you're watching on YouTube, the way it loads in the editor is a bit cumbersome and so I find myself needing to edit it further directly on the site.

I've yet to really test out the Media Bar function or to explore the limited extensions library that will hopefully grow over time. They claim to be compatible with most Firefox extensions but a few have already been reported not to work like the All-in-One-Sidebar. Sad.

So far, I'm happy with my tricked out Firefox as my total blogging platform. Perhaps Flock will make more sense when more extensions come out or if someone manages to convince me to sign up for Facebook.

As for the Multiply Toolbar, it's one of those add-ons to Firefox that might it the best "social browser" for me. Based on my initial inspection, the initial release isn't quite yet revolutionary.

First off, the features are simple enough and provide you quick links to the various parts of your Multiply page and key places like My Multiply, where you view network updates from your contacts and those related to them. It also provides quick links to all posting options for blogs, videos and other content instead of having to find the Post link, waiting for the image to load then clicking on the type of content you're about to create or post. Not bad.

However if you don't really read every single network update, you might not really care about the main feature of the toolbar, which is to periodically check with the site to see how many personal messages, contact updates and group updates are considered "new" on the server. Also, you can't "store" your login credentials in the toolbar - it waits for you to log in at the website directly as compared to the Google and Yahoo toolbars which make keeping you signed in easier.

Speaking of Yahoo, the Multiply toolbar comes with a search feature that allows you to search all of Multiply, or perhaps just certain types of content. It also provides a way to search the web however this is solely via Yahoo, which sort of cheapens the entire tool and makes it just another Yahoo marketing ploy like not checking what you're installing when you download CCleaner.

I still need to do more extensive tests with the integrated photo uploader, perhaps the one feature that might save this toolbar for me since I upload loads of photos and I hate their Java uploader for Firefox. I usually end up using the ActiveX uploader available only on IE, which I hate using. I did a few tests and sometimes the uploader does not show up successfully and tells me that I need to install the toolbar to use it - which doesn't make sense since I clicked the link directly within the toolbar just to get to that error message.

I hate early versions. They force you to take in more salt that you need just to try them out. Expect to hear more from me about these two tools once I've put them through their paces.

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