I’ve sporadically used Flock over the past few years, and I liked a lot of what it did, so it’s a disappointment to hear that support is being dropped later this month.
Arguably Flock was a little bit ahead of its time. When it Launched in 2005 there was no Twitter, and Facebook was still invitation only, so there wasn’t much that you could do with it that you couldn’t do with a couple of tool bars installed on your standard browser.
Over time though, it evolved into a really useful product. especially since they moved to a Chrome framework last year after spending 5 years working from Firefox.
Farmville publisher Zynga bought the talent behind Flock back in January, and from then on, without a pool of developers actively working on the project, Flock was pretty much doomed.
Do we even need a social browser?
Flock never managed to gain huge penetration into the market. It did boast some 10 million users at its peak, but the fact is, that without the overt support of one of the major social networks, or significant budgets for marketing and development, it was always going to be in a hard to escape niche.
RockMelt, also based on Chromium has captured a lot of attention since it’s launch last year, and also has a lot of funding, and launched with plenty of fanfare at a time when there were more than half a billion people using Facebook.
The strange thing is, that the biggest market for social browsers will always be the people who are least likely to be aware of them. Average Joe might have a Facebook account, but he’s also more likely to be using a mainstream browser like Firefox, IE9, or Chrome than a niche product that he hasn’t heard of.
With the various social plug ins that are easily available from the Chrome webstore, or the Firefox extension library, users of main stream browsers can replicate most of the functionality of Flock or Rockmelt – albeit not in a completely coherent way – but again, you need to ask the question of whether an average user want the hassle of downloading multiple plug ins.
Is Flock Dead then?
Back in 2003, when Netscape was made open source, it eventually became Firefox, and has a huge number of active contributors associated with the project. Google have done a similar thing with Jaiku in the hopes that it will be maintained and developed by the community.
Flock was based on open source code throughout it’s lifespan (Gecko and then Chromium), and it makes sense that developers might pick up on the codebase and continue to do something with it.
An end of active support does not mean that users will no longer be able to access Flock’s features. It remains a standalone application that will continue to work, although over time, some of the functionality may cease to work as APIs change, and without active development in this area, it will quickly become redundant. After all, why would anyone bother to go through the hassle of continuing to use it when the key reasons for using it have gone.