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Oct 24 2005

Flock and Integration

I’ve been trying Flock on-and-off for the past few days. It’s an interesting concept, and one that I think could be pulled off if they don’t lose focus on their goals. My main complaint is that of integration.

About 2 years ago I had one of those ‘Smart Phone’ PDA/Cell Phone/Camera things. I thought it would be great to have all of these devices together. Small to medium form factor, and only one thing in the pocket. Except they could only pack about half of the features into each ‘part.’ A camera so grainy it was just about useless, a cell phone that was too large to feel comfortable next to your head, and a PDA with a battery life so short it was dead just about every time I needed to use it.

In this case, integration made 3 seemingly useful things impractical. Not because there were features of a PDA/Cell Phone/Camera on board, but because one item tried to be 3 things at once. Relating this to Flock, I tried using the blogging tool, but it’s features were just not the same as my WordPress administration area. And when my ‘Write Post’ page is only one bookmark away, it’s hard to see Flocks system replacing that. If Flocked used the RPC to do something I couldn’t do with my standard WordPress admin, than that would make sense. But if it’s just trying to replace my existing posting mechanism, it’s got a long way to go.

Now, some may say that Flocks posting system allows for Flickr integration, thus making adding a feature that I wouldn’t have with WordPress. In response, I can see the usefulness of merging photos with blogs, but if I have to go to Flickr to post the photo still, it seems odd to have to go somewhere else to use it. It would make a lot of sense to me if Flock would add that Flickr bar to the top of the browser, and if I could drag a photo into an html text box and it would paste the url for that photo. That would be useful to me.

Flocks integration with Delicious is a similar situation. I don’t think it improves upon the usefulness of the actual Delicious site. Now, it might help that I’ve skinned Delicious with a new design using PithHelmet, so the interface is much easier to look at for me. Still, it seems that Flock is trying to duplicate this interface, or at least integrate the same functionality into the browser, and that just seems a waste.

I’m not trying to say Flock is a bad product, or even say that this rant is about Flock at its heart. On the contrary, once a stable release is available, I think it will add many useful features to an average user experience. What I’m getting at is that integration of features (or tools, or reponsibilities, etc.) is not always going to total the sum of its parts. The limitations of one part will very often affect the capabilities of another. In our above example of the ‘Smart Phone,’ a digital camera needs room for optics, a lens system, a focus mechanism, storage, a large enough screen to preview your photos, etc. But with a cell phone, you want a small form factor, a lightweight shell, and room for the screen, radio and battery. The two sets of requirements (with current technological limits) can contradict each other.

The busier I get, the more I want to keep thing simple. I don’t want a device (or software, or even a company) with too many features. Keep the scope targeted and focused. If Flock wants to create a tool for easily incorporating a blog with your links and photos, then let them create! It just seems strange to me that in order to get that, I need to install a second copy of FireFox.