In upcoming posts here on ZDNet, I'll be exploring the latest web browsers and where the browser market in general is headed. I'm calling this series (rather predictably) Browsers 2.0 and I'll be exploring everything from IE7 to Opera9, Firefox 2.0 to Maxthon - plus any other interesting web browsers I find, or that ZDNet readers point me to. To set the scene, today I interviewed Geoffrey Arone - the co-founder of social Web browser Flock.com.
Flock recently released its official beta, which they call version 0.7. Flock has been around for about a year now and early on, in mid-2005, they became a reluctant poster child for Web 2.0. Since then Flock has pulled back its vision and is positioning itself much more as a mainstream browser now, in particular for people who use social networking media tools like MySpace and YouTube - which is a LOT of people!
I've released the whole interview as a podcast (see above), but in this post I'll highlight some of the key parts of the discussion.
What is Flock?
Geoffrey explained that what Flock is focusing on is "cutting the distance between users and what they're trying to accomplish online [...] making it easy for people to share and interact online."
Flock compared to IE and Firefox
I asked Geoffrey about the hype around Firefox Beta 2 and IE7 - and whether Flock aims to go well beyond the static 'consume' model of browsers and make the Web much more interactive they're just incremental changes to an outdated web browser model. Geoffrey thinks the two upgrades of Firefox and IE will cause a resurgence in the browser market, so users will realise they have choice. Flock is built entirely off the Mozilla platform, but in the end he says they're trying to solve different problems.
He said Microsoft has a desktop strategy which they need to defend, so their main priority is interoperability with previous IE browsers and the hundreds of millions of users on those browsers. Firefox is also a platform, and a very very good one says Geoffrey. But he said Firefox is more limited as to what they can do, due to their size and large user base.
So Geoffrey says being smaller allows Flock to be more innovative. He says Flock aims to go well beyond the static 'consume' model of browsers and make the Web much more interactive - discover, create, share are keywords Geoffrey used a lot in the interview.
Geoffrey also mentioned how they work in tandem with partners like PhotoBucket (a popular photo-sharing website that is used a lot by MySpace users). Flock removes the friction of integrating PhotoBucket photos into websites and social networking sites.
Flock targeting mainstream users
As for when Flock will go out of beta - Geoffrey said they're targeting go-live in October this year. Leading on from that, I asked if Flock will target mainstream users - like IE and Firefox does - once it gets out of beta. Geoffrey is confident that Flock can become a big player. He said:
"If we continue to respond to what our users are telling us and get out there and partner with the right folks, absolutely we will be [mainstream]. I want us to become increasingly part of the dialog of: what option do I have to participate online."
In terms of where Flock sits amongst some of the other little browsers, like Opera and Maxthon, Geoffrey said those browsers have different approaches than Flock and are trying to solve different problems. But he said Opera always innovates and both Opera and Maxthon are variations on Flock's theme of making browsing better, more efficient.
The future of the browser
Geoffrey is sometimes reluctant to call Flock a browser, because "it's a passive term". He said "the way our user testing is showing people interacting with Flock, it's anything but passive."
I mentioned that a lot of Web apps these days are becoming cross-platform and cross-device, so does he think the browser will morph into something different - in other words, where is the browser in general headed? Geoffrey replied:
"I view the browser as a vehicle for creating your online identity. So people are increasingly going towards mobile and to some extent the living room. Right now it's certainly not in our short-term plans. But I do see the browser as being the primary interface to your life online."
Check out the whole audio interview, because we delve into some of those broader browser issues a lot more. Geoffrey said that my questions were the best he’s had in any interview about Flock (which is a nice compliment!).
I'm going to review Flock - and other 2006-era browsers - in upcoming articles here on ZDNet.