nmg: (Default)

The BBC have been carrying a story today on the rise of Web 2.0 and Flock, to tie in with a report on this evening's Newsnight (the report can be seen on the Newsnight website for the next twenty-four hours). I can't say that I'm too impressed.

I've tried Flock (see my earlier comments), and have found it to be a generally unimpressive experience, in that it doesn't add any significantly new additional browser functionality that was not already available as extensions to Firefox. Given that Flock is probably about 98+% Firefox in terms of lines of code, this doesn't justify the hype that has surrounded the release of Flock 0.5 alpha. Granted, it does have quite a pretty new skin, but that's not exactly earth-shattering.

Flock is the most recent piece of software to be identified with what is fast becoming known as Web 2.0. The view that we are seeing a phase change in the nature of the Web is quite prevalent amongst some of the more vocal parts of the blogorati, and amongst some of the refugees from the dotcom boom, but it's more style than substance. Certainly, there's nothing about Web 2.0 systems that was not possible with existing (Web 1.0) technologies. Instead, we're being asked to believe that Web 2.0 is a different way of thinking about the Web, a Web where all can participate equally, and where useful services spring unbidden from social interactions.

A central theme of Web 2.0 is therefore that of emergent intelligence, that together we're somehow smarter than we are individually. This doesn't sound particularly 2.0 to me, but rather too much like some of the more hyperbolic future-posturing from the pages of WiReD magazine c. 1998. On a more cynical note, I could add that the Web 2.0 is a kneejerk reaction from those members of the blogorati that prefer syntactic XML markup to the more stable foundation for shared understanding that is afforded by the Semantic Web, and that they're sleepwalking into the very problems that the Semantic Web is designed to mitigate against, but that would just be petty of me.

Both the BBC News report and the segment on tonight's Newsnight were quite reminiscent of the mainstream media hype during the dotcom boom in the sheer breathlessness of the reporting. The web report was centred on Barcamp in Amsterdam earlier this month, but the television report also featured footage from the O'Reilly-organised Web 2.0 Conference (with about ten seconds of a Cory Doctorow rant, and some pictures of stories from Make:) . In the television report, Paul Mason interviewed Andy Smith and Chris Messina of Flock, who had "built a new web browser". As I've already stated, I think that statement is quite disingenuous. The BBC News report notes that Flock is based on Firefox, but the Newsnight segment didn't go so far as to even mention this debt. Overall, I'm very disappointed by this sort of reporting from the BBC. It was largely devoid of analysis, and just repeated the Web 2.0 hype uncritically.

In short, I wasn't expecting the BBC to drink the Kool Aid.

nmg: (Default)

[livejournal.com profile] sbisson got to this before I did - the first public beta of the Flock browser has now been released. It's a Firefox variant that integrates del.icio.us social bookmarks and blogging more tightly into the browser, but I can't help but feel a little underwhelmed by it. It is slick, even for a beta, but much of the functionality has already been present in the form of Firefox extensions:

  • The Shelf is equivalent to the Scrapbook extension
  • There are at least two extensions which integrate del.icio.us into Firefox's bookmarks
  • There are already blogging extensions, albeit not one which is properly cross-service (WordPress vs MT vs LJ)

I'm a little worried that this is opening the gates to a series of forks of the Firefox development; I'd have been happier if Flock were presented as a family of tightly integrated extensions (in a similar vein to the All-In-One extension, perhaps). As it is, I have no guarantee that developments on the main Firefox trunk will make it into Flock with any timeliness (if ever). For cosmetic enhancements this may not be an issue, but for security fixes this could be critical. There are also no guarantees of support in Flock for major new areas of functionality such as SVG or Canvas, even if those get into Firefox.

Fortunately, the Flock developers are concerned that existing Firefox extensions should work with Flock, which is some consolation.

(this post would have been brought to you by Flock, had the damned thing been able to post to LiveJournal)

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Nick Gibbins

August 2010

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