Flocking Together on the Web

A new Web browser unifies access to multiple social networks.

In the increasingly complex world of online social networking, keeping track of multiple accounts across many networks is a difficult task. A new Web browser, Flock, attempts to unify access to many social networks, including Facebook, Flickr, Twitter, YouTube, Photobucket, Picasa, Livejournal, and Blogger.

“Lots of people have profiles on lots of social networks, and everybody is struggling with some way to bring that all together,” says Barry Parr, media analyst at JupiterResearch. “People are focusing time on more than one social network and are really struggling with the integration problem, and that’s certainly an opportunity.”

Flock is not the only attempt to unify multiple social networks. Last November, Google released its OpenSocial API, a set of developer’s tools for sharing information across a number of social-networking systems, including MySpace. Firefox users also have the option of adding user-created programs that have similar functionality to Flock, allowing for access to multiple social networks from within the browser. However, this is a piecemeal approach, as each addition is created independently.

Flock was launched in November 2007 and is growing fast. CEO Shawn Hardin projects that, with more than one million downloads to date, Flock will have tens of millions of users by 2009.

“There are tens of millions of people that are participating in social networking … Ten million is not an unrealistic goal, but it’s certainly ambitious,” says JupiterResearch’s Parr.

Flock’s revenue comes primarily from Yahoo, in exchange for making the search engine the browser default. This is a similar model to one used by Firefox, which had a revenue of $66.9 million in 2006, of which 90 percent was from search-engine royalties.

Flock functions like a standard browser most of the time, with a few added functions that gear it toward social networking. Primarily, there’s the “My World” tab, which serves as an RSS reader and social aggregator, tracking recent changes made by users’ friends and colleagues on social networks. When a user visits a website that is recognized by Flock, the software prompts her to add it to the “My World” section of the browser. The browser keeps track of changes to each social network, such as whether friends have added new pictures to their account on the photo-sharing website Flickr. A powerful blogging tool is also included in Flock that connects to most major blogging services, allowing for easy publishing.

Drag and drop: Flock allows users to drag media between networks to enable easy sharing.

A central theme running through all the utilities in Flock is the ability to share information with friends. In order to facilitate this, Flock employs a clipboard system that allows users to drag images, files, and website links onto a clipboard, and then share them with their friends through any of their social sites and supported Web-mail sites.

However, there are a couple of obvious limits to Flock’s abilities. Primarily, there is no support for MySpace or Bebo, two of the largest social networks, or for any instant-messaging clients. Hardin says that MySpace integration will be coming “in the next few months … It will definitely be out by Q3.” Instant-messaging support is also in the works.

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