File Under: Software & Tools

Newest Flock Release Brings Twitter, Facebook Chat to the Browser

Flock, the “social web browser” built on top of Firefox, released a new update Tuesday. Flock version 2.5 brings a feature-rich Twitter client, support for Facebook Chat and a set of handy tools for cross-posting media to multiple social networks to the open-source browser.

Flock isn’t for everyone. It’s definitely a machine built by and for social media power users, which means it will forever be firmly entrenched in the niche populated by Twitter, Flickr and Faceboook junkies. But thanks to its Firefox underpinnings, the browser is fast and stable (it’s fully current with the latest deployed Firefox code, 3.0.10). And since the social network add-ons are integrated directly into the browser, it affords an elegance and ease-of-use on those sites that have earned it a legion of loyal fans.

The new Twitter tools are the standout feature for this release. They allow you to easily track your friends’ activities and conversations, bringing Flock’s Twitter support up to speed with the level of integration it has with other supported sites like Facebook, Flickr, Digg, MySpace and YouTube.

Flock previously allowed you to interact with Twitter, but these new tools bring almost every aspect of the service directly into the browser. You can see updates from your friends, @mentions, @replies and direct messages. You can now reply, retweet and favorite directly from the Twitter sidebar client.

You can also save Twitter searches and keep them as persistent, constantly updating panels. Sadly, there’s no support for keeping multiple Twitter accounts open at once, but Flock will store more than one set of Twitter credentials, so you can switch between accounts by quickly logging out and logging back in as a different user.

It operates much like TweetDeck, the leading Twitter desktop client. But, as Flock VP of Marketing Dan Burkhart tells Webmonkey, Twitter, by its nature, makes more sense in the browser than it does in an external client.

“Twitter activity is increasingly moving more towards rapid breaking perishable and fresh information,” he says. “It’s easier to engage in that experience if you can drag links right in, sharing media and such, without having to juggle between applications.”

He also feels that Flock’s user interface for Twitter is more inviting.

“Tweetdeck and others are fantastic, but there are some who would tell you that it feels like they’re looking at a NASA panel,” he says.

For true social media junkies, there’s a new option to cross-post just about anything you do in Flock to your Facebook account. Twitter posts have an option to also update your Facebook status; Flickr uploads can be cross-posted to Facebook and so can blog posts.

The last major new feature in Flock 2.5 is persistent Facebook chat. When you’re logged in to Facebook, you’ll notice a new icon at the bottom of your Flock windows which allows you to chat with your Facebook friends even if you aren’t on a Facebook page. If you’re a heavy Facebook chat user, Flock’s messaging tools make it easier to multitask by freeing chat from the Facebook site.

Of course Flock 2.5 also contains all the niceties of previous versions — like ability to drag and drop and image into the new Twitter post window or Facebook chat window and automatically creates a link you can share with friends. In the case of the Twitter client it would be nice to see Flock incorporate some sort of URL shortening service, but at least for now, that’s not an option.

There’s also a handy plug-in you can add to the browser to help manage your OpenID credentials on sites that support the single sign-on technology.

One glaring omission — the lack of good tools for FriendFeed. To be fair, though, FriendFeed started getting popular only very recently, so we should see more tools in the next Flock update.

I’ll admit that every time I test Flock I’m amazed by the amount of social tools it offers. But, in the end, I make my way back to Firefox to get real work done. Still, if you spend all or most of your time on social networking sites, Flock is one of the few tools that connects the social web in a way that, for the most part, just works.

Plus, it’s built on Firefox, so you get the best of both worlds — a great browser and great tools for the social web.

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