The social web browser Flock is undergoing a major change in its next release. The upcoming Flock 3.0 will move away from the Firefox backend Flock has used for years in favor of Chromium, the open source implementation of Google Chrome.
If you’d like to test a beta version of the new Flock browser, head over to Flock beta page and grab a copy. For now the new Chromium-based Flock is available for Windows 7, XP and Vista only. A Mac version is reportedly in the works.
Flock is a browser built for social web junkies. It helps you manage your identity across multiple social websites, and it brings status updates and posting widgets directly into the browser via sidebars. Ever since the browser was first introduced in 2006, it’s been based on Firefox’s open source browser code, so this new version is a drastic change of plans. Flock is a niche browser — its user base is minuscule compared to the web at large — but those who do use it are dedicated and passionate about it.
The new Flock has been radically simplified, eliminating support for all but the biggest social networks and media sharing sites, namely Facebook, Twitter, Flickr and YouTube. Sorry MySpace, you’re just not part of the social web anymore (at least according to Flock).
The Flock 3.0 beta is a totally different browser than its predecessors — about the only thing that’s the same is the name. As you would expect, Flock now looks like Google Chrome, with tabs on top and the familiar, all-in-one URL and search bar. Flock has added some of the tools from older versions, rebuilding them on top of the new Chrome foundation, namely the social networking account manager and a sidebar that displays all your friends’ updates and lets you post your own status updates.
The sidebar looks similar to previous versions, though there are some new filters. You can narrow your Twitter updates to show only mentions or direct messages, and curb Facebook noise by eliminating wall posts, pokes, event invites or whatever. Just about every type of notification can be toggled on or off for any of the supported services.
Perhaps the most useful addition to Flock 3.0 is the ability to create groups of friends to filter and manage your incoming updates. Out of the box, Flock offers two groups — Best Friends and Co-workers — though you can customize and create your own groups as well. Once you’ve got your groups set up, Flock makes it very simple to switch between seeing what your friends are up to, what’s going on with your work colleagues, your family, and so on. For those with hundreds of contacts and friends spread across multiple sites, and for those who apply different social standards when interacting with people from different parts of their life, this will likely be Flock 3.0′s killer feature.
Another very useful new feature is the integrated search field in the URL bar. Flock has changed the way Chromium’s URL search bar works to include your friend’s Twitter posts, Facebook updates, Flickr images and YouTube video in your searches. It makes easy to find out what your friends have said about whatever you’re searching for.
We’ve been using Flock for several years now and have to admit that we’ve never quite been able to figure our where it fits into our daily browsing tasks. Previous versions were sluggish, and the amount of setup required to interact with a bunch of different websites was overwhelming. Also, it’s an open secret that there was little Flock could do that you couldn’t accomplish by installing a few good add-ons to vanilla Firefox.
By contrast, the new Flock is a svelte, speedy browser. It immediately feels more relevant and fresh. And, in narrowing its support to only the most popular social sites, Flock is less daunting for newcomers. Getting started is in fact incredibly elegant — the browser launches with a screen that asks you to set up a Flock account, but you can skip it and just start surfing. As you log in to social sites like Twitter and Facebook, Flock begins filling out the social sidebar with updates from your friends on those sites mere seconds after you’ve logged in.
That said, you long-time Flock users may be unhappy with the new version — particularly if you rely on any Flock-compatible Firefox add-ons or use any of the many sites Flock no longer supports. While Flock 3.0 should work with any Chrome extensions, Chrome extensions do not have quite the same range of function as those in Firefox.
If you’d like to give the new Flock a try, head over the beta download page and grab a copy. Keep in mind that Flock 3.0 is still a beta and may have some bugs. If you’re on a Mac, there’s a mailing list you can sign up for to be notified when a Mac version is available.