NEW YORK — Web browsing used to be mostly about just that: Surfing site after site for information and goods. But lately, more people are using the Internet as much to produce and share things as to consume them. A new browser called Flock seeks to address the new reality of enhanced online creativity and community.
It's a souped-up version of the Mozilla Foundation's Firefox browser, with features added to help users create Web journal entries and share favorite Web sites.
Although Flock is still in an early preview mode, meaning it is crash-prone among other problems, it offers a good sense of what to expect.
I find Flock does succeed in taking Web browsing to a whole new level.
With Flock, traditional bookmarks, also known as favorites, are out the window. Instead, you "star" a page, and by doing so, you can automatically send the link to an online account you create at shared-bookmarking service Del.icio.us.
That means, in theory, you can easily access your favorite sites from any computer, not just the one where all your bookmarks are stored. (In practice, because it's still in preview, the synchronization is far from perfect).
Plus, you can discover new sites and help others do so. Del.icio.us lets you see which other members have the same sites listed in their collections. From there, you can see what other sites they frequent.
The thinking is that if two people have the same bookmarks they are likely to have similar interests and would want to discover similar sites.
Flock also gives you a way to easily tag the online bookmarks to help with sorting and discovery. Instead of placing a link for a site on "Lost" in an arbitrary folder, you can tag it "television," "Lost," and even "ABC."
You can use Flock's "favorites" manager to see only links carrying a certain tag, or you can search through other people's Del.icio.us collections by tag.
Flock also has a number of features meant to help people post to their Web journals, or blogs. A built-in word processor lets you submit entries directly to some of the leading blog services, including Six Apart Ltd.'s TypePad and Google Inc.'s Blogger.
If you come across something you like on the Internet, you can highlight the text, right-click your mouse and select "Blog This." The word processor launches, with the text and a link to the site already filled in. All you need to do is add some comment, a title and click "publish."
One feature lets you easily drag photos from the Yahoo Inc.-owned photo-sharing site Flickr for use in your blog.
About the only thing missing is a tool for publishing entire Web pages, not just blogs. There are no plans for one; such a tool was explicitly removed from the Mozilla browser suite by the people who created the Firefox offshoot.
Besides producing and sharing, Flock has a number of features to assist in discovering. Start typing a word into the search box and Flock will find bookmarks and recently visited pages containing that string in the address or title.
The free browser is available for Windows, Mac and Linux computers, and its underlying code is open for anyone to examine and improve upon.
Developers say many more features are to come, including ways to seamlessly upload photos to your Flickr account and better integrate with social-networking services. Other bookmarking, photo and blogging services will also be supported eventually.
A more stable test version of Flock should be available next month, with a final release early next year.
I wouldn't recommend you replace your existing browser with Flock yet. But if you do more than passively visit Web site, I'd suggest keeping a close watch.
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