Houston, we have a solution without a problem

Houston, we have a problem

According to Scrivs over at Whitespace we’re building a solution without a problem.

This isn’t the first time the 9rules guys have attacked Flock.

I’m having a hard time understanding what their intentions are. On the one hand they lament the state of web publishing software (concluding to build their own) and on the other, lambast a tool that aims to at least make the publishing part easier. I’m all for constructive criticism and feedback (to answer one of their points, our pre-launch hype was really a product of the fact that people are still hungry for a better browser), but I don’t see much in their posts that’s constructive. It’s almost as if they’d prefer us to just take our gloves and baseball and go home.

Which is admittedly somewhat disappointing since I would have expected a little more engagement from them before writing the whole thing off. We’ve particularly gone to great lengths to make it quite clear that we’re just getting started and are looking for feedback! And yet they’re essentially taking what come across as cheap shots. Where’s the substance of their critique?

As I’m considering this, I guess there is one thing that might not make sense about how we’re building Flock — and why we released Flock as we did. We’re not, for example, keeping everything closed up and super-secret, going after the first run experience and trying to blow your socks off (like Apple typically does). So for most Mac users, this is probably a strange departure from the norm.

I know that when I download a Mac app for the first time, I go through a process similar to Ryan’s. Typically if I’m not impressed or the value isn’t made obvious to me in first 10 seconds, it will end up in the trash. That’s just how it is.

If I were to apply that metric to Flock 0.4.9, it would probably meet a similar fate after a day or two. It’s just too buggy and too slow to be used as my primary browser. And quite frankly, if I weren’t on the dev team, I’d have no idea when to expect new features, when performance might be improved or when my pet feature might show up. As a result, it would be very easy to pass on Flock (at least for the time being) and stick with what I’ve got.

But we’re not Apple and we’re not building Flock that way. We’re doing something different. We have a vision: to build a world-class browser that focuses not only on bringing information into the browser, but also encourages engagement in web-centered dialogue and discussion. To do this, we’re not going to hole up for a year and then spit out some fantastic product. Our process of designing for inclusivity is nearly as important as the product itself and will, we believe, lead to a much more interesting, usable and powerful tool.

We’re starting first with a fairly simple collection of tools for now. But over time, they will grow into the story of a more interactive, more human-friendly online experience. It’s not enough to say that Flock could be replicated with a bunch of extensions and themes; doing so ultimately ignores the problem that we’re working on. Flock isn’t being designed to be static or to sit on your desktop for years without changing. It will be a product that will change and evolve according to how people use the web to communicate and interact. Firefox did an excellent job of smoothing out the Internet Explorer model of the web. We’re working on what happens next.

So those wishing to share and shape this vision are incouraged to get involved (even if all you have for now is constructive criticism). I firmly believe that the best ideas for Flock will not come only from us, but more importantly from our community.

technorati tags: , , ,

Author: Chris Messina

Head of West Coast Business Development at Republic. Ever-curious product designer and technologist. Hashtag inventor. Previously: Molly.com (YC W18), Uber, Google.

20 thoughts on “Houston, we have a solution without a problem”

  1. First let me say there is not 9rules agenda to go after Flock. I know Rundle has been riding you guys lately, but those are his opinions. We don’t sit in a room scheming these things…hell we don’t even live in the same state :-). As for my entry I think it offers a great deal of advice for you guys and doesn’t take any cheapshots. You want feedback for your product which is great that you are listening, but if people aren’t even interested in using the product or find a need for it in the first place then don’t you think you should listen to that feedback as well. I noticed a major problem with regards to Flock and not answering the call to a problem so I voiced it. I would hope that if you guys were smart (which you seem to be) then you would start tackling these issues.

    I know you have a business model to make money and I know you have a development process to build a great product, but is their a plan for widespread adoption of this product? This is what seems to be lacking. I have sat quiet with regards to talking about Flock and offering my opinion and have been content just reading the criticism you guys are receiving and in every instance you give the same replies. You talk about having a plan and what you want to do, but to me it doesn’t translate into what you will actually do.

    I don’t care if you have VC funding or that you emply 12,000 people (Fried seems to hate those things), I care about what you are doing for me and honestly I just get frustrated reading your responses to all the feedback you have been receiving. It’s like you are missing the big picture of things when people are blantantly telling you what that picture is. Hell, maybe your team knows something that we don’t and 5 years from now we can look back and realize how stupid we were.

  2. Let me know when Flock is a web publishing or content management application like the kind I described in that entry, and you got yourself a beta tester.

  3. Houston, we have a solution with a snarky t-shirt

  4. Scrivs,

    Thanks for the follow up. It’s good to know that 9rules isn’t out to get Flock. That would be silly given the larger problems we have to deal with!

    I’ll accept your criticism that we tend to sound like a broken record recently. However, the questions we get asked most tend to revolve around the “why isn’t Flock building a theme and a bunch of extensions?” and “how are you guys going to make money?”. So consequently we’re used to phrasing our answers to respond to those concerns.

    As for your feedback, you may have a point. Maybe we’re not doing anything for you. That’s totally possible. I guess I’m realizing that there will come a time when we figure out just who the Flock audience really is and it might not be those folks who prefer a couple extensions and a custom theme. I’d like to think that we’re working on making things easier, more efficient and better integrated into usable workflows, but I’m also perfectly willing to acknowledge that ecto and 1001 can be put to pretty good use if you’re already using them full time. In which case, why switch?

    But hey, let’s work together on this. I’m open to your feedback and if you think we’re off in our messaging or where we’re headed, it’s great to have someone watching our back. We’re not experts at this and we’re not pretending to be — we’ve got a lot of big ideas and we want to make our processes as transparent as possible. So getting a reality check from outside our little enclave every now and then certainly helps us move in that direction.

  5. I’m going to approach this from a completely different angle. Was I excited about Flock? Big Time! Was I disappointed when I fired it up? Big Time! But at the same time I understood that somethings will take time to mature into the final product. Firefox didn’t get good for a good long while, so I’m not particularly in any hurry or anything. So from my POV I’ll keep checking up with the Flock guys every time they release a new version to check what’s happened since the last time, and reassess my primary browser in due time. The big one for me is integrating and RSS aggregator into the program natively (currently that’s not quiet what we’re getting, and hell it doesn’t work, but that’s really part of the design process).

    In terms of their model, honestly why should I really care about their business model is? Why should I care about how they’re proposing on making money. I’m not paying for the software. If someone else decides that Flock’s heading in the wrong direction, they’ve got every right to take the code, do stuff to it and make something bigger and badder. Think about the Mambo/Joombla split.

    As for who the audience actually is, well I was always under the impression that the Flock crew knew very well that they’re not aiming for the Jonny Public. They’re after the blogger. The person that wants stuff integrated into their browser (here’s a link for more clarification http://www.brokenkode.com/archives/flock-you/ I needed them).

    Is the frustration coming because people were originally frustrated by the lack of wow factor? Was it too soon for Flock to be released? I don’t think so. Is it too early to think about moving over to Flock as my defacto browser? Definitely.

  6. Khaled,

    Thanks — I think you summed it up really well. We’re not aiming for Jill/Jonny Public at this stage in the game. We’re very clear (at least internally) on that. For example, why is it so hard to download Flock? Why isn’t there a link on the homepage or even a description of what we’re doing? Because it’s not ready for public consumption yet! We’ve intentionally made it hard for people to get to what we’re doing because we do want the first run experience to be a good one — and so those intrepid folks who are willing to take the time and invest in learning about Flock now — and who might even be willing to download the code and make some patches — are the ones who are going to help us get to a point where we can proudly feature a description and download link on our homepage!

    And we really want to get to there quickly, but the truth is, developing a web browser is not like developing a Rails webapp. The development process and the speed of development are completely different — and so when Jason Fried questions why we have 12 guys (rightly so), I can tell him that coding a cross-platform browser ain’t like coding cross-platform XHTML and CSS (boy do I wish it were)! Imagine waiting two hours every time you tweak your CSS just to see the results — that’s how long it takes to pump out a Windows build of Flock and to check out work. Thus it’s not trivial to do this kind of client-side development.

    Anyway, to Khaled’s closing point: I agree that it was not too early to release Flock — even though it’s very much a developer preview (as the name states). It’s too early for public consumption certainly, but the only way we’re going to build a stable, secure and awesome experience with Flock is get to the code out there now and work iteratively with our community to make this thing awesome.

    Skepticism is good, but a little “wait and see” attitude also never hurt anyone. 😉

  7. Maybe you should bold the text on your website, or put more emphasis on the part where it says that flock isn’t a finished product.

    I mean, honestly, how can people put such criticizm on something that is admittidly flawed and unfinished?

    That’s like, killing chickens before they hatch.

  8. Pingback: SiliconBeat
  9. the new build of flock seems a lot faster rendering pages…just set it as my default browser again (did that before and switched back because it WAS way too slow to be my primary browser). it is my SENSE that flock is going be a cool tool that i will use all the time. netnewswire was buggy as hell and often frustrating when i first paid for it a long time ago, and now i can’t remember how i got along without it.

  10. I loved using flock. It has problems and that is what a beta version is for. Its a different approach to the browser. I think all this critisism is unnecessary. Its a great idea and its high time the browser became more powerful and intelligent and I really hope you carry forward on your innovation.

  11. Instead of just publishing photo, is it possible to integrade an image editing tool within Flock? How about video / audio editing?

    Instead of just blogging, is it possible to also manage my podcast and mp3 within Flock?

    These features deliver additional benefits over current browsers, and position Flock as a web publishing tool within a browser.

  12. Dave — interesting ideas. And we will be pursuing some of those features (especially with regards to podcasting a vlogging). We don’t want to become bloatware though — so we have to make some tough tradeoffs where adding features that support our vision makes sense — and leaving them to extensions where the ideas happen to be beyond our core feature set.

    Instead of Dreamweaver, think Contribute. 😉

  13. who cares what these guys think? the majority of the piblic doesn’t know who they are or care what they have to say. they’re already all over Flock…for ONE simple reason…it’s new. One of the reasons I like it is that firefox seems to have a real issue with lost bookmarks. I can easily access my del.icio.us tags with flock. That’s a very nice thing. now if only del.ico.us had a way to manage them more efficiently.

  14. Chris – I like what Flock did with Flickr. And I think it should also partners with podcasting services like Odeo and Podshow, as well as video services like VideoEgg. This way, Flock users can just simply use Flock as the default browser to manage and publish contents.

  15. Hey Dave, you must be reading our internal emails! Heh, seriously, podcasting and vlogging support are on the way. Finding the right partners is certainly part of that process and we look into all recommendations. I’ve heard Vimeo and Audioblog are also quite good.

    Again, as long as it’s got an Open API that we can plug into, we’re interested.

  16. Here are some thoughts I have

    Is Flock trying to solve a problem that doesn’t exist? Maybe, but then again everyone thought Google was doing that too. Remember how search seemed as if it was good enough and no one could figure out the business model?

    Here’s what I think the bet of the company is:

    1. That more and more people are putting content up on the web today and that trend will continue. This includes blog posts, pictures, bookmarks etc.
    2. That people will want and need a better way to manage and accomplish these tasks as time goes on and that Flock will be it.

    I think that this is a good bet, at the very least it’s not a stupid bet.

    Yes – the product may be early
    Yes – there will be challenges for the team to get adoption.
    Yes – Absolutely the web experience needs to evolve and I’m glad someone is working on this.


  17. If anyone is SERIOUS about buying that T Shirt on top, I’m sure we can work something out on zazzle.com.

    Speaking of which, if you indeed have simple multimedia editing software in the browser a la post#11, then you’re really only one step away from selling merchandise (tshirts, CDs, DVD).

    But I definitely agree that integrating such things into a browser would result in bloatware unless the zazzle market explodes.

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