So there’s been some more talk lately about Flock and extensions and relevancy and Performancing’s new blogging tool for Firefox. I’m all for it. The more we talk about open source, about Firefox, about Flock, about coming up with better, cooler, faster and more usable technology, the more we’re inclined to just go build it. And in doing so, make sure that it’s relevant and actually meets the needs of real people.
So ok, I’m all about being skeptical. I’m all about looking a gift horse in the mouth, in its eyes, and … elsewhere… yah. (Y’know, you gotta make sure there’s no sneaky Greeks lurking about or whatever.)
And this post was going to about that old information autobahn thing and how there’s plenty of room for one more automobile manufacturer. And that was going to be my analogy for why Flock is a good thing for drivers, etc, etc. But I decided that’s a dumb idea. And boring to write. So let me get right down to it.
Here’s the thing. We’ve actually been pretty certain for some time that most of the features that we build into Flock will be eventually be ported back over to Firefox as extensions. Or become commodity features in other browsers. That’s the way open source should work — and the way software development plays off itself — and we’re totally in support of that! The point is not to make a bunch of proprietary tools that only work in Flock. That would be rediculous and counterproductive. I mean, our goal is to make using all the great tools now available on the web easier to use by building a more consistent user experience. Yeah, that’s our big top secret plan.
So why build our own browser if we’re in support of this whole extension model anyway? Well, let me paint a picture of my vision for Flock and why it at all makes sense that we continue doing what we’re doing, no matter how many extensions come out and attempt to mirror our featureset.
Cue lights … cameras rolling… pull curtains … 5, 4, 3…
So in the olden days, there was a web of interconnected computers and file servers and yada yada that were conceived of as a massive network of libraries containing all kinds of hyperlinked data and information. Now, pieces of that data had individual addresses, just like books in libraries had unique identifiers called Dewey decimal numbers. Thus pieces had a static position in the system and you used a web browser to pull up those pieces of data. So when someone added a piece of information to the network, say an online shrine about their cat, it got its own address, acronymically known as a URL.
So so so, jump forward in time a bit. Welcome to today, a time of spheres… blaw-go…spheres… where currency is measured by one’s attention-magnetism and linkification, where if you don’t have a blog, you don’t have a pulse and you’re dead, kaput, worse than history, see ya later, sayonara, did you even exist in the first place? Oh yeah and what’s your feed again?
Hmm. So let’s slow it down a second here. Get this, here it comes, I’ve got a visual metaphor to sink yourself into: so say you’re walking down the street, a crowded street. Let’s put you in Manhattan, or Boston, DC, Copenhagen, Tokyo wherever. Look, it’s busy. 10,000 people trampling the sidewalk concrete and they’re all in chaos, no no, wait, calm, but y’know, this is chaos theory in motion.
This is 100,000 people walking down the concrete towards you, you, you’re walking the other way — who knows why? you just are — and there are these crescendoing voices around you, swirling, smashing conversations. You’re grasping at words, sounds; the ring of cell phones, change being dropped between high heels and rubber soles. A cacophonic masterpiece of human communication.
So listen, you hear something, it piques your interest, you think to yourself, “Aha.”
Moving towards it, crowd parting in front of you, shoulders meeting; you sideways, all arms and elbows, towards the sound. One motion, you blur, find the source. Listen, speak, are heard, enlightenment and voice. This is conversation. This is fleeting. This is connection and this is what sustains you.
Now there are ten of you. Ten. Or maybe ten hundred. And each one of you is having this experience. As you weave your way in and out of the throng, you’re merging and joining ongoing; nascent; 1,000-year-old conversations. Say your piece, move on. Don’t stay too long, surely something else as interesting is being said … just around the corner.
Curtain down, lights go on; watch your eyes, it’s bright.
Now that, that picture, that experience, that’s the web. Yeh, that’s the web today except imagine it with your eyes closed, with blinders on, with the sound fuzzed out and staticy, with orange icons all over the friggin’ place. And yes, every now and then some jack-in-the-box assclown pops up trying to sell you V_1agra.
It almosts make me want to go back to the old library model.
But no, see, that’s where Flock comes in. Or I don’t care, don’t call it Flock. Whatever you want, but that’s where the thing we’re building comes in. That’s why we exist, that’s why we matter, that’s what the point is.
Yeah, Firefox and Duct tape, it’ll help. Sure sure. It’ll get you some of the way there. But hell, when I’m talking to someone, engaged in a conversation that threatens my very existence, or that threatens to change the way I flip my omelettes, man, I do not want my mouth to fall off at the jaw because it wasn’t tested, wasn’t built right, didn’t have a million beady eyes boring down on it while it was being fastened to my head, making sure the stupid thing would function in the real world without needing pliers or a tire-iron to get it to work right. No, I do not want my memory to hiccup, to recede, for me to lose my place in line, to have my line of thinking severed when I’m talking to someone else. I need to be there, fully, to be there in the conversation, as a whole, as one integrated thing, yes yes, a fully functioning machine. No, I don’t want to be some bootstrapped, schizophrenic, unintuitive, semi-confused and incomplete afterthought kludged together and mistaken for a vision of the real thing. No, I want more than that, I want to be as in the conversations that I have online as the ones I have offline — I want to get to the point where there is no difference, that a conversation is a conversation is a conversation. It’s sharing understanding and it’s sharing confusion. I need a tool that helps me achieve that. It needs to understand things the way I understand them; it needs to reflect the reality of what’s going on online today.
When was the last time you thought twice about the fact that you’re talking to a digital signal every time you use your cell phone?
Or how about the fact that your instant messages (which indeed seem so instant) actually travel over thousands of other people’s computers and servers before they reach you?
And your email? Even worse. If you think herding cows is messy, you should see the way email is schlopped all over the place.
The point is this. These technologies have become second nature vehicles for communication and expression. And blogging, podcasting, vlogging and the whole lot of recent “mecasting” technologies aren’t as integrated, aren’t as easy, aren’t as accessible as they need to be for them to be picked up and made as commonplace as the telephone (or cellphone, if you prefer). Point Four Percent of the population is nothing (that’s 23.6 million blogs as a percentage of the world population by the way). And yet another extension is not the answer. I don’t even know if another browser is. But we need something that works to solve this problem… or at least to make it better.
Yep, we’ve got a vision for how a browser with a different understanding of the web can help. We wouldn’t be building it otherwise. This is what drives us to make Flock the best possible, most easy-to-use and most useful tool it can be, because we’re experiencing all the same problems that everyone else is. Just coz us at Flock’re a tech savvy bunch doesn’t mean this stuff comes easy for us either. And for chrissake, it’s got to get easier, so much easier, if these conversations are going to include and be accessible to those who most need a voice.