Flock 0.7.3 lands

Flock 0.7.3

Simple maintenance release with the following changes:

  • Photo

    • Photobucket sub-album and Flickr set browsing and uploading. Allow users to refine photos displayed in photobar by album.
    • Several bug fixes for photobucket and flock integration
  • Extensions

    • Allow extensions that haven’t been modified for flock to be installed. Users will be warned that the extension has not been tested with flock but will be allowed to proceed. Note that this feature has been partially available since 0.7.1. If you have installed unmodified extensions you will see a warning, “This update will cause some of your extensions and/or themes to stop working until they are updated.”, during the upgrade which can be ignored.
  • Spread flock feature. Allow flock users to opt into adding a flock tagline to photos dragged from the photobar or the from the desktop into a text area
  • Setup (First Run) experience enhancements

    • Bug fixes, better discovery of current configuration and UI treatments
    • Added option to allow anonymous statistics to be gathered during initial setup. This will allow Flock to further streamline and simplify the setup experience.
  • Other

    • Added OPML export to My News
    • Blog Editor fix for editing text in source view window
    • Updated to use new deli.cio.us API

I’m still waiting on atomic saves in the blog editor before I use it (still composing directly in WordPress with Camino) and I’d love to see a full-screen slideshow mode in the Flickr Photo Topbar, but the product continues to improve. Go get it.

Browsers, the future thereof

Doug Engelbart

When I first realized the web as a medium — like artists found clay — I was someone who built websites. I grew up an artist, dabbling with pastels, sculpture, painting; I took lessons in all the classics. Back when I started out on the web, well, I threw my paint against the wall, watched it dry differently; tried watercolor and salt; mixed in color pencil. I created on someone else’s canvas, beholden to the whims of the Internet Explorers and Netscapes.

It wasn’t until I grew frustrated trying to create a publishing and composition tool for regular folks in CivicSpace that I realized that it wasn’t that the brushes or paint that I was using that were flawed — but that the canvas itself could be streched so much further. And so when the opportunity arose to go work on and set the direction of Flock, I jumped at the chance. The thought that I could take a number of the ideas on content creation that I’d been trying to implement in regular webpages into the browser itself was too irresistible to pass up.

And that’s how it started for me — working first on the side of web content developers — and then on the side of the actual rendering context and application. I doubt that I was qualified to work on either, but that’s besides the point, since that’s where I found myself (and artists worth their weight are hardly what I would call experts).

So now, a few months out after leaving Flock, a few heady announcements about microformats, a new Firefox Beta to toy with, a number of webkit-based apps to ponder over and an emerging identity standard coming to the fore, I’m starting to see the future materialize in front of me. From where I sit though, there is a lack of clarity as to what it’s all about, what’s really going on and what’s missing in between to glue it all together and — perhaps most importantly — a sense for what we can learn by focusing on the negative space of our current situation.

I’ve been reading about Doug Engelbart lately and the stuff he was doing in the 60s with his Augment system. He’s now collaborating with my buddy Brad Neuberg on a system he calls “Hyperscope”. I can’t help but see disjoint parallels between his ideas and what’s emerging today. Simply put, there is no grand theory or unifying concept that will bring it all together, just as there’s no single design for a tree — in fact, it takes many to make a forest, and we’re only now beginning to see the emergence of the forest in spite of the individual trees that seem oh-so-important.

And we don’t even have the benefit of LSD. Man, how are we to escape what we already know to imagine what’s possible? Oh well.

Anyway, lemme get down to brass tacks, coz I can tell you’re getting bored already. I almost am, striking out at some kind of point out of this rambling.

When I was at Web 2.0™ (I think) I mentioned to Jason Fried — as I’ve done to others since — my desire to have a webwide conversation about what the future of web browsers should look like. This was the work that I thought I’d started at Flock, but the reality is that they’re a business and not an academic institution and need to pay their employees (a harsh reality that I’m now realizing owning my own company and having a payroll). I left because of this — and maybe for other personal reasons — but primarily because my vision for the future wasn’t exactly compatible with where they needed to go in the short term. Hey, bills, remember?

Anyway, let me put it out there: I don’t get where Firefox is going. I don’t think it’s going anywhere actually. I think it’s strong, it’s stable, it’s a great platform. But it’s not innovative. It’s not Quicksilver. It was a response to IE and now IE7 will come out, co-opt everything that makes Firefox great or interesting and we’ll run through another coupla years of stagnation. Blah.

There is a solution though — you’d be surprised maybe, but you can find it in Safari and I’m dead serious about this. The number of webkit-based apps being released is growing by the week. Pyro, Gcal, Webmail, Hiker (thanks Josh!). There was talk about the future of the merged Internet-desktop as, quite clearly, this is where we’re going — but the choice of user agent is sadly coming down to facility over featureset or robustness. Why isn’t this happening with XUL Runner or Firefox (you figure it out)?

At Flock, this is where I saw things going. I didn’t see Flock as a monolithic package of integrated apps like Netscape or Office — bundled up with unmaintainable software sprawl… but with a solid underlying platform that these secondary apps could be built upon (yeah, Lucene, yeah, Microformats, yeah IM, yeah video and audio and all the rest). Speaking RSS, microformats, Atom and other syndicated content natively, you’d be able to universally star anything for later sharing… you’d be able to upload anything… be able to have any AJAX’d experience offline with a super-cache that could handle the sporadic network connectivity that most of the world puts up with (or that we put up with when we travel). And hell, with OpenID, we’ve even got a way to sync it all up together. Toss in a platform that is built on and around people people people and you’ve got something to really take us forward into the next evolution of Things As We Know Them™.

I wanted Firefox to be my Chariot, Flock to be my Sun.

Such as it is with Open Source, trying to inspire end-user interface innovation is often a losing battle.

(As an aside in parentheses, I think this is biological; I met Tara’s 2-year-old niece this weekend and she mimicked everything we did; thus it’s developmental and inherent — yet the problem remains: how do we bring the majority of user interface innovation to the open source space?)

So anyway — Safari; webkit apps… the future.

For the benefit of everyone involved, whether Mozilla, Flock, Microsoft, Opera, and so on implements any of this stuff… there needs to be some major advancements made in browser technology, both for normal humans and for web… um… painters. This stuff, seriously, is still way too opaque, and way too obscure for most humans for whom “delicious” still means “tastes good”. I want to have that web-wide conversation about the future of the web but somehow, my instincts tell me that the venue to have that conversation isn’t going to be on the web… it’s going to be in barber shops and gas stations and restaurants and the places where normal people really hang out.

If we’re ever going to bear witness to the promise of Doug Engelbart’s achievable vision, it has to be this way. And, to paraphrase walkway wisdom: nothing worth doing is easy. And so I challenge you — those who give a shit — look at what’s out there — and more importantly — what’s not out there — and begin to think seriously on what comes next… on what’s missing… on where this medium needs to be stretched in order to make the most of what’s possible.

What’s next for Firefox advocacy?

Photoshop Tennis for SFX Theme with JoshI can’t help but notice that not much has happened with Spread Firefox since I left, even though my good friend Jamey continues to feed me mockups and possible redesigns of the site (note: the photo at right isn’t Jamey’s work but an early redesign attempt between me and Josh Jarmin).

And though the Firefox Flicks Campaign was a considerable success, it didn’t seem to arouse the same kind of passionate support that the New York Times ad campaign did in its time (though it did drive a considerable amount of traffic). It seemed isolated and somewhat self-congratulatory… preaching to an audience that was already aware of and promoting the open source browser, rather than those who wouldn’t be able to separate the “Internet” from “MySpace” from “the blue E”.

And don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a criticism so much as something I’ve been stewing on for some time, trying to figure out, y’know, what comes next?

When I was at (and I continue to champion this idea mind you) I wanted Flock and Firefox to team up — to work together to show their collective usefulness across a wider and more diverse community — one that a single browser simply wouldn’t be able to appeal to as effectively as two designed with different intents. In fact, with Internet Explorer 7 on the horizon, incorporating many of the features that have set Firefox apart, I wonder whether either Flock or Firefox will have much of a chance at widespread adoption without a concerted effort to spell out more clearly the benefits of both platforms — and how developers can leverage their work across both simulataneously.

This is the challenge as it stands and as I see it. As the features that formerly set Firefox apart become standard fare in modern browsers, one way to form the question is to consider whether Firefox has served its purpose — causing Redmond to wake up and to change its flagship browser. If so, then ok, keep building it out and improving it, but tell the fans that they can go home until next season.

If the fight or the battle or the … non-violent conflict … is only beginning, then I guess I’d like to see a clear declaration of intentions. I’d like to see Mozilla stand up and declare the principles, ideas, dreams and ambitions that set it apart and keep its proponents up at night, dreaming of ways to get the story out there to an ever-widening audience. Anything less, and the juggernaut will bowl us over, diminishing the effects of the incredible achievements that have been made in the past two years. I’m looking at this as a ten-year struggle — as a hugely powerful Hydra that must be faced on each branch, what I’m talking about is the future of the web and the tools that we will use to navigate, explore, publish and own it with. In order to stay in the game and continue to participate in the conversation (or ever set the tone), we need a strategy, we need a plan, we need people and we ought get started now.

I’m open for ideas, have a few of my own, but mostly just want to know: What’s next for Firefox advocacy?

Flock 0.7 in the wild

Flock BadgeFlock has released its first public beta after many moons of rough ride’em development. Out of the box, things look pretty smokin’, but I still think Flock has a ways to go before becoming the next generation browser (and of course, I’m only consistently hard on the things I care most about).

With a brand new (Drupal-based!) website from Facebook UI designer and design rockstar Bryan Veloso, the Flock project is starting to look like something, and they’ve certainly brought it along considerably since I left in March. Whether they will really pioneer novel interfaces and inspire new thinking on how the browser can better democratize the more compelling social aspects of the web remains to be seen. As they say, Rome wasn’t build in a day; then again, by Rome 0.7, I wonder if a broader foundation would have needed to have been built for Rome 1.0 to become as great and powerful as it did. Time will tell, won’t it? Time will tell…

All in all, congrats to the team — I remain eager to see what’ll come next.

Who is Will Tschumy? Plus: Cardinal Pre-review

Cardinal Web Clipboard, Photobar, Newspaper

According to VP of Engineering Mark Towfiq, Flock has apparently found a new Director of User Experience… a fella named Will Tschumy. On first glance, I can’t seem to produce a Google Resume for him but I’m eager to find out more about him!

While I’m on the topic of Flock, I have to admit that the latest hourlies of Flock’s upcoming public beta (dubbed Cardinal) are starting to looking really pretty thanks to Bryan Bell (and not ironically reminiscent of his other project, NetNewsWire). So, here’s a brief review (based on Milestone 4).
Continue reading “Who is Will Tschumy? Plus: Cardinal Pre-review”

The cardinal flies at dawn

Will‘s announced that the specifications for next release of Flock have been made public.

Things to pay attention to (and to offer your feedback on!):

To be honest, I’m not entirely sure how all these things fit together based on the current spec, but I’m interested in giving them a go when they’re out.

And so you know, I’ll still be consulting for Flock on things yet to be determined, but I’m sure I’ll have the chance to talk to the folks in charge of design about the upcoming changes and how they see it all fitting together!

Will Pate joining the Flock

Will Pate & FlockWill Pate of Canada‘s first day on the job starts today at Flock.

His role will likely be similar to parts of mine, given the mantle he’s taken for himself:

Community Ambassador
They let me choose my own title, which turned out to be more difficult than I expected. “Community” had to be in there because that’s what my focus is: getting people excited about using Flock. “Community Director” didn’t work because you can’t direct a community of the type we deal with. “Community Manager” sounded too stuffy. I took a cue from my colleague Chris Messina, Open Source Ambassador at Flock, and chose that word. I like ambassador because it implies goodwill, diplomacy, and a mission of relationship building. I’ll be talking more soon about what exactly I’ll be doing, but that should give you a general sense for now.

Will’s going to make for a great addition to the Flock family and I know that he and I will have a great deal to discuss and stew on as I transition into my old consulting role.

That and I’ve gotta make sure that he becomes Flock’s de facto Pinko Marketer.

#2919 resolved; the fix is in

Lloyd‘s posted a solution to the disappearing favorites bug I reported on last week. Apparently it was a change on del.icio.us’s end that caused the problem.
Notes from Lloyd:

There are no negative effects to your favorites on del.icio.us. Unfortunately, the nature of this del.icio.us service bug, requires your manual correction.

Manual Correction

  1. Shutdown Flock
  2. Go into your profile folder
  3. Delete files: flock_fq_default_in.rdf and flock_fq_default_out.rdf
  4. Restart Flock

In other news, del.icio.us has finally added privacy to favorites! I know Joshua has his reservations about this feature and that it threatens the sharing focus of the community, but I actually would be willing to wager that more people are going start sharing now that they at least have the option to keep certain things private.

Flocktails for Flock

Flocktails + Flickr

Calvin Yu has ported his Tails extension to work in Flock as a topbar. The extension, called Flocktails, reveals a micformats icon in the bottom right of the status bar to indicate the presence of , , and entries. This is the extension that I demoed at SXSW last week.

Take it for a spin and send bug reports to Calvin!


Phase shifting

I’ve noticed a cycle in my workflow that runs back a long time, probably into high school, runs throughout college, has stuck with me to this day. See, I seem to be a creature of phases, of renewal and curiousity and exploration. I seek out new challenges, take the road not even noticed, make things harder for myself. I can’t explain it. It’s just how I operate. I don’t slow down. I jump sideways. I phase shift.

And whenever I’ve found myself within the boundaries of some kind of institution, be it school, be it a job, be it just about anything that slows me down, chemicals and ideas within me start reacting, my energy changes, I reorient to address what’s in front of me. Sometimes, change ensues.

And so it’s been that for the last nine months I’ve had a full time gig at Flock — stumbling a whole lot, learning all kinds of great stuff, meeting and working with tremendously insightful individuals, traveling the world, falling in love, working long nights and sleeping less than I did in college; I’ve been in constant motion, bouncing along in the cockpit, weathering turbulent times both within and without our stuttering startup. I’ve struggled to find my footing, landing some successes that I’m really proud of, other times disappointing my colleagues and myself with my output (or lack thereof). I’m human, hey, and I’ve still got so much — so much — to learn. But throughout, ya know, it’s been a thoroughly enthralling experience.

Ok, to get to it already: as of April 1, I’ll be a free agent. This is wholly my choice and at my own discretion. Indeed, I initiated it. And the good folks at Flock are supporting me in this decision. In fact, they’re going to be my first “client” as I return to the land of independent consulting (which is what I was doing when I first moved out to San Francisco).

So the motivation? Well, first off, I thrive in small teams — where collaboration includes everyone, from top to bottom. This is how things started out at Flock, but due to the crazy demands of building a browser, just isn’t as feasible any more as we’ve grown to take on new and more diverse talent. Second, I want to focus more on the ambassadorial part of the position I’ve held at Flock (Barcamp, coworking, Mashpit, WineCamp, Microformats and all the rest). And to do that, I need more independence and the ability to flow between projects — to grow into some sort of an open source “editor at large”. Third, the timing is right. With Flock having just completed its move to and a number of internal reshufflings, I figure it’s time to exit stage left while things are really just getting off the ground and Flock’s internal culture is being formed. The past nine months have been getting us down the runway, and now that we’ve taken to flight, the next nine will determine what Flock is going to look like. And really, I’m going to be most effective out in the field, liasoning between projects and doing focused design work on the browser. So it’s all good — we’ve discussed this and it really does make sense.

So this bit about sublimating… here’s what convinced me that this is the right thing for me right now: the cycle that I go through with jobs and structure and so on is like the ice → vapor sublimation process. I started out at Flock as vapor, all energy, busting with ideas and ready to take on the world. Over time, I learned the ropes, slowed down a bit, condensed into water: amorphous and flowing, moving from one thing to the next. And now, as has happened with previous projects, I’ve turned to an idle form of ice, ready to sublimate into a new form of volatility, ready to take on the next challenges, to surface the next horizon, my next big thing.