Constantly trying out new software is one of the fun benefits of owning a computer. Don't like the way a program functions? Go try another. It was with much surprise to me last week when I discovered a browser I'd never heard of before. Flock, a browser based off the Firefox code base, is trying to change what people think of when you fire up a web page. I recently had the pleasure of interviewing the co-founder of Flock, Geoffrey Arone, concerning their browser and the state of the web today.
Some people see the browser merely as a tool. Others see it as a means to an end. Flock attempts to provide that means, by acting as a “media and community interface” to the Internet and other people, rather than an information-polling device. I will admit that the idea is foreign to me, and didn't make the most amount of sense at first. The more I had it described however, the clearer it became. Considering that there are millions of people who use the Internet to socialize and share with others, it makes perfect sense to have your interface to be dynamic rather than static. Geoffrey described to me the goal of the Flock browser and how it tries to accomplish this, then answered some questions I had relating to the Internet and browsers as a whole. After he summed up the purpose behind Flock, I asked him specific questions regarding the role of other browsers in business and the home.
Enter here for the full interview. TS: Do you plan on continuing to build off Firefox, and if not, where do you see your code base going?
Geoffrey: Right now, I believe that the Firefox platform is the absolute best to work off of. They have a very passionate base of open source supporters that are continuing to iterate on the product and make sure that bugs get fixed. We benefit from that… and as much as possible we work with the Mozilla community. We contribute back to them and we like to play in the open source community. It helps us maintain an open dialog with our users. I don't want to be in a situation where are relying solely on market research to make this product. It keeps our folks excited. It makes us feel like everyone at Flock is working towards the same goal of making a community rather than working towards a corporate mandate to accomplish X.
TS: Do you see other browsers as roadblocks to better web technologies, or do you see them as merely going with the flow of what the Internet is?
Geoffrey: I certainly don't generalize and say that all other browsers are hindrances. We owe much of our success to the success of Firefox and the underlying core technology they have given us. I applaud their efforts to engage the community and push the envelope against competitors like Microsoft, whom I feel have stifled innovation. In a case by case basis, I gave big thumbs up to Firefox... and I am a little lukewarm to Microsoft. I like that there is choice out there, I think it motivates folks to drive towards the goal of giving the highest value product to users. If it were just Microsoft and us, it would be an even tougher battle. They do things as they see fit. Opera is an example. It's a great browser with great features. Firefox is taking an entirely different approach. So no, not roadblocks, they keep the dialog open.
TS: Do you personally use other browsers or are you fairly committed to Flock?
Geoffrey: I pretty much have myself committed to Flock. I have every browser installed on my machine so I can make sure I know what everybody is doing. I'm sure Ferrari owners have more than just Ferraris in their garage. Not that I'm linking myself to Ferrari, but I do like to see what else is going on and open my mind, to see how other people are innovating.
TS: With the explosive growth of the web in its conversion from a static information dump to a huge plethora of communication and media sharing, do you see Flock changing rapidly in the near future or perhaps the web taking a different direction than it is going now? After all, a mere 10 years ago the web was a much different creature than it is today.
Geoffrey: I think we will likely continue to play in the intersection of people and media... and the community that forms around it. That's plenty to keep us busy for the foreseeable future. That's a tough one. I think if we can continue to make this product less of a browser and more of a gateway to media and interaction online, we'll have enough to keep us busy for the next few years.
TS: For the longest time, and still today to a huge degree, Internet Explorer is 'de facto' in many homes and businesses. On the business side of that, with so many companies relying on IE due to ActiveX, ASP, etcetera, do you see IE as a blockade or something that prevents businesses from pulling away from it?
Geoffrey: Interestingly enough it's not just limited to the home/work dynamic. It happens on a geographic playing field as well. For example, Korea. Korea is generally very dependent on IE. Most banks and commercial websites have really adopted Microsoft technology, so strongly that it is extremely difficult to use a non-IE browser at all. For that reason, Firefox penetration in Korea is very low [compared to other countries]. There are ways around that, such as Netscape 8 being able to render a page using IE using a simple toggle.
Honestly, right now it's nothing we're too concerned about. There's plenty of people socializing online at home, and if we can land that and make sure we are pleasing our users, then we can figure out ways we can address ways to make it work in a business environment.
TS: About the business side of Flock, how do you plan to generate a revenue?
Geoffrey: Flock monetizes in the same way that Firefox, Opera, and others do: we get a rev share off of search.
Geoffrey: We crossed a million downloads a few months back and momentum is building. We are not setting expectations in terms of market share, but rather, hope to grow (by 4-5x) out our loyal base of dedicated users who will continue to give us feedback. If we keep iterating and incorporating their feedback, we will grow our user base and build a better product. We are in this for the long haul and want to innovate the browser platform more than grabbing as many people as we can. The good thing is that you don't need 100 million downloads to succeed in this business.
Flock is going to be releasing its 1.0 version sometime this December, promising to bring with it a plethora of features designed around people who use the web for media sharing and community. If you're a blogger or a YouTube nut, it may be something worth looking into. You can read more about the Flock browser and download it for a test drive on its current stage.