Flock and WebOS

Now that I have Flock, I decided to test it out a little.  My first task, of course, was trying to post to my blog.  That’s what you’re seeing here (please forgive some of the wonky formatting).  I was hoping that the blog tool would allow for offline posting a la ecto, but that doesn’t appear to work.  When I tried to save a draft with no network connection (I turned off my wireless card and pulled my network cable for fun), the app went into a tailspin.  This inability to save locally in what is essentially an extension of the Firefox browser reminded me of Jason Kottke’s post about the WebOS way back in August.

Flock is perhaps the quintessential Web 2.0 company (technology and hype included), but after ten minutes with the application and some reflection on Kottke’s WebOS post, I think Flock could be more than simply “a Web 2.0 on-ramp” (as Kris Krug of Bryght calls it in this Wired story).  I think Flock might be thinking WebOS. From Kottke’s WebOS post:

So this is my best guess as to how an “operating system” based on the Web (which I will refer to as “WebOS”) will work. There are three main parts to the system:

  • The Web browser (along with other browser-ish applications like Konfabulator) becomes the primary application interface through which the user views content, performs services, and manages data on their
    local machine and on the Web, often without even knowing the difference. Something like Firefox, Safari, or IE…ideally browser agnostic.
  • Web applications of the sort we’re all familiar with: Gmail, Flickr, and Bloglines, as well as other applications that are making the Web an ever richer environment for getting stuff done. (And ideally
    all Ajaxed up to provide an experience closer to that of traditional desktop apps.)
  • A local Web server to handle the data delivery and content display from the local machine to the browser. This local server will likely be highly optimized for its task, but would be capable of running locally installed Web applications (e.g. a local copy of Gmail and all its associated data).

That’s it. Aside from the browser and the Web server, applications will be written for the WebOS and won’t be specific to Windows, OS X, or Linux. This is also completely feasible, I think, for organizations like Google, Yahoo, Apple, Microsoft, or the Mozilla Foundation to make happen (more on this below).

“Something like Firefox, Safari, or IE.”  “Web applications of the sort we’re all familiar with.”  “Won’t be specific to Windows, OS X, or Linux.” Pretty close to what Flock encapsulates.  The only area where Flock completely misses is the third point (basically running locally without loss of features), which is understandable given the constraints of current browser technology and the fact that Flock is a “developer preview.” I would still love to be able to save a draft blog post locally using Flock while disconnected on a plane, though.

Going back in the time machine to Kottke’s oh-so-long-ago post in August, he asks, “So who’s going to build these WebOS applications? Hopefully anyone with XHTML/JavaScript/CSS skills, but that depends on how open the platform is. And that depends on whose platform it is. Right now, there are five organizations who are or could be moving in this direction.”

Aside from the usual suspects (including my employer, where we are definitely doing lots of cool things as the post suggests), Kottke lists the Mozilla Foundation:

This is the most unlikely option, but also the most interesting one. If Mozilla could leverage the rapidly increasing user base of Firefox and start bundling a small Web server with it, then you’ve got the beginnings of a WebOS that’s open source and for which anyone, including Microsoft, Google, Yahoo, and anyone with JavaScript chops, could write applications. To market it, they could refer to the whole shebang as a new kind of Web browser, something that sets it apart from IE, a true “next generation” browser capable of running applications no matter where you are or what computer (or portable device) you’re using.

Flock isn’t the Mozilla Foundation and they are “completely independent,” but reading Flock CEO’s Bart Decrem post about how Flock will create “sustainable value” (the answer to all the what is your business model? questions) gives me pause. If you replace Mozilla with Flock in the Kottke quote above you might be tempted to think that Flock is working towards something a lot bigger than a cute Web 2.0 browser. Besides, who needs another browser anyway?

And who needed another search engine?

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