Wednesday, June 21, 2006

This is a test of Flock

I decided to try a new way of blogging, so I downloaded Flock. It's a form of Firefox with extra features for blogging. The idea is that one can blog directly from the browser window. You set up the connection settings with your blog, which in practice is the user name and password. It brings up a dialog with two tabs. The "Editor" tab is the easy to use-bit which allows one to bold, italicise or do other things with your post. The "Source" tab is where you can see the corresponding HTML if you choose. I always choose.

Flock Blogger screen shot

My observations so far:

  • The blog post window wants to stay in front of other Flock windows, such as the main window, and the "Accounts and Services" dialog. This is distracting and irritating. It's bad user interface design. Change this feature immediately.
  • Can Flock handle Vietnamese, or for that matter, Unicode in general? "Thỉnh thoảng tôi muốn viết Tiếng Việt." It seems to be able to do this from the interface, but will it garble the text when sent to the Blogger website? The only way to find this out is try and see.
  • There is a lack of features. I sometimes like subscripts and superscripts, but they aren't provided. A "CODE" tag or similar is absolutely essential if you want your text to look monospaced, but it's not there.
  • You can add pictures by the old "CTRL-V" command; that seems to be an undocumented feature. That's how the screen shot above was shown. However, it garbles the resulting HTML, and writes a link to one's hard drive. This is another feature that needs to change immediately.
  • The spelling feature works, up to a point, but still flags words like "blog", "blogger" and "blogging" as spelling errors. It's biased towards U.S.-style English, and does not like the word "italicise". (Actually, that's a general criticism, and not limited to Flock; I'd like a spell check dictionary that finds both British and U.S. variants acceptable.)
  • It would be nice to have a "clean-up" option of unused HTML tags. At the end of this post is a lot of redundant tags like the following:

<p><br />

  • (And I tried to enter the "code" tag on the preceding HTML snippet, by editing it into the "Source" tag. Flock didn't like that. Flock closed the tag as <CODE /> before it. I dislike applications who think they know what the users wants, and gets it wrong.)
  • The final problem is that there is no way to upload previous posts, and edit them. Here's the scenario. You make a blog post. Someone makes an important contribution in the comments section. Being the nice person you are, you want to mention this contribution, so you alter your post accordingly. Nope, you can't do this, unlike stand-alone products like w.bloggar. That's a serious limitation.

My comments. I would give it 8 out of 10 for the casual user, who does not want to worry about HTML. It is easy to use, and pleasant to look at. On the other hand, I would reduce it down to 6 out of 10 for more HTML-savvy people like me. It's a toy. It's a nice, functional toy, but it does not give me the features of NVU. However, I should say that Flock is only at version 0.7, and not a full version. so more features may be added later.

There's one last test, which need to be undertaken. Will this post publish? Let's find out.

UPDATE: (5 minutes later): the screenshot came out shite. It was too big, and invaded the sidebar. Flock does allow you to add pictures to your Photobucket site. That's nice. However, it does not allow you to resize pictures. That's not nice.

And no, you can't update previous posts. What you can do is choose another post to overwrite. That's nice if you've got one or two posts. If you've got over 100, then it appears it will try to load all of them into a drop down menu. "It appears", I say. When I saw it was doing, I decided to cancel quick smart; there's a fair chance Windows would break. So I'm going to enter this post a second time, but this time by Blogger's normal web interface, and with a little extra editing in NVU, to add the "code" tag. In other words, I am not going to use Flock to add this post, because the interface does not allow me to edit old posts easily. As I judge this sort of missing functionality critical for a good blogging tool, I will change my ratings to 6 and 4 out of 10, respectively.