Flock this

The name of this site —Informationally Overloaded— isn’t just a witty title. Firstly, it’s not that witty, and secondly it’s becoming increasingly true for many people. There are two things you can do to counteract the growing feeling of “I must be missing something” that I’m sure some of you can identify with:

  1. Turn off the computer (obviously not right NOW)
  2. Streamline your online habits

The first cure is the most obvious, and something I’m trying to do as much as possible these days. If the computer doesn’t NEED to be on, it’s not. Not only am I saving electricity/energy, I’m also reducing the temptation to “just check my email” which inevitably leads to “just checking some sites” and from there it’s a short click to “yes I KNOW it’s 3am, I’ll come to bed in a minute!!”.

The second cure is, arguably, the harder of the two. Why? Well I’d say guilt has a part to play, especially if you’ve been blogging for any length of time and have built up a long list of sites/blogs run by people you “know” and which you valiantly try and visit every day or two, primarily to save face. Terrible habit and one I’ve been slowly curing myself of for a while now. It’s similar to the “must post everyday” nonsense of which many of us bloggers fall foul. Life is too short people, so don’t waste it doing things that are of no consequence (and yes, I do believe that blogging CAN be of consequence, as can commenting on blogs… maybe not the highest value item in the chain of life but it’s still of some value).

I’ve posted before about getting organised, and I consider this post a successor, a natural step beyond previous efforts.

In case you missed the subtle clue in the title of the post, I will preface the following by pointing out that my suggested solution is a product that is still in BETA (aren’t they all?). It’s called Flock. I’ve mentioned this application before, and not too kindly either, but it’s come an awfully long way since those early ALPHA release days, so much so that I now use it at home AND at work, a sure sign that it’s both stable and usable enough for my needs.

What I’ve long looked for is something to help manage my “online” life. That includes checking email, blogging, uploading to Flickr, monitoring RSS feeds and general web surfing activities. Previously my own little “home-brew” was Firefox with several extensions and some smart bookmarklets and it worked quite well. Yet it was very static and relied too heavily on a lot of manual clicking. This is largely down to the fact that I hadn’t made the “RSS switch”, yet.

Flock offers an integrated RSS Reader, an integrated “blogging” feature, an integrated “photo uploader” and everything else that Firefox offered (and a little more, namely internally TAGGED (starred) bookmarks, rather than a sync with an online service like del.icio.us). So I’ve finally managed to get ONE place that I can use to access all my online accounts. Of course it requires a little bit of configuration, and no small measure of brutality to really reign in MY online habits but Flock has helped.

Now, before you rush off to download Flock and install it, there are a few things you should do in Firefox before you ‘switch’. The first, and most important one, is to clean our your list of extensions. Uninstall any you don’t use/need (and remember, be brutal!) and once you are done, install a new one! ListZilla will output a list of installed extensions which you can refer to once you’ve got Flock up and running. Flock supports MOST Firefox extensions, and those that it doesn’t can be “gently coerced” into working so you won’t lose any of your “must have” extension goodness.

Right, NOW you can go and download Flock, get it installed and start customising it to your needs. Rather than write up a complete review I’ll point you to Paul Stamatiou’s excellent writeup which covers all the basics and more.

So, with Flock installed I now have an RSS Reader which is used ONLY for blogs and news sources that offer RSS feeds, I have a separate short list of sites that I visit now and then that DON’T offer RSS feeds (starred/tagged in Flock rather than bookmarked), I write posts for this site, the miniblog and Scottish Blogs from it so I only need to work in one place, rather than three – I used to use WordPress, w.bloggar and WordPress respectively for arcane reasons, I also upload photos to Flickr using Flock (it’s much better than the Uploadr provided by Flickr) AND I can post to del.icio.us from a bookmarklet. The only online interaction left out of the loop is email. And I’m considering switching to GMail for ALL my email so that’ll be that sorted as well.

All in all, after spending a little bit of time upfront, I’m spending a lot less time online and a lot less time waiting for other applications to load. It won’t be for everyone, and it’s taken me quite a while to be won over but if you do spend a LOT of time “online” then I highly recommend it.

Flock, it’s the sheep’s bollocks.