I saw a post by Benn Parr (Flock Social Browser Declares War on RockMelt with Version 3.5) about a new version of Flock, responding to the threat of RockMelt in the rekindled social browser niche.
It’s like a schoolyard brawl, where two kids wind up throwing punches because they like the same girl, not because they have any good reason to fight. It’s theater, not warfare.
There is something tantalizing about a ‘social browser’, but it’s all an illusion. There is a phantasmagorical attraction to the notion of an experience of browsing the web, reading things, discovering other things, all being informed by social networks, and all screwed into the browser.
But that is exactly what we are doing already. It just isn’t integrated into the browser. And as a result, the browser doesn’t have to know about the specific way that I interact with Twitter, or which social bookmarking tool I use, or which RSS capabilities I want. A social browser will always be some severely constrained subset of the range of social experience available, because developers are constantly dreaming up new apps.
Yes, a social browser might have some open architecture where third party plugins counld extend basic ideas about sociality, but that’s still limiting, too. Easier for a start-up to build something that plays in all browsers.
The future isn’t social browsers, but social operating systems. Once Apple, Google, and Microsoft (and others, like Jolicloud) start to standardize on common elements that should be built into the platforms — like profiles, streams, following, liking, reposting, and so on (as I started to touch on in my Tumblebacks notion) — applications could be much more quickly built, and would interoperate.
Today we take it for granted that an RTF file can be created and edited on a Mac, and emailed to someone without concern for their operating system, or email tools. In a few years, I will read something reposted by a friend in a social app, and I will be able to repost that into another app, and follow the author in a third, all without concern about things working. Contrast that with today’s mess, where reposting something from Twitter into my Tumblr blog takes minutes, not seconds, and whatever comments people make in Disqus on my blog about that post never find their way back to the original author.
This social plumbing requires re-architecting at the foundational levels of computing, not in the browser. The browser is a kludge: a tool developed to allow people to use the web on PCs that were designed without the web in mind. So we shouldn’t pour more attention into the browser. We have to look to the bedrock of our operating environments, and put social first, there.