Mozilla is apparently not going to sit on the sidelines while browsers such as Flock get all of the social fanfare. Instead they are trying to develop a way to integrate Web 2.0 services such as Twitter, Facebook, Google Talk, and more into a central location that makes following your friends easy. Huh, sounds like exactly what the Flock browser is for.
Snowl (download) is the name for Mozilla’s project, and it ships in the form of a Firefox extension. Once you get it installed you’ll be able to enter in the address of RSS feeds, provide your Twitter credentials, or import an OPML file containing a list of feeds.
After you get it all setup you’ll want to pull up the View menu in Firefox. From there you can show the Message List, which is simply a listing of your feeds in a classic three-pane fashion:
Any RSS feeds for blogs or websites will appear at the top of the list, while people you’re following (currently only available with your Twitter account) will appear at the bottom.
Also in the View menu you’ll see an option for a River of Messages. This is a two-pane interface that makes it possible to scroll through all of your messages without needing to click on any of them. Normally when I’ve used these kind of layouts in the past the scrolling is always done vertically, but for some odd reason this one is horizontal:
I’m extremely disappointed with how the extension handles itself, but I guess I’ll cut them some slack since this is still a very early prototype. Snowl, in its current state, can’t hold a candle to how well the Flock browser has integrated the social web. Here are some of the reasons I’m not impressed:
- The interface is very rough around the edges. For example, the vertical divider in the River of Messages view covers the text as you scroll horizontally. This particular view still needs a lot of work.
- Aren’t designers always taught to minimize the horizontal scrolling? Why is it then that they’ve decided to implement their River of Messages view horizontally rather than vertically like other feed readers.
- Tighter integration with web services is needed. I shouldn’t have to go to the settings in order to setup my Twitter account. The extension should recognize when I’m on Twitter’s site, and ask whether I want my account associated with Snowl. And providing my Twitter credentials only lets me read messages from friends… I can’t even respond to them from the extension?
- Better sidebar functionality is a must. I can’t tell which feeds have unread items, can’t group them into folders, or anything like that.
Maybe I’m being overly hard on Mozilla since this is still early in development, but I hardly think it’s usable in its current state. They should have held off a bit more, and polished the extension up a bit. It just feels like Mozilla is trying to play catch-up with Flock now, and is losing big time.