If you’re one of the many people who can’t stop checking Facebook and Twitter, you’re not alone. The more we rely on social networks for keeping in touch with friends and family, the more we feel glued to these social-networking services. Wouldn’t it be easier to have all of your updates in one place?
This week, I tested two free tools that track all your social networks right within your Web browser’s user interface, so you can avoid the hassle of visiting multiple websites or firing up a separate program. I used the newest version of Flock for Windows, downloadable at beta.flock.com (the Mac version is due out in late August). I also tried Yoono (yoono.com) for Firefox and Chrome browsers.
Even though these two programs operate differently—Flock is its own browser and Yoono is a browser add-on—they both give people shortcuts for keeping tabs on those with whom they share online connections. If, for example, one of your friends shares Flickr photos from a Keith Urban concert, they appear in a panel on the side of the Web browser, saving you a trip to Flickr.com. These programs also make it simple to simultaneously post a status or article on more than one social network.
Both Flock and the Yoono add-on for Google’s (GOOG) Chrome browser are still in their beta, or test, phases. A desktop version of Yoono is available for Windows, Mac and Linux PCs, but I focused on the browser add-on that built social networking into my Web-browsing experience. The Yoono browser add-on currently only works for Mozilla’s Firefox and Google’s Chrome.
But there are some issues with Flock and Yoono. Neither program offers pop-up notifications that appear regardless of what program you’re using, like the way Microsoft (MSFT) Outlook’s email notifications or TweetDeck’s notifications work. This means you’ll need to be using the browser to know about friends’ newly shared content.
Another issue is that since Flock is its own browser, you’ll have to use it in place of your current browser, which could be frustrating if you don’t prefer it. Yoono floats as a standalone, thin panel that can appear to the side of any opened program, like Microsoft’s Outlook or Adobe (ADBE) Reader, as long as you resize the other program’s window. Firefox or Chrome must already be running for Yoono to work, and you have to open the Yoono panel each time you want to see it.
When I downloaded Flock, a notification explained that all of my saved browser settings, like passwords and bookmarks, could be imported. This spared me from re-entering my username and password for each social-networking account.
A closeup of the Yoono side panel.
Users can create a Flock account, which makes it easy to sign in and access that account’s settings on any PC after downloading the program. Flock settings include groups of friends that are manually created by dragging and dropping names from lists into groups. I created a “Best Friends” list for the people I communicate most often with, and a “Work” list for colleagues. I liked being able to create groups of names from all sorts of networks, not just from one place.
A drop-down menu at the top of Flock’s panel let me choose what groups’ information was displayed. I toggled between seeing just my Work group, just Facebook friends or a list of All Friends. A Flock representative said it will be out of beta in late August.
Sharing in Flock can be done by typing status updates into the top of the side panel or by clicking a cool “Talk” icon that appears on the left of the URL bar of the currently opened Web page. Clicking this instantly shares the page you’re viewing with a social network and lets you add a comment.
Yoono supports 11 networks in its browser add-on panel. I linked my Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, AIM and Google Talk accounts to Yoono and they all remained signed in and organized in a thin panel. Other supported networks include MySpace, YouTube, FriendFeed, LinkedIn, MSN and Yahoo (YHOO) Chat. Sharing from Yoono is done by clicking on a green icon, which prompts you to use one click to share “This Page” or “Selected Items.”
I really liked the way Yoono identified new status updates with a yellow highlight that faded after a few seconds. This made it easy for me to identify, in just a glance, which content was new. Yoono did a nice job displaying shared photos in Twitter; these images appeared in-line with tweets, saving me the hassle of clicking on links to Web pages where the photos were posted. Thumbnails for videos shared on Twitter also appeared in-line with tweets.
While some people may not want to be distracted by updates while they’re browsing, for those of us who can’t quit socializing online, Flock and Yoono are a good way to stay in the know.
—Edited by Walter S. Mossberg
Write to Katherine Boehret at firstname.lastname@example.org