FLOCKING TO FACEBOOK

A new way to use Facebook has people flocking to it, so to speak. That way is called Flock, a new Web browser, like Mozilla’s Firefox or Microsoft’s Internet Explorer. What this one does is let you bring Facebook friends with you as you surf the World Wide Web.

For those of you who missed the beginning of the movie, Facebook is a Web site that makes it easy to share things with friends, family and anyone else you can think of. It started as a site for college students, kind of like a yearbook thatwas constantly updated. It has since been expanded to include adults, and now 58 million people are active Facebook users. They send each other messages, photos, games, maps, quizzes and on into the night.

You can download the Flock browser for free from flock.com. When you use it, it puts up a “people panel” on the left-hand side of the screen, showing a list of all your Facebook friends, with names and thumbnail photos. You can’t edit thatFlock People Panel list. The only way to shorten it is to go to Facebook.com and use the remove-friend option. If you’re new to this, it’s best to accept as friends only people you really know.

You can keep this panel of friends visible as you journey through the Web. Next to each name and photo are two buttons, labeled “media” and “actions.” Click on media and any photos that person has uploaded to the Web will appear in a filmstrip across the top of your screen. Click “actions” and you can send your friend messages and links to interesting sites you’ve visited.

You can share photos and videos with your friends just by dragging them onto their photo. You can paste messages and photos to “the wall,” as they call it. This is very much like a bulletin board for each member.

More than 60 million photos have been uploaded to Facebook, making it the leading site for pictures. You can browse them by keyword. We typed in “clouds” and got tons of beautiful cloud pictures, including sunsets, sunrises, etc. There were 1.7 million of them in all.

Flock, like the Firefox browser on which it is based, has tabbed browsing. Each site you visit is marked with a tab near the top of the screen. You can go back there simply by clicking on the tab. Unfortunately, the browser does not save those tabs when you close it. People have complained about this, and the programmers said they will probably fix it in the next version.

You can use Flock without being a member of Facebook or having a column of friends’ photos along the left. You can have a column of news feeds, YouTube videos, or highlights that you marked from your e-mail or a Web site. There are many other choices.

A major complaint regarding Facebook is that your info can be used for marĀ  uld automatically add that info to your public profile, which might otherwise contain very little information about you. But in December there was a huge protest about this from 52,000 members of MoveOn.org, a 3.3 million-member organization, and Facebook managers responded by providing privacy options. Now, companies have to ask your permission before adding to your profile. You can, if you wish, ban every company so that you are never asked.

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