Obscure Box

Thoughts from inside the obscure box

April 29, 2008

What the Flock?

Posted by : Michael Lund
Filed under : Media, Online

You can Digg, Kwoff and Reddit, say it's del.icio.us, add it to MySpace and Facebook, hang it on a Newsvine, StumbleUpon, Fark and even Slashdot it if you want.

These are just some of the many websites that allow people to share with others anything interesting they find on the web. You see the icons for these websites at the bottom of many news story webpages.

ninemsn's Flock button

Flock button

Now you can "Flock It!".

What the? I hear you cry.

Flock is a new service introduced as part of the redesign of the ninemsn website earlier this month.

ninemsn news executive producer Andrew Hunter, in the article "News site upgraded", says: "Your recommendation will change the way the content is presented on the Flock index page and 'dot' module, which sits under the 'Most popular' list on the right."

The Flock itself is a moving graphic where stories are represented by circles that grow in size and gravitate towards the centre of the image the more then are Flocked. You can even watch it develop as new Flocks emerge.

A top Flock not in the Most Popular list

A top Flock not in the Most Popular list

Interesting to note that what's making it in the Flock is not necessarily what's in the Most Popular list. (See above, the story was the 2nd Flock but not in the Most Popular list at the time.)

I've always had a concern about Most Popular lists on websites. By their nature they tend to make you have a look at what's on the list, and if the list selection is based on page visits then they're self-feeding.

Offering viewers a chance to recommend a news story they find interesting seems more logical. Gives them a chance to not recommend a story.

As to ninemsn's redesign; not sure if it was just my PC, connection and browser but the pages seem to take an age to load.

I used the "News site upgraded" announcement itself in a webanalyser WebSiteOptimization.com to test the site and the results were not good.

The page is more than one megabyte in size and contains two CSS files, 53 individual image files called 143 times including 42 gifs, 10 jpgs and one png, and 41 javascript files.

Interesting to note that the webpage calls one javascript and two images that it couldn't find.

On a 128K ISDN connection the page would take about 107 seconds to load, on a 1.44Mbps cable connection it would take 44 seconds.

Wow! And that's just the webpage announcing the new design.

A test on the Headlines homepage produced similar warnings. Another one megabyte pages with slow load times.

By contrast the Obscure Box homepage would take 4 seconds to load on 128K ISDN, 1.6 seconds on 1.44Mbps cable connection.

Update on Monday 30 May 2011:

Plenty of people asking how to sign in to make comments on their Flocks. Erika is right. After a few flocks you get presented with an invitation to become a Mother Flocker!

Invitation to be a Mother Flocker

Invitation to be a Mother Flocker

11 Comments so far ...

1. Fady

i was wandering if anyone knew how to leave a comment along with a flock? i can't for the life of me find a comments section, but keep seeing other people's comments come up on the "Flock" widget.

Comment on January 12, 2011 01:18 pm
2. Sandy

YES! I would like to know how to comment too, I have looked for it many times but can't see anything. The main comments I see are right-wing, racist rubbish. Would like to change this.

Comment on January 15, 2011 10:01 am
3. Rawena

I was also wondering how to leave a comment along with a flock....there is no information on the site how to do this...

Comment on March 27, 2011 01:16 pm
4. Simone

I have the same problem....have been looking for a way to leave a comment on flock and am unable to find it.

Comment on April 1, 2011 12:37 pm
5. Concerned

I AGREE WITH SANDY! Most of the comments are vile and not based on any fact. Why is it the ignorant seem to have found a way to leave comments but we can't!

Comment on April 2, 2011 10:36 am
6. retta

You have to flock your way to commenting! Once you've "flocked" a certain number of articles you are able to leave comments but i'm not sure how many articles you need to flock first. I was hoping someone knew how to read comments other's have left?

Comment on April 5, 2011 06:40 pm
7. Rachael

To make a comment you need to sign up with Nine MSN and become a 'Flocker'. What I want to know is, is there a page where you can read all the Flocks comments about a particular story? All I see is the occasional random comment come up, I would like to be able to read what other people think as well.

Comment on April 5, 2011 11:33 pm
8. Jono

I also do not know how to comment on flocks and am well frustrated by it!

Comment on April 7, 2011 08:49 pm
9. Vic

I just figured out how to leave flocks woo hoo! Still can't read the flock page but hopefully this might help you guys as I was also very frustrated by the whole thing. I found this page ( by repeatedly googling ) and signed up and was somehow able to become a mother flocker straight away - Good luck :)

Comment on May 2, 2011 10:40 pm
10. big mumma

so how do we read all the flocks - most are funny so I would love to read em all.

Comment on May 25, 2011 08:38 am
11. Erika

You need to click the Flock button on the bottom of about 5 Ninemsn articles and then a Flock sign up offer appears.
I have just done this.

Comment on May 30, 2011 11:03 am
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Just so you know…

All thoughts and comments here are the honestly held personal opinion of Michael Lund and are based on the information available at the time of publication.