Edited 12/12/08 4:55 PM – Just to provide some corrections: This is a product that is currently in “Beta”, or not ready to be release to the public. I may revisit this browser in the future. Other than minor corrections to make this post accurate, my overall views of this software remains unchanged.
Edited 12/12/08 8:47 PM – I decided to include Rushmore Drive as an alternative search engine for Black Search.
A few days ago, I heard of a project called “Blackbird”, a Windows (only) browser powered with Mozilla’s Firefox. At first, I thought “cool”. I’m always willing to support black companies as long as they bring innovation. I feel that there is a need to serve the black community and help our people to use the web to their advantage. However, with "niche market targeting” comes cries of “segregation”. There’s also a lot of controversy over this browser when it’s starting to become a topic of interest and most of these reports are from people who did not even use the browser. So, I took it upon myself to use it as part of my everyday operations and write up a post. However, upon using it, I see some things the web activist side of me that says “WHOA! PAUSE!”
(In my best Barack Obama impression) Now let’s be clear. I’m all for niche browsers. Flock is a social networking browser, powered by Mozilla and puts focus on Social Networking sites. Songbird is a music player backed up with Mozilla’s technology as well. Notice that the two examples I used are innovated and serves a different type of crowd. On a technology side, these browsers improve the web experience. So, when I’m looking at this browser (or any other piece of software/web applications, web sites and so on), I’m looking at the bigger picture and asking this question: does it add value to my life and the life of my those around me? The answer I came up with is 10% yes, and 90% No. Let’s get to the “why yes” part.
Why Blackbird Is Good
Let’s give credit where credit is due. Using Mozilla’s Firefox as a backbone is very smart move. I personally recommend Firefox to all of my clients. For those who question wither or not this is “legal”, Firefox is purely open source, so it’s perfectly legal to use for however one seems fit without permission (and I did mention two examples of Firefox being used). Firefox is a good browser to use for that it’s safer than Internet Explorer and patches for “holes” in Firefox are usually cover up within days and weeks, while Microsoft’s Internet Explorer takes longer to patch issues. (side note: It’s not safe to use a browser that is integrated with an operating system, but that’s another topic for another day.)
Most of Firefox’s features remain intact, such as tab browsing, security features, and bookmarks.
Another fact is that Blackbird is its own entity, which means you can launch Blackbird and Firefox at the same time.
However, this is as far as the “goodness of Blackbird” goes.
Why Blackbird Is Not Taking Off
You think that a guy like me would be gun-ho about supporting a black business and recommending to download Blackbird. However, with all the stupid stereotypical jokes aside, this bird came real late to the dance.
So, why I’m not really happy about it? There’s nothing innovating about this browser at all. You might point out is that there’s an RSS Headline Feed. Okay, and I would say: Why? With a little effort and research, it didn’t take me long to add the very same one to my own installation of Firefox. It even functions the same way. (look at the snapshot to the left)
Another problem is the brand itself: Blackbird. It’s a Firefox-powered browser and you can use Firefox add-ons, but this may confuse people, especially those who never used or heard of Firefox is. This can:
- Harm the average user be cause they will be lead into thinking that the browser or creators of the browser is lying to them.
- Mozilla’s Add-ons will be a bit confusing because of an update to Blackbird causing it to reject add-ons that it can easily accept.
There are buttons to places you can donate to (that are black charities) are thoughtful, but these “buttons” can easily be removed. The buttons takes up “screen real estate” to me. If I remove the toolbars and the RSS feed, then Blackbird looks and behaves like Firefox.
Matter of fact, if you are really up to it, you can customize your Firefox to give it the same look and feel. While Blackbird may have “e-mail managers” and “social networking capabilities”, you can do the same thing in Flock, plus more (share, publish, blog, etc.) while in Blackbird, all you do is log on, which is not really anything special and you can already do from your regular browser. If anything, the social features will make the average user more “aware” that they are already log into these sites and e-mails.
In my opinion, The most harmful feature is that this browser is really part of a web portal. The Blackbird Community is a “backend” community that you can access from Blackbird. The community is nothing but a “me-too” version of Digg and YouTube. The community don’t seem to be active at all, and the videos are dated (as of posting, the feature series is Reggae Splash 2004).
There’s a “black search” by default and you can search the web using this “Black Search”. However, what they don’t tell you (at least outloud) is that the “Black Search” is really “Google Custom Search”. Google Custom Search allows you to “include one website, multiple websites, or specific web pages”. So, what you are really getting is a water-down search on sites the creators of the Blackbird deem “black enough” to be in their co-op search. In other words, a company defining what the “black American” sites are.
The Harm of Filters
Why is a filter search engine bad? Let’s take a taste test, shall we? Instead of screenshots, I will take you to direct searches produce by Blackbird. All you need is their search engine. Take a look at the following search engines results for the word “Barack Obama”
If you are looking for Barack Obama’s main site, it does not pop up at all on Black Search while it will pop up as one of the top results on Google. Let’s take a recent main event, the Mumbai incident. Let’s say you heard something about Mumbai that day and you type in “Mumbai shootout”:
Now, I have no problem with getting news from a black’s POV. The problem is that with a custom search, you’ll be directed to the sites that a company will tell you who are “black enough” to tell you. This is a scary thought… especially when I’m one for Net Neaultiy.
The Mysterious Company
Blackbird is backed by a for-profit company called 40A, Inc. In general, web companies are usually transparent. To be competitive and establish community, CEOs are putting their faces to their products and services. However, Blackbird’s CEOs only put up their names. One of the names, H. Edward Young, seems to be one of the founders of The Source, a hip-hop magazine with its own set of trouble, even up to today (with the sad but true jokes about their use of the internet and writing so many bad checks, they are blacklisted from check cashing places in NYC).
UPDATE: To be fair, H. Edward Young was part of the Mind Squad, the editors of The Source until 1997 when Benizno was revealed as the “ghost owner”. Young was one of the people that walked out of the magazine and should not be put in the same category when the magazine changed directions.
Software companies also have release notes (what makes each upgrade different) and a roadmap (what they plan to do with the next version). 40A releases no such roadmap nor have release notes. They don’t explain what Black Search really is or the selection process of how a site can be included. Updates are provided by Blackbird, not Mozilla, so when Mozilla updates, Blackbird may follow suit days later.
While this company may speak about “supporting black communities and businesses,” their website wasn’t even design by a black online media company. Speaking of their website, the FAQ looks like it was thrown in at the last minute. They basically talk about the unique features of the Blackbird (which I already blew a hole in) and a link back to Mozilla if you have any Firefox related questions. Flock does their own support, and it’s more in depth. You don’t see them just linking back to Mozilla.
As a web designer and a social media artist, I look for ways to manage my web browsing and make it better. Blackbird do not make my life easier at all. It’s more of the same experience I currently get from Firefox. However, from a perspective of “if I want to introduce someone to the Internet”…
…I will not mention Blackbird.
To sum it up, Blackbird is a “me-too” web browser. If you been using the web for at least 6 months, there’s no additional benefits. If you are using the web for less than 6 months, then you may feel restricted by it due to the company’s lack of wanting to educate you. 40A is just a company that seem to care more about marketing than educating the market. There’s nothing innovating about a company hopping on the backs of other companies and their lack of updated content don’t really help either.
So, in my humble opinion, Blackbird is more hype than innovation. All it promotes is something that Mozilla’s been promoting for years, a safer web experience. Geez… talk about disappointment.
For social networking, blogging and e-mailing capabilities that are integrated into the browser, Flock is the best way to go. For a more diverse Black Search Engine, Rushmore Drive, a search engine Blackbird place in their search box, is better suited for the task. Otherwise, use Firefox and get a custom theme if you really must have it in black and call it a day.