The timing might sound suspicious to some observers, but Mozilla has just announced a social networking plugin for Firefox that offers some of the features found in the much-heralded RockMelt social browser, the limited-availability beta of which was announced a few days ago.
F1 is an official project masterminded by the Mozilla Messaging team and released through Mozilla Labs. You can view a demo video at the labs Website, or you can simply download the plugin and give it a try (it works with Firefox 3.6 and above and appears to be cross-platform).
The sole purpose of F1 is to allow the sharing of Website links. Once installed, the plugin adds an icon to the top right of the program window which, when clicked, introduces a new toolbar with buttons that allow you to pass on a link to the site you're visiting, via Twitter, Facebook or Gmail. No doubt other services will be added as time goes on, although it seems Yahoo!'s reliance on CAPTCHA authentication is the reason for its exclusion this time around.
Clicking a button on the toolbar then shows a handful of text fields where you can add a description of the posting, and whatever details are necessary.
There are some very neat touches. The integration with Gmail also includes your address book, so -- just like in a Gmail "compose" window -- any e-mail addresses you begin to type are autocompleted.
If battle lines are being drawn here, then I have to take Firefox's side. Mozilla has always preferred a plug-in structure to add features to its software and, as such, F1 is a far better way of tracking rapidly evolving social networking functionality than a complete browser built around the existing systems offered by Facebook, Twitter, and so on. True, the F1 plugin is several times less involved than RockMelt but I like this too. Keep things simple for me when it comes to browsers and I'll be happy.
For all Firefox fans, however, there's little doubt that F1 will quench some of the desire they may have been feeling for RockMelt.