RockMelt: An Innovative Social Media Web Browser

A new social media web browser called RockMelt is getting a lot of buzz online, despite being a startup whose early access version was only released on November 8, 2010. Where other similar endeavors might fade into obscurity taking years to get noticed, this browser has become a quick topic of conversation. The name of its developers — Tim Howes and Eric Vishria — may not ring a bell, but once you hear who’s behind the project, it will all begin to fall into place.

This is because the RockMelt browser is Netscape founder Marc Andreessen’s baby, and he believes that this browser will prove to be a brand new web surfing technique. For some in the tech world, Andreessen’s association with the project isn’t impressive, and even further, some believe the browser itself is nothing special. Take for example tech blogger Edward Berridge over at The Inquirer, who recently wrote that “the browser works on the basis that humanity has rotted to the point that all we have to do with our lives is socialize on Facebook, search on Google, tweet on Twitter, and monitor a handful of key websites.”

Though that seems a little extreme (and harsh), a great deal of people do visit those exact sites multiple times a day, and RockMelt, with its ability to stop people from drifting from site to site by placing all the information and favorite services into drop-down windows, could very well provide a needed convenience that many Internet users would appreciate.

According to Andreessen, RockMelt is his second chance at building a successful web browser, but this time it will include many features that he wishes he could have included in Netscape had he known the direction Internet usage would take after the demise of the Netscape browser — which is to say all social networking, all the time.

RockMelt is hoping to attract one million users during its early stages, which is why Andreessen is extending invitations through Facebook for anyone who wants to try his new browser. Before you jump on board, however, you may want to learn more about the Netscape founder’s new endeavor.

Getting Started

As mentioned previously, those interested in checking out the browser early can use Facebook to get an invitation, but as it stands, it seems as if the only way you can use the browser is if you have a Facebook account. Facebook users will have to log on to RockMelt using their Facebook account information. Afterward, their profile pic will be used as their RockMelt profile pic, and a list of their favorite friends will automatically be included on the left-hand frame of the browser as well. The browser also features built-in tools for posting updates.

Recently, the first update to RockMelt Beta was made, so if you’re just downloading the browser now you’ll find some brand new enhancements. If, on the other hand, you’ve already been using RockMelt, your browser will update automatically, or you can download it by opening RockMelt’s main menu in the upper left hand corner, clicking on “About RockMelt,” and then checking for the update. 

According to the RockMelt blog, the new update made the following enhancements possible:

  • New Gmail Notifier App to let you know when you have new email. To install, just go to gmail.com, sign in, and click on the “Add Apps” button at the bottom of the App Edge.
  • Tweet directly from the Twitter App using the new “compose” button at the top.Update your status directly from the Facebook App by clicking on the new “compose” button at the top.
  • Search within the Facebook, Twitter, and News Apps by typing in the new filter box (Windows users press CTRL+F to invoke).
  • Compose messages, write on walls, or go straight to a website through richer context menus when you right-click on a Friend or App in the Edge.
  • Faster, more consistent Twitter and Facebook feed updates and notifications.
  • Look for more invites and improved notifications in the enhanced Invite App.
  • Hide or show edges while in full-screen mode, just like in the normal view.
  • Upgrade to Chromium 7 for improvements in speed and stability and better HTML 5 support.

RockMelt’s main focus is social networking, which is why the new browser connects seamlessly to Twitter and Facebook accounts while also integrating features of each social network into the RockMelt browser itself. Featured on the left hand side of the browser is a list of the user’s online friends. From the RockMelt browser, users can chat with these friends in separate chat windows, so as not to give the main browser window a cluttered appearance.

Also while chatting, your friends’ personal news feeds will be shown, and links can be shared in a number of very interesting ways. For example, RockMelt enables you to chat and browse at the same time, and if you come across a web site, news story, etc. that catches your eye, sharing the information is as simple as clicking the “share” button at the top of the browser page. This enables you to send the link as a message or post it on your wall for all of your friends to see.

Another RockMelt option enables users to message their friends with the link by clicking the “insert link to current page” option, or by simply dragging specific images to the person with which you want to share them. From the main browser users can also message any one of their Facebook friends or write on their Facebook walls. The right side of the RockMelt browser features the most current updates from their Twitter and Facebook accounts.

You could say that Andreessen’s new browser aims to be a sort of social networking hub — the equivalent of a one-stop-shop for all of your socializing/connectivity needs. That being said, it should come as no surprise that users’ RSS feeds can simply be added to the right sidebar. This includes e-mail. The browser also gives users the option of being able to have simple and subtle or more overt notifications shown. Also, when a user clicks on any of their social networks or subscribed sites, a small side window automatically appears, featuring the latest news in concise, summary form. Andreessen seems to have concerned himself with keeping the browser neat and tidy because even when the side window appears, it will not affect the user’s current page, and with a simple click, these summaries can be opened in a new window.

Here are two other cool features to take note of:

  • Videos can be embedded into chats and feed views.
  • The quick search feature enables users to type what they’re looking for, like any other search engine, except their results will be shown at the top of the window they are currently viewing.

Early Criticism

As you can see, RockMelt has a number of impressive features sure to catch the attention of those consumers who spend a great deal of their time online visiting social networking sites, but besides that, does the browser have what it takes to make it in today’s competitive market? Even more importantly, does it serve any purpose for those of us who don’t spend all of our time online on Facebook and Twitter?

Xconomy writer Wade Roush was spot-on in his criticism of RockMelt when he implied that the new browser is essentially setting itself up to fail. Roush doesn’t believe that Andreessen can fully deliver on his startup’s promise to build a browser “designed around you and how you use the Web.” According to Roush, this is because “how we use the Web is changing even faster than browser makers can keep up, and has less and less to do with the PC desktop and more to do with mobility and information appliances like smartphones, tablets, and Internet-connected TVs.” In other words, Roush believes that the issue the startup chose to tackle is already out of date.

To put it in another, more concise way, Roush wrote, “RockMelt doesn’t solve the problem that needs solving the most right now, which is the inconsistent way we experience the Web when we access it from different types of devices. The truth is that today’s mobile computing gadgets, and the plethora of apps available for them, are finally making it possible to spend less time sitting at your desktop PC, while still getting most of the benefits of the Web and social media. But RockMelt’s product is still solidly PC-centric. The startup’s implicit pitch is that your desktop browser should be both your main news-gathering conduit and your social media control center. Now that the Web is everywhere, though, users want to be able to switch fluidly between information devices depending on what they’re doing, and what we really need are tools that make that easier, lessening the sense of cognitive dissonance every time they close the lid on their MacBook and switch on their iPad or their Kindle or their Roku Player. RockMelt isn’t that, yet.”

RockMelt is in its beginning stages, so we’ll just have to wait and see if the browser can live up to its promises and the ever-changing needs of consumers.

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