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Summary:

RockMelt, a Mountain View, Calif.-based start-up with backing from the likes of Marc Andreessen, has made a new socially-aware, media-consumption-centric browser that’s available in beta soon. The company says its browser is optimized for the modern web and focuses on making sharing easy.

RockMelt Co-Founder

RockMelt Co-Founder

Does the world need yet another browser? Tim Howes and Eric Vishria think that it does, and that is one of the reasons why two years ago they started Mountain View, Calif.-based RockMelt, raised an undisclosed amount of funding from Andreessen Horowitz (and scores of technology luminaries such VMware co-founder Dianne Greene, Intuit’s Bill Campbell and Josh Kopelman) and hired away some of the best design and browser talent from other companies. Their socially aware browser will finally see the light of day today and will be made available as a beta version.

It’s a bold move by the two co-founders. They are entering a hotly contested market that is dominated by Microsoft (Internet Explorer), Google (Chrome), Mozilla (Firefox) and Apple (Safari). In addition, they’re launching a desktop browser — it works on Windows and Mac OS — at a time when the axis of computing is shifting to touch-driven mobile devices.

Vishria and Howes say the reason they started the company was that, while people’s usage of web and the services they use have changed, the browser itself hasn’t changed very much. “The modern web has evolved to a point where it needs a new kind of browsing experience,” said Vishria, CEO of RockMelt. “I can’t understand why the web browsing experience is so serial, especially when we have so much available processing speeds, memory and available bandwidth.”

He argues that today, everyone in the browser market is about minimal user experience, ease of navigation and speed. What RockMelt is focused on is around people’s web usage – which centers on consuming content, social sharing and social networking.

RockMelt’s quest reminds me of another grand attempt to take on the browser establishment, called Flock, which, despite great social aspirations, has had a tough go of it thus far. Vishria and Howes say that it is all about timing. Thanks to increased broadband penetration, the rise of cloud-based services and mainstream adoption of social services such as Facebook and Twitter, the browser itself needs to be social, said Howes, who worked at LoudCloud/Opsware along with Vishria.

“Most people communicate with a few friends and check only a few sites and we’ve made it easy for them to stay connected and get their information,” said Vishria. The browser integrates Facebook, Twitter and other social services right into the browser itself. At the same time, it makes it easy to add news feeds and other information sources. The browser, which is based on Chromium (the open-source project behind Google’s Chrome browser), requires you to sign-in with your Facebook credentials. Once logged in, you can add your favorite friends and news feeds on the left and right side of the browser. The browser makes it easy to update, tweet and share content via Facebook and Twitter. (See screenshots to get more details on the browser and its features.)

 

From the demos I saw, the 30-person company has done a fantastic job of integrating social features into the browsing experience. It has developed proprietary technologies (mostly HTML5-based) that make search a massively fast and more meaningful experience. The browser uses its built-in cache to pre-fetch, then pre-render a lot of content and make it available instantaneously.

However, it still has its work cut out for it; it’s entering a saturated market and will need to fight for attention. RockMelt wants to focus on mainstream consumers, but it has to contend with the harsh reality that people are slow to change and switch. Look at how long it took for Internet Explorer numbers to start sinking. Perhaps that’s why the company is focusing on getting the browser in the hands of many users before trying to build a business model. “Search is a good way for browsers to get paid, and we are thinking about other services beyond search, but that comes later,” said Howes. For now, the founders will be happy if a million people are using their browser in six months.

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  1. “…requires you to sign-in with your Facebook credentials.”

    ha. yeah. like i’ll use this. and no.

    1. Agreed. There is a lot of folks who are going to be skeptical. At the same time, there are a lot of people who are going to end up signing up just for that reason.

  2. Facebook is essentially trying to become a web browser, they want to have users live within their site. I would assume that FB would either build a browser or acquire one, seems and looks like RockMelt is a great acquisition target, especially since they are leveraging FB connect.

    1. I would agree. It would also help that their backer – Marc A — is also on the board of Facebook. :-) Outsourced development and then spin-in. Sort of like the strategy that worked wonders for Cisco.

  3. Looks pretty good! As long as it doesn’t need my friends to also be using it (which it doesn’t appear to) – I can see this being very useful.

  4. I think the problem Rockmelt will have is that they are basically just a bunch of features in the browser (albeit some really sweet features). All these cool things displayed in the video can just as easily be copied by Google, Mozilla, Microsoft, and Apple to make them standard parts of the browser thereby making Rockmelt useless. I do like the work they’ve done if the video is anything to go by but they sure have their work cut out for them. Browser’s are a hell-pit of a market to compete in. If I were Google, I would buy this company and make them part of the Chrome team since these guys get social.

  5. Om, I haven’t gotten to try it yet, but I must agree that the demo looks pretty terrific.

    1. I saw the demo in person and was impressed but still will have to wait to try and form my full opinion.

  6. I really appreciate the effort to make a more integrated desktop experience. I’ll be interested to see if they can add much to the already simple “appy” workflow of phones and tablets.

    I don’t like the name, though – it’s cheesy and will probably be especially unappealing to nontechnical people who already see choosing a “different” browser as nerdy.

  7. So they added a social layer to Google Chrome by allowing you to show there custom Extensions vertically on the right side of the browser window. I am not overly impressed by the fact that this took them 2 years. I mean, how long would it have taken them if Google was not making the browser for them. And on that note, why do they need a 30 man team for this thing? As I just pointed out, Google is doing all the heavy lifting here.

    It should be good for those who do not mind being constantly bombarded with there social stream. I am not sure how I would feel about my social stream being in my face every second I am online, which is most of the time considering my business is cloud based.

    Best of luck to them.

    1. There are a whole lot of other stuff they did which makes consuming large amount of data and search more easy and fun. I think that is the part you are actually going to like.

  8. Based on Chromium and unavailable for Linux. Go figure.

  9. i don’t think people want to be ‘signed in’ to their browser all the time.

    not everyone wants everything they do tracked. those people are more comfortable signing into web sites not applications.

    1. Now that is a sentiment most of us would agree, though I wonder how many folks who would be less obsessive about the “tracked” part really care. Like you, I am musing here tom.

      1. anyone who uses chrome and gmail suffers this indignity.

  10. Dear Om,

    Not many people would agree, but I am meeting more and more people who run Facebook Disconnect (on Chrome) and No Script + AdBlock(on FireFox).

    It is outright creepy to let any one third party to know about all your browsing habits.

    I would never install RockMelt and I am sure none of my friends will.

    1. pveer

      thanks for your comment. i wonder if this trend of avoiding FB is among the early adopter set, aka folks like you and me. I still think a large part of FB user base isn’t that concerned about the potential impact of being logged into FB.

      Thoughts?

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