Behold RockMelt, Browser for the Social Set

50 Comments

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 (s vmw) co-founder Dianne Greene, Intuit’s (s intu) 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) (s msft), Google (Chrome) (s goog), Mozilla (Firefox) and Apple (Safari) (s aapl). 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.)

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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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50 Comments

Laura

The demo looks extremely good. Different and looking for some more updates on the Facebook usage. When it is easier, people do use it.

Cory

Facebook should just go ahead and buy these guys and release a branded “Facebook” browser. At least it will have brand value and a chance at major traction. Beat Google to the social browsing game and you may have a profitable product.

These guys are on to something, but the execution seems a bit off.

Rob Daniel

I’ve used only briefly – but as I set into a rhythm browsing the web, I found that I no longer ctrl+tab half as much. Having twitter and facebook so accessible allows me to watch a video and check my social networks all while staying engaged on the same window.

This might only take off for multi-taskers like myself but as of now, I’m a BIG fan.

Bryan M.

So you have to connect with them via FB. Can you unconnect with them after you download the browser? Or is FB Connect *required* to run the Browser. If it is, I’m not using it.

Evelyn

If you have to “sign in” to surf the web, I’m not in! FaceBook already has two (or more) hits against them for selling info, and I don’t need more spam email – or a new FB Virus spread conveniently through a browser. I’m a no too.

carlos bhola

Check out http://www.kikin.com. Instead of asking users to switch browsers, kikin works with popular browsers (IE, Firefox, Chrome, Safari). And kikin offers more than that which is described above: social networking (FB, Twitter); search; favorites; relevant supporting content/services; share … in fact, kikin’s share goes beyond just FB and includes Twitter, email, etc. Look for more good stuff soon from kikin … more of users’ favorite stuff, more than our current 1.5MM active users, making more money, etc.

Nitin

Why is this required? Can’t it be done with firefox addons, or chrome extemsions, or opera widgets………….

r00fus

I think all the browser talk is missing the point.

RockMelt is an App that happens to use Chrome as it’s base.
It looks to me like what Google Wave should have been.

I’m still not sold that it will take off, but it’s not (just) a browser.

Blogger

that seems to be a good web browser…

but I think it will have to struggle a lot to get over all the current browsers…!

Jay

I get the comments regarding continuous tracking by FB. I also get how the Rockmelt functionality could be super convenient and complete when I’m in that “social” part of my daily workflow. Is there a possible case for a multi-browser web workflow for those who are savvy enough to want this level of integration and immersion? Could Rockmelt’s success be as a social app that you use for just that purpose?

jDesai

Connect with Facebook. Well that makes sense heh. But I was a little disappointed that it’s still not ready yet. For a downloadable executable, atleast a beta should be available on the day they publicize the product for the first time.

Dylan Combs

This actually looks pretty nice, I just don’t think it’ll take off. Users don’t need yet another browser, and certainly not one that looks like Chrome with some added features.

zaphod

Looks more nifty than Flock for sure. Plus looks a lot like chromium with a bunch of addons – and taking up screen real-estate. That said, the features are interesting and going by the numbers that are given out for people using fB, twitter, Youtube, flickr & foursquare, one can only assume that if the marketing is done right, this will get more than a few users.

For some paranoid people(me included) who like to keep the interconnect between different websites and applications as loose as possible, this might become a nightmare. But i’ll try it out just once to see what it feels like. Wonder how many hours in “lost productivity” for the world though ;)

RJP

I don’t think it will fly. The browser is becoming an application platform as well as a media and social platform.

This doesn’t look to me to be a great UI for working on a project, mindmap, chart or document.

There is a market, of course, in that subset of the population that thinks Facebook and ‘The Web’ are synonymous. But FaceBook isn’t actually as big as is constantly reported. There are a huge number of dormant and rarely used accounts in their. Even many keen social networkers like myself who have FB pages don’t really use them – we just pipe our status update streams into or out of other sites and applications.

Their best hope at getting rich is that FB will buy them.

There are niches for special purpose browsers. (e.g. The LastPass browser for the iPad.)

But in the generic browser market I think Chrome, (and from the UI point of view IE 9) reflect the winning design philosophy – build a browser that is an excellent host for Web 2.0 application with a good extensions architecture for the kind of doo-dads that RockMelt provides, and get rid of as much chrome (ironic isn’t it?) as possible.

Personally I also think the majority of tweeters, diggers, facebookers, wordpressers, and stumbleuponers are like me: Considering social computing to be excellent fun in moderation. When eighty percent of your computer time is spent in the browser using RockMelt would be like attending a social networking kegger.

dan

I second Mike’s assertion. Here’s why I say it:

1. Handing over all of my browsing data to Facebook. Aint gonna happen. #fail
2. I dont spend all of my time online looking at friends statuses #pathetic
3. if I have to drop out of it to do non-social browsing (because I dont want fb knowing I’m buying a car and paying my credit card bill), why use it at all? #private
4. operating systems are pushing integration of these types of services on to a variety of hardware already (Ubuntu, Android, WebOS…) #latetotheparty
5. no linux support. #weak

mike

Om,

For the simple fact that they seem to employ more people than Flock ever did (and I have no idea how much they have raised). Flock raised $28 million and are almost dead with no user base to speak of.

RockMelt will fail even harder because desktop browsing is on the way down and everybody’s moving to mobile platforms.

There’s also no money in desktop browsers… unless you can crack that 5-10% usage level and get a search box deal from google.

Om Malik

Dan

I read their privacy policy and it doesn’t seem like they are giving FB any data. It needs to make sure fewer and fewer people are concerned about handing data over to FB and addicted to the browser. My guess is that they are going to stay independent and grow the user base to a point where FB can snap them up. #conspiracytheory ;-)

raaiman

I think the direction nowadays was to add social layers into more ‘sticky’ properties like chat. if they would to do this ontop of a chat app, i think it would make more sense.

pveer

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.

Om Malik

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?

tom

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.

Om Malik

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.

EntrepreNerd

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.

Om Malik

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.

Eric

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.

Mtzb

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.

Will

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.

Shai Goldman

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.

Om Malik

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.

superset

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

ha. yeah. like i’ll use this. and no.

Om Malik

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.

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