RockMelt’s take on Web 2.0, browser-style

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So there’s this new web browser that’s making a buzz in the Internet. With a US$10 million investment pumped into RockMelt, one would most definitely take notice. But why do you need yet another browser when there’s already Firefox, Google Chrome, Internet Explorer (IE 9 isn’t all that bad) and perhaps even Safari (like me on my MacBook Pro).

To answer that question, you’d need to look into your web-usage pattern. Do you spend more than half a day “hanging out” on Facebook (it’s hard to imagine if you’re not)  and make sure you’re always up to date with your online social circle of friends, knowing exactly what they’re up to via their tweets and Facebook statuses? If you do, perhaps this new re-imagined browser would tickle your fancy. So go and request for an invite and hope one of your friends who’s already gotten it send his or her available invites to you!

RockMelt (though I wish it had a better name) is essentially a Chromium-based browser that has social networking elements (specifically Facebook and Twitter at this point) built into it. Yes. The same open-sourced Chromium upon which Google’s Chrome is built on. As such, most, if not all, of the extension’s built for Chrome would also work for RockMelt.

The main difference is what you’d see on the left and right edges of the browser.

When you first install and run RockMelt, you’d actually be asked to sign-in to Facebook and allow it a whole bunch of permissions. Once you get through that, RockMelt would load up and you’d see all your Facebook friends’ profile photos on the left edge and a bunch of icons on your right edge.

To better understand what RockMelt is, just check out the following video. No reason why I need to re-explain the browser when this video does a much better job at it 🙂

Now, what’s so great about this browser?

That really depends. If you’re a Facebook-nut, then RockMelt might really appeal to you. It’s a much better attempt than other browsers that’s tried to blend in social-networking capabilities into the browser itself. I’ve tried Flock before and to me, it just yet another browser with perhaps some extensions pre-installed on it. I could actually achieve the same thing with Firefox or Chrome loaded with extensions that made my life a little easier with my daily Facebook and Twitter routines.

However, RockMelt takes a somewhat similar but more native approach to social networking on the browser. For one, you won’t be able to even run it properly without signing in to Facebook. How’s that for enforcing you into the whole social networking sha-bang 🙂 Secondly, RockMelt feels like a big Facebook application with a browser in the middle. It’s integration with Facebook’s API is excellent. You almost never need to log in to anymore as the Friend Edge on the left shows all your friends who’re online as well as a list that you can selectively put into a favourite list. From the Friend Edge, you can immediately view their latest status and posts through the live stream, and even chat with them from the dialog box that pops up when you click on the profile photo.

And on the App Edge (on the right), that’s where you can view all the latest streams from your Facebook and Twitter account. You can also add in RSS feeds and pull in the latest news from around the web. All the live streams just floats over your browser and disappears as soon as you move your focus back to the web page that you’re browsing on.

Obviously, you can of course update your Facebook and Twitter statuses directly from RockMelt as well. Sharing webpages is also a breeze as there’s a dedicated Share button that allows you to post whatever you’re currently reading to your Facebook wall or Twitter account.

And taking the live stream concept one step further, the search bar on RockMelt displays its results somewhat like a stream as well, allowing you to click through the results on the floating dialog box and previewing the results by loading it on the active tab.

Everything else however works the same just as your typical Chrome browser.

What’s then so different with RockMelt versus the rest of the browsers? In my opinion, it’s all down the how it now allows you to use the browser in a much more natural and intuitive way. RockMelt does not attempt to develop and include cool BUT technical features like tab groups (ala Firefox 4). Instead, it attempts to provide us users with a natural way of interacting and socialising the web.

In my short time using RockMelt, it feels as though I’m in a library with my bunch of friends, each one of us browsing through the vast selection of titles and each reading our own books. And when I find something interesting, I’m able to quickly hop over to a friend who’s also there and sharing it with him or her. And perhaps even posting about it on the bulletin board where everyone else can share my thoughts. That’s how natural RockMelt has made it seem to be.

Of course there are much room for improvements. For one, it needs to blend in other social networking sites more intuitively and seamlessly rather than treating Facebook as Facebook alone, and Twitter as Twitter alone. As a user, my status updates is most times is a single status update which I might want to channel to various circle of friends (social networking platforms). Perhaps even merging the various life streams into a single unified stream.

And of course, there’s also much to be done on the performance of the browser. It does get sluggish at times, especially when loading up a pretty long stream from Facebook or Twitter.

But for what it’s worth, RockMelt does have a lot of potential to be one that’s widely accepted in today’s social-centric netizens. And for now, if not for some incompatibility with some extensions that I need to use on a regular basis, it would have been my default browser for the moment.

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