RockMelt, a web browser designed for consuming social media and other frequently updated content, launched its beta yesterday. The browser keeps a count of fresh news feed content, persistently displays friends for quick contacting, and makes it easy to share webpages you’re viewing. The desktop application is still very similar to Google Chrome, though. Only those who are constantly bouncing between sites to check for new updates to their Facebook news feed, Twitter stream, or favorite blogs will find enough added value to switch to RockMelt.
Other companies like Wowd and Seesmic have attempted to build desktop Facebook clients but have failed to gain significant traction. RockMelt is a fast, full-featured browser built on Google’s open source browser project Chromium, and has a backing from heavyweights such as Netscape’s Marc Andressen and superangel Ron Conway. However, the less familiar interface and fears about how RockMelt could use its widespread access to user data could prevent it from finding an audience outside of social media professionals.
Users with access to the beta log-in through Facebook and give RockMelt a long list of permissions before they’re able to start browsing. A user’s friends who are online are shown down the left rail of the browser, and each can be clicked to show and their recent Facebook activity and give feedback, and contact them through Facebook Chat, private message, or wall post. Favorite friends can be added to a preferred list available through a toggle switch. Incoming and outgoing images and videos appear in-line in Chat — one improvement over Facebook.
The right rail holds: a user’s feeds, such as their Facebook news feed, friend list feeds, wall, photos, or notifications; Twitter stream, @replies, or lists; and favorite websites or blogs. Gold counters denote how many new updates have been posted to each feed since it was last viewed, reducing the need to check for new posts to these feeds — a distraction which can decrease efficiency. Users don’t have the option to view Facebook’s Top News, and activity stories such as a friend Liking a Page are not shown.
The top of the RockMelt browser includes a typeahead search bar capable of locating a user’s friends and bookmarks. When a search for keywords is made, instead of immediately bringing up search results, users can tab through previews of the results which load quickly thanks to DNS prefetching. A share button allows users to instantly begin composing a Facebook or Twitter share of the page they’re currently viewing. One deficiency of RockMelt versus browsing Facebook directly is that users can’t edit the caption text of a share, preventing users from highlighting specific text from the shared site, or adding their own additional context.
RockMelt will need to have everything Facebook has and more to attract users away from Chrome or Firefox. Its lack of a Top News feed, customized sharing, activity stories, and features which can’t be replicated with proper bookmarks could together relegate RockMelt to only a small user base.