I’m melting

Rockmelt logoYesterday I tried out a new browser – Rockmelt. I say new: Rockmelt is actually built on Chromium, the open source browser that essentially is Chrome. Chromium itself is based on the WebKit engine that also powers Safari.

The new bit is that Rockmelt integrates a social layer directly into the browser. It provides side bars (called ‘edges’) that contain your Facebook, Twitter and RSS feeds. This provides you with a constant friend presence, and keeps you notified of all new content – all without leaving whatever web page you are browsing. It also makes it easier to share the content you are browsing. Rockmelt even has its own URL shortener, me.lt.

This isn’t all that new though. The first version of the ‘social browser’ Flock was released in 2007. Flock was originally based on Mozilla, but switched to Chromium in June.

I tried Flock a while back, and haven’t used it since. I tried Rockmelt to see if it could convert me, and no – it couldn’t. In fact it seems like a rather bold attempt to succeed where Flock seemingly failed. (anecdotal, I know, but how many people do you know using Flock?)

To give Rockmelt its dues, I think it’s a superior product. I downloaded a recent version of Flock to compare. Rockmelt has a slicker, more intuitive UI and doesn’t confuse the user by promoting a proprietary account registration as soon as you install it.

In fact, I think Rockmelt does a fine job of what it sets out to do. The problem is I justĀ  don’t feel this level of integration is necessary. I consider myself a power user of both Twitter and Facebook. I stay logged into both all day long, and I never miss a notification. The thing is, I don’t struggle to achieve this. If anything, I find Rockmelt distracting. A constant indication of who is online while you’re browsing the web is not something I feel is needed. I don’t quite see the problem it is trying to solve.

I wonder how Rockmelt will manage to compete with Chrome itself. It’s hard enough getting people to switch from their default browser (Safari on Macs, IE on Windows) but beating Google on their own turf? Seems like a hell of a thing to try to do, especially with a USP of questionable usefulness.

As [Google particularly] destroy the distinctions between Internet, software, desktop and OS, how long can a product like this live? It seems that bringing additionally functionality into a standalone browser will soon seem dated. Take a look at Google’s impending Chrome tablet and it’s hard to see Rockmelt as being very revolutionary.

side note: Flock was originally based on Mozilla, and switched to Chromium in June.