Angela Natividad's Live & Uncensored!

10 November 2010

A Short, Rather Incomplete Rockmelt Review

...per Len Kendall's request. :P

Let's kick off with what Rockmelt is: a Chromium-based web browser developed by Tim Howes and Eric Vishria, although you'll likely hear less about them than about its hefty backer: Netscape founder Marc Andreessen. It launched two days ago and is currently still in invite-only beta.

This demo does a good job of illustrating the experience:

How Rockmelt is Shared

This is one of the first things I noticed: primary dissemination of Rockmelt is happening via Facebook. My first couple of invites came through Facebook messages, and I was like, "....the hell is this?"

There is good reason for that: it's intimately integrated with Facebook, in the sense that you can log into Rockmelt via Facebook Connect (which has the advantage of automatically populating available friends on your left-hand pane), share with great efficacy, and - this is crucial - disseminate Rockmelt invites through it as well.

Here's a feature I thought was interesting:

Post-download, you're allotted three Rockmelt invitations to offer to others. They are replenished every time somebody uses one. When you want to pass Rockmelt along, you're given a list of Facebook friends that you can share it with - but priority space is given to friends that have already requested Rockmelt access (with the most recent at the top). This ensures you're not passing an invite to someone who already has the browser, or to somebody who doesn't care.

Stuff I Like About Rockmelt

I've been using the browser less than 24 hours, so this is a drive-by review at best. As things stand, I dig the following:
  • Available Facebook friends on the left-hand pane. You can toggle this to see only friends you've favourited - meaning, huzzah, I ONLY SEE THOSE OF YOU I LIKE. (This doesn't mean I am hidden from those I don't want to see, it only means I see less of what - er, who - I don't care about at any given time.)

  • The speed. It is easily Chrome-caliber fast. The developers explain why in this TechCrunch vid.
  • Dedicated window for Facebook chat. It feels/sounds a lot like iChat. Above your discussion, you also see the livestream of the friend you're currently chatting with. Unexpectedly handy way of keeping things in context, especially when dude goes, "So have you looked at my vacation pictures yet?" Uh ...... yes.
  • Worth noting: when friends try to chat me, Facebook tells them I'm using a remote service. To send the message along, they must confirm a change in their settings (that they are willing to be visible to remote services that access Facebook chat). It isn't yet clear if that means that, in this case, the friend would just be visible to me or to all remote chat users. Settings can be changed back in Facebook's immense archives of privacy rigmarole. (Thanks Atif for walking through this with me yesterday.)
  • Being able to browse social networks, favourite blogs, profiles, Tweets, and even search without leaving my current tab. (Anything you wish to open while toggling thepane options will automatically open in a separate tab, so you never lose your place.)

  • Clean interface that does more or less what you expect. With so much material coming at you, it'd be easy to suffer from data overload. Thankfully, diversions and other tools are off to the side, which isn't distracting. And when I do decide to play with them, I don't lose track of where I am.
  • Easy delete. If I hate something I've saved, I just drag it out of the pane and - poof! - gone forever. Just like with the Mac dock.
  • Intuitive sharing feature. Easy to post links of what you're looking at on Facebook or Twitter; the Share button feels totally natural beside the URL address line.

Stuff I Do Not Like About Rockmelt

  • Can't toggle searches. It's like going back to the Yahoo days. If you run a search from the hyper-convenient right-hand pane, you get one basic stream of results, with no ability to see just images, or just news, or just blogs or videos. It seems crazy that you can't automatically expand this page to fill a tab (bringing you directly to Google) or that toggle options can't just be added to the top of search results.
  • I can't Tweet? There must be something I'm missing here. I can share, reply and retweet from inside the browser pane, but I can't self-produce a Tweet?!
  • Come to think of it, I can't update my Facebook status from here either. Small potatoes but irritating. Why go to the trouble of saving us from having to leave our pages to peruse our socnets if we can't update them from those same tools? Boooo.
  • Adding separate Twitter accounts isn't super intuitive. In fact, it doesn't work at all when I hit the "Add new Twitter account" button. And at the same time, I don't know if I necessarily want to fill my entire right pane up with Twitter accounts and sites I frequent. And I don't think it scrolls. There has to be an easier way to manage this, but for now it doesn't look like I'll be divorcing Tweetdeck anytime soon.
But this is all basic stuff that I'm sure will get sorted over the course of the test-drive. It also merits saying that I don't know if I care enough about all these features to leave Chrome. I'm giving it a full 48-hour test run; and if I can't go back to the way things were, I guess then I'll know for sure.

(There haven't been any rendering problems so far, and easy imports from other browsers mean I can fool around with Rockmelt without the irritation of having lost all my history and details. Naaaahce.)

Mass Adoption?

In his original Tweet to me, Len hit it right on the head when he said experience teaches that browser gadgets don't score mass adoption. This is true, and there are still others who are simply not into the idea of downloading one more extra goddamn thing, especially when our current browser options do the job fine.

If Rockmelt sorts out the issues I mentioned above, and fast enough, it's got a fair shot at adding one more wedge to the handful of browsers we actively use. It has funding, serious coverage, and its clever way of disseminating invites builds desire while psychologically prepping the user for a social browser experience.

If it is true that the vast majority of Facebook users log in over 7 times a day, and if compulsive Tweeters are hitting their socmedia-smack just as much, then it's fair to say it'd be cool if we didn't have to keep a tab open for Facebook, and some extra desktop client open for Twitter, all the time. If we can keep that stuff ever-present on the periphery of our overall internet experience, it'd make life a lot easier. And that sharing feature? Seriously. Priceless.

I'd say keep an eye on it, especially once your non-tech or media friends start talking about it. I doubt it'll take a long time; a social browser provides sufficiently non-geeky, addiction-enabling incentives that there are plenty of reasons for Rockmelt to go mainstream.

That's all for now. Hope it helps (...Len). If you have any thoughts to add, by all means, LEAVE A COMMENT, MAN!

There's an update to this review. Take a looky-loo.


Ex-Chief Alien said...

I watched the video on Monday. It seems slick. I don't like the Chromium base for one glaring reason. It was created by Google to ensure no Ad Blocking Add-on's like Firefox. No other reason, no matter what they say. Firefox Ad Blocker Plus blocks the Golden Google Egg, paid search results!

That being said I do like what Marc has tried to achieve here. Kind of funny if he in the end wins the browser wars. But we will see. I like the idea of an integrated platform, something I have recently blogged about. I can see a Motorola, Dell or a Verizon buying these guys to put the technology into devices.

My biggest curiosity is does it kill the Facebook/Twitter ad supported model by taking their worlds off their website platforms. It seems you don't see Facebook Ads which right now is their big revenue source. That alone would make me giddy. Though FireFox blocks those too LOL.

My last thought is for the 5 in 6 people in the US who will not be engaging on Facebook today or use social media would this be something they would want to use? Like my mom who will log in read what people post but not do anything beyond that? Which is what over half the people logging in today will do aside from playing farmville.

fairuse said...

First things 1st; I am writing this from a mobile browser because I am too lazy to walk over to the mac and use safari. I think that is where I would use this browser. Yes it is pretty. Yes it. is all warm and Facebook fuzzy. On a desktop? Not for me.

What! You yell, "But it is cool! It Tweets & does Facebook.". Ok, But I don't Facebook. I Tweet so maybe if comes to Android I will give it a go.

Candace said...

Awww I show up on your list of FB friends <3

It looks cool. But I don't think I'm sold. Then again, I didn't like twitter at first either sooo...

Atifster said...

First off...color me petty but I do NOT see myself on the left side with all your "real" friends on facebook...nice...

But in all matter how great this product maybe, isn't it a niche of a niche? Off all the facebook many are really active? How many of them who are active want an "always on" presence? My Mom and all the Pakistani relative each facebook up like ice cream in August...but they specifically get on their computers to use it... Otherwise the only time they are on-line is when they are at work and facebook is verboten...

I'm just struggling to see the market...

Anonymous said...

Hi Angela, you can post FB and Twitter updates by clicking on your profile picture in the uppper-left-hand corner of rockmelt. Give it more than a few days. The RSS Suggestions feature is awesome. After following your friend's links, you'll start to discover cool websites...pushed to you via RSS Suggestions. Sometimes, I get enough reading done on my right edge that I don't have to go to browser window. RockMelt is awesome. =)