The Implications of a New Browser
Thereâ€™s a new web browser in town called RockMelt. Despite its odd name, thereâ€™s nothing odd about whoâ€™s backing it â€“ none other than Marc Andreessen, co-founder of Netscape (you remember Netscape, donâ€™t you?) and now a principal in a venture capital firm. Andreessen and others have funded RockMelt to the tune of just under $10 million.
Andreessen told the New York Times, â€œWe think it is a fantastic time to build a company around a browser.â€ Gosh, dÃ©jÃ vu all over again.
RockMelt will undoubtedly have a difficult time attracting mainstream use. Microsoftâ€™s Internet Explorer still dominates, battling Mozillaâ€™s Firefox for the lead. Googleâ€™s Chrome and Appleâ€™s Safari round out the top four. RockMelt will be lucky just to attract a modest following.
But the real story is not so much if this browser will be competitive, but rather what RockMelt implies. It turns out that RockMelt may well be more important for its view of the future than its ability to win the browser wars. â€œHad we known about Facebook and Twitter and Google back in â€™92 or â€™93, we would have built them into the browser,â€ Marc Andreessen tells the Times. â€œThis is an opportunity to go back and do it right.â€
Indeed, the most intriguing aspect of RockMelt, available in limited beta, is the fact that it is downright sociable. This is a browser with social networking features built right in. Running along the sides of the RockMelt browser window are two visual strips, if you will. On the left are photos of a userâ€™s friends, and on the right are icons for a userâ€™s favorite social networking sites. A few clicks and a user can add or remove friends, chat with them, update their status, share videos, and more.
â€œThis is the beginning of what we think browsers will look like in the next decade,â€ says Eric Vishria, RockMeltâ€™s co-founder. Tim Howes, the other co-founder, adds, â€œWe built features into the browser to address peopleâ€™s three top browsing behaviors: interacting with friends, consume news and information, and searching.â€
Early reviews suggest RockMelt has promise. PC magazine compares it to Flock, another web browser that claims to be â€œsocial.â€ Michael Muchmore writes:
â€œOne way I prefer RockMelt to Flock is in RockMelt you don’t have to make a new RockMelt account the way you have to make a new Flock account to fully take advantage of that browserâ€™s social extras. RockMelt also lets you do more with Facebook right in the browser, without having to actually load the Facebook page â€”newsfeed viewing, chatting, posting. â€¦
â€¦if you live on Facebook and Twitter and donâ€™t mind allowing access to your social data, RockMelt is superior to Flock.â€
As for search, RockMelt apparently anticipated â€œGoogle instant previews,â€ Googleâ€™s just-introduced feature. According to TechCrunch, Googleâ€™s preview seems to load faster, but it displays a smaller, virtually unreadable version of a web page to the side. RockMeltâ€™s approach is to actually load the site. Both offer â€œvisual search previews,â€ just in different formats.
Whether or not RockMelt can chip away and grab market share from Internet Explorer, Firefox, Chrome, Safari, or a host of lesser browsers is a big question. But this browser may well have set the tone for the future with its smart integration of social networking features â€“ and a few search features that arenâ€™t too shabby either. Whatâ€™s likely to happen is that current browsers will ultimately look dated next to the hipper RockMelt, suggesting that new versions of the old stand-bys will be just around the corner. That alone could make RockMelt significant, because it will have pushed its competitors to a new level of social awareness.