Constant sharing: Rockmelt’s interface makes it easy to post to Facebook no matter what site a user is visiting. Clicking the share button, above, which is prominently posted next to the URL bar, will quickly publish information to a user’s social network.
On the right side of the screen, Rockmelt has an “apps edge” that provides updates from Facebook, Twitter, and other sites that users select. It’s nice to have this information pushed to the screen—the designers have done a good job of making it clear that there are new updates without allowing them to become invasive.
Facebook, however, is the clear first-class citizen, and all other sites are secondary. I found that updates from Facebook appeared almost instantly, while updates from my Twitter accounts and other feeds were sluggish or nonexistent.
This points to the central fact about Rockmelt. It’s not a generic “social browser.” It’s a Facebook browser. Many products have promised to manage all of a user’s social accounts from one place. Rockmelt doesn’t seem to aspire to that, and this is good. Dealing with too many social accounts can get clunky. Rockmelt instead turns the browser into a smooth social connector for the Web.
This design strength, however, could leave it vulnerable. Facebook has already said it wants to weave its features into the fabric of pages across the Web, and it has technology in place to do it. In fact, Rockmelt relies on this very infrastructure, provided by Facebook, for its social integration.
If good Facebook integration already exists on the pages a user visits, Rockmelt might seem like an unnecessary addition. For example, Skype recently added a Facebook tab within its own software that lets users see news from Facebook contacts and facilitates getting in touch with them through the Internet calling service. Facebook is also cozy with Microsoft, which invested $240 million in the company in 2007, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see some of Facebook’s social features eventually get baked into Internet Explorer.
On the other side of Rockmelt’s balancing act is Google. Rockmelt’s chat feature, for example, is attractive, but Google might be able to see the challenge and raise it. Within Gmail, Google has already shown itself to be adept at putting together a variety of good communication options. Google could easily add its own chat application to Chrome, for example, if it wanted to start its own push for social features.
Even if Rockmelt successfully fends off challenges from these two giants and manages to establish a strong following for itself, it’s unclear how the company could make money from the browser. Sure, Mozilla, which produces the Firefox browser, makes money, but it relies heavily on Google, which pays to be the default search engine in Firefox. Rockmelt probably would have to find a different revenue stream.