Could RockMelt Become the New Third Party in the Browser Campaigns?

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default logged-in experience. [RockMelt doesn’t work as intended unless users are logged into their Facebook accounts.] We were the first to push content through the app edges. And we were the first to build in chat across tabs. Now we are working on moving the ball forward in all three of those areas.”

A few weeks ago RockMelt introduced a new option for App Edge apps called Social Reading. If you open the CNN app and turn on the Social Reading option, for example, you can see a list of people in your network who have read specific CNN stories, and others will be able to see which stories you read. It’s classic collaborative filtering: the idea is to help users tap their social networks to find worthwhile content. In the Beta5 release, a feed of stories that friends are reading will show up in more places in the browser, such as the new tab page. (That’s an often-viewed page because it’s what shows up after you’ve opened a new tab but before you’ve navigated to a specific URL.)

The New Tab page in RockMelt Beta5

The new tab page will also feature big photos of friends who are online, to entice users to start chat conversations. And the startup is overhauling the way the “omnibox” works—that’s the area where you type Web addresses, but as the name suggests, it now has many other functions. If you type a friend’s name, the omnibox will bring up their picture and give you links for jumping directly to their Facebook profile, sending them a Facebook message, or writing on their Facebook wall. “With Facebook rolling out Timeline, we’re seeing that it’s so much more fun to peruse your friends online,” says Vishria. “This is all the goodness Timeline has to offer with direct navigation from the omnibox.”

RockMelt’s programmers have also made it easier to manage the apps in the App Edge. The edge is now expandable and scrollable, to make it easier to reposition or delete apps. And there’s a new App Center where users can browse more than 150 information sites whose content feeds are available as RockMelt apps.

Overall, the new features in RockMelt Beta 5 are meant to assist with tasks like information discovery and sharing that users of other browsers must handle on their own, Vishria says. “We are trying to solve a general problem, which is how do we make it easier for people to interact with their friends and find great Web content,” he says.

The formula seems to hold special appeal for young audiences: Vishria says 60 percent of RockMelt’s users are under 25. These users tend to see RockMelt as “their fun browser,” he says—the one they use when they want to spend time on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, or YouTube, or see what their friends are doing. (When they really have to buckle down and get some work done, these users can go into “quiet mode,” which turns off both edges and blocks incoming chat requests. That’s a feature I use a lot.)

While Web browsers for PCs and laptops are clearly gaining in sophistication—“all browsers are going to be social in the next few years,” Vishria predicts—there’s also a competing trend underway that I’ll call “appification,” for lack of a better word. I’m talking about the spread of news reading apps (many of them social) and native versions of Facebook, Twitter, and other social networking services on smartphones and tablets. As I argued in my first review of RockMelt back in November 2010, the company has picked a challenging time to enter the browser market: not only do Vishria and his 39 employees have to contend with IE, Firefox, and Chrome, but users are abandoning the desktop Web by the millions, preferring to do much of their news browsing, tweeting, and chatting on their iPads, iPhones, and Android devices.

Yesterday was my chance to find out what Vishria thinks about appification. He had an interesting and nuanced response. “Yes, you can go and have an isolated Facebook experience or an isolated Twitter experience,” he says. “But the beauty of the Web is links. You can click on something and … Next Page »

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Wade Roush is a freelance science and technology journalist and the producer and host of the podcast Soonish. Follow @soonishpodcast

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