Yeah, I think it can. Rockmelt entered a limited beta today and, backed by Marc Andreessen (you know, that guy who invented Netscape), stands a chance of seriously disrupting the browser market, particularly among the Generation X and Y social media sets.
Here's a video from Rockmelt that, while a bit cheesy, gives a good idea of what the new browser is all about:
Rockmelt's blog gives quite a few more details about the new browser. In particular, it turns out that it's not so new, at least under the hood. In fact, it's based on the same Chromium project that is the basis for Google's Chrome browser. It shares its WebKit underpinnings with Safari as well, but, as the Rockmelt blog points out, "It’s your browser – re-imagined and built for how you use the Web."
I don't spend huge amounts of time on Facebook or Twitter, but I do find that people increasingly contact me through those media rather than email. Given that, Rockmelt starts looking increasingly useful even for relatively casual social media users. For the people who spend their days immersed in social media (like my kids and 90% of the college students on the planet and every marketing professional who's graduated in the last 2 years), suddenly Rockmelt starts sounding like an essential tool.
Where this new browser can potentially extend its reach beyond Facebook and Twitter junkies, though, is through its automatic RSS and site update feeds:
Behind the scenes, RockMelt is always working on your behalf. Do you visit the same site 10 times a day, checking for new posts or updates? Well, RockMelt keeps track of all your favorite sites for you, alerting you when a new story comes out, a friend posts new pictures, or a new video is available. And when you open a RockMelt feed, the content is already waiting for you. You can Like, comment, reply, retweet, share...
Add in Rockmelt's purported enhancements to search and a snappy interface (again, we're taking their word for it at the moment, although early preview reviews have been positive) and we just might have a winner.
Rockmelt has a few hurdles in front of it. The big 4 (Internet Explorer, Firefox, Chrome, and Safari) are pretty well entrenched with users and Rockmelt is only available now in very limited beta to Facebook users (you sign up at rockmelt.com and will receive an email invitation when a download is available for you). To fully realize the utility of Rockmelt, users must also log in to the browser. According to Rockmelt,
Wherever you go on the Internet, RockMelt makes the Web a personal experience. Because RockMelt is the first browser you log into, it unlocks your Web experience with your Facebook friends, your feeds, your favorite services, even your bookmarks and preferences. RockMelt is also the first browser to be fully backed by the cloud. This means you can access your personal browsing experience from anywhere, and you get quick updates from the people and sites that are important to you.
This means that if users become invested in Rockmelt's interface and its means of interacting with social media, then it will be something of a chore to switch back to Firefox on a public machine or corporate PC where Rockmelt isn't installed. This could actually drive adoption and demand, but I'm inclined to see it as a challenge for users.
Of course, this also means that a whole lot of information about you is sitting out in the cloud somewhere. It's actually all sitting out there anyway, but Rockmelt conveniently pulls it all together for you. And then tracks it. And learns your likes, dislikes, patterns, and preferences. The same can be said of Google, of course, but given that Marc Andreessen sits on the Facebook Board of Directors and Rockmelt uses your Facebook ID to log you in to the browser and various federated services, one has to wonder just how much data will flow to Facebook.
Facebook isn't known for its transparency or its ability to keep your data private.
ZDNet's Andrew Nusca threw out all sorts of concerns, thoughts, and speculations over a year ago when he first covered Andreessen's backing of the project. Many of his questions remain unanswered and only the next few months of beta testing and user adoption will give us a clue as to just how disruptive this browser will really be.