We keep waiting for the trendy startup of the week to be something actually amazing. And every week we watch all the blogs dust off their kneepads, polish up their invite status, and tell us about the glitter farts poofed out by the latest startup darling.
Foop foop! It's the sound of exclusive beta invites!
Hoping for the best, we took the bait on this week's launch, the Facebook web browser RockMelt. You probably hoped it would melt our ice-cold hearts. (We'll admit to a little thawing.)
Available by Facebook invite only -- if you have "status" for approval at this stage -- RockMelt is a Chromium web application that you download, install and run like any other browser. Specific to RockMelt is that it requires Facebook login to operate, so if you turn on the sprinklers every time the Facebook kids play on your lawn, then you will want to avoid RockMelt as if it were a rock made of flesh-eating bacteria.
If you are one of the Facebook Borg, it may be an interesting experience for you. RockMelt basically rubs Facebook with Chrome until it makes a demon baby of a slick interface. Super simple and extremely fast, you browse the Internet with all of your friends from Facebook riding shotgun in the left column and makes sharing links, reviews and chats with your friends much easier than Facebook itself.
The right hand column sports a row of customizable buttons for Twitter and all the other RSS feeds you want to keep on your top ten list of most frequent places to waste time online when you should be working.
There's a wholly unnecessary "search" box (you can search the address bar just like in Chrome), but overall it's a pretty streamlined social browsing experience. To that effect it's a peek at the future of social browsing; hanging out with your friends while hanging out online in real time. Do not let grandpa Perlow get confused and call it FlockMelt.
Other than that, it's annoying. Not because it's trendy and exclusive; this too shall pass. And not because we have anything against the guy who made it (with a giant team), Marc Andreessen who also made Netscape. And no, not because we hate sharing.
RockMelt is irritating because Facebook is irritating. And something so smooth and simple offered the promise of actually being able to use Facebook better.
When we clicked "accept" to let it share information with Facebook, there was that overwhelming creeping feeling of realizing that the dark soul-snatchers gathering our personal information at Facebook were now going to have even more information about us. Like, our search and browsing habits -- accidental or otherwise. It feels like Chrome, but there's no "Incognito" mode, thus no way to feel in control of our privacy. Great, because it had been at least a full minute since we'd worried about our privacy online.
The real heartbreak with RockMelt came when we realized there was no way to really fine-tune the mess known as our Facebook contacts. RockMelt allows you to see who is online, and separate out "starred" favorites into a separate list. But then that list is in alphabetical order, and that's that.
What about all those people you don't care about who you are sorta friends with but don't want to share anything with? They're right there! That guy – you know, that guy – the one who comments on everything you do and is online all the time just in case you are too? That guy who makes you feel like Facebook is humping your leg every time you log in? He's right there!
RockMelt should make it so your News Feed is right there up front but with the selected people you actually want to keep up with (instead of Facebook's sekrit-filter feed you get without any choice). And RockMelt should have had a clue about picking and choosing your friends. But no, you can't filter out your real friends because RockMelt is a cave tool; a blunt instrument for an all-or-nothing Facebook browsing experience.
The potential for RockMelt to solve some of Facebook's more serious and grave irritations is great; perhaps that's why we're so let down. Not to mention that it didn't auto-suggest the actual most-visited sites for the RSS reader -- it seems to be mildly allergic to NSFW content, so we're also left wondering about background filters. Which are for our own safety, of course.
If you love and love Facebook, but hate the drag of Facebook's UI, this is for you. We'd hate to see RockMelt sink like a stone before it's out of beta; but until it actually improves Facebook, which is at its core, we still think paper beats rock.