RockMelt: Dumb or Stupid? You Decide

We need yet another Web browser like we need a hole in the head.

Just to get RockMelt's beta requires granting it Facebook account access.

By my count, there are three really important Web browsers today: Chrome, Firefox, and Internet Explorer. There are also two others that are good enough, Opera and Safari, that they're worth considering. So, really why the heck should I think that there's room for yet another Web browser, the much ballyhooed RockMelt?

Seriously, as the guy who first reported on the Web for a popular publication back in 1993, I've seen more Web browsers than I can recall, and I really don't see a lot of reason for yet another one. Sure, there was a time when we really needed a new Web browser to free us from the horror that was, and is, IE 6, but that was in 2004, and Firefox unlocked us from IE 6. Today, we already have many excellent Web browser choices. So, really, what's the point of another one?

The logic behind RockMelt is that you can take the open-source Chromium Web browser code, which powers Chrome, and pair it up with Facebook, Twitter, and RSS integration to produce a super social-network savvy Web browser. I'd be a lot more impressed by the potential of this idea if it wasn't that it's already been tried in Flock.

Technically, I wouldn't call Flock, which is also built on top of Chromium and also works hand-in-glove with Facebook and Twitter, a failure. In fact, I rather like it. The bottom line though is that after years of being on the market, according to Net Applications' NetMarkets statistics for October 2010 Flock has a pathetic 0.05% of the Web browser market.

So why I, or anyone else, think that RockMelt will do better? Yes, it has Marc Andreessen, the co-creator of Mosaic, the first popular graphical Web browser, and founder of Netscape behind it, but it's been a long, long time since Andreessen hit a home-run. As a technical innovator these days, Andreessen is a fine venture-capitalist.

Since Andreessen is also on Facebook's board of directors and was an early investor in Twitter we can also safely presume that RockMelt will work well with both social networks. But, is having a Web browser that integrates well with Facebook and Twitter really that big a deal?

I don't think so. First, I'm not crazy about how social networks, particularly Facebook, invade privacy. Just to get on the beta list, I had to give permission to Rockport to access my public Facebook account information, the ability to send me e-mail, and--this is the one that really bugs me--the right to post messages, images and video to my Facebook wall. I don't like giving any Facebook program this much power, never-mind just a tricked-out Web browser.

Second, we already know from Flock that there's the basic idea isn't very attractive. Finally, I'd rather use a general purpose Web-browser for all sites than have to use two: one that's customized for Facebook and Twitter and another for everything else.

At the end of the day, I see RockMelt as a Web browser answer for a problem that doesn't really exist. If social networks are really important to you, chances are you're already using a free client like TweetDeck or Gwibber. If they're just part of what you do on the Web, then you visit them with your favorite Web-browser. Sorry, I don't see RockMelt fitting in anywhere except down with Flock in the also-ran deeps of Web browser listings.

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