Why I'm suspicious of the Facebook 'RockMelt' browser

Why I'm suspicious of the Facebook 'RockMelt' browser

Summary: In the 21st century, the main portal to your life besides the front door to your home is the window of your Web browser.That's why the competition between Microsoft and Mozilla and Apple and Google (and Opera and...


In the 21st century, the main portal to your life besides the front door to your home is the window of your Web browser.

That's why the competition between Microsoft and Mozilla and Apple and Google (and Opera and...) is so intense and so important. If the Internet has defined how you experience computers and the world, the vehicle in which you do it becomes vitally significant.

On Thursday, Netscape founder and Silicon Valley entrepreneur Marc Andreessen declared his backing of startup RockMelt, which is building a new, "different" Internet browser that intends to pair with social networking giant Facebook to extend the "real identity" aspect of that company to Web browsing.

RockMelt is interesting because it was co-founded by Eric Vishria and Tim Howes, both former executives at Opsware, a company that Andreessen co-founded and sold (Howes actually goes further back with Andreessen, to Netscape).

Andreessen, it should be said, also sits on Facebook's board of directors.

Thanks to its connections, it's clear that RockMelt will make considerable headway on the Facebook platform. The question -- beyond whether they'll get it right and avoid backlash from the vox populi -- is whether Facebook is big enough to leverage significant market share in the general Web browsing market.

That may not necessarily be the company's goal. But I've found that proprietary browsing tactics -- from Facebook's current method of managing external links (an in-house link that reroutes to the intended destination) and its Connect service to that old standby, HTML frames -- tend to fall flat.

When people want to surface content, they don't like hoops to jump through and new navigation schemes to learn. Really, they're already using a browser if they're on your site.

But that may not be what RockMelt has in mind.

A New York Times article details what little there is to know about RockMelt at this time:

The policy says that a person could use a Facebook ID to log into RockMelt, suggesting that the browser may be tailored to display Facebook updates and other features as users browse the Web. Another browser, Flock, based on Firefox, already incorporates feeds from social networking sites.

The article goes on to explain how Andreessen respects the browser business model, with Mozilla as an example. But Mozilla recently admitted in another article that it is almost entirely dependent on Google's payments to survive -- and now that Chrome's in town (on PC, soon Mac, and wherever else thanks to the existing Android and announced Chrome operating systems), those payments may be on the way out.

Monetizing a free product can be difficult, of course. Even when distribution has been achieved.

It's hard to say what will come of this partnership with so little known information about it. Still, I have a hard time imagining what a browser would look like that's integrated with Facebook, short of a home page of, yes, Facebook.com.

If the RockMelt browser exists within Facebook, it won't be playing on the same field as the other browsers and will prove redundant.

But if it doesn't -- meaning it would be a standalone browser that you fire up just like any other -- it not only has to achieve performance and feature and usability parity with the competition (on several platforms, no less), but provide enough integration with Facebook to make a user's Web browsing experience improved enough to justify switching.

And people tend to be very loyal.

The undercurrent among all this leverage. Microsoft leveraged Internet Explorer well because it held dominance over the operating system at a time when OSes were more important than anything else. Microsoft slipped, and Mozilla gained, partly because it allowed its product to detract from the Web browsing experience. (You could say that instead of a simple hinged door to the web, it was more of a revolving model.) And Mozilla's pairing with Google became a prescient move as that company grew exponentially.

But now Google's prepared to throw its weight around and leverage Chrome (the browser) with Android and Chrome (the operating system). Microsoft continues, despite a few setbacks, to push Internet Explorer via Windows. Meanwhile, a renewed Apple is using its growing multiplatform existence (Macs, iPhones, iPods) to push Safari.

All of these companies have multiple channels, as well as domination in one area. With RockMelt, I see the dominant position (social networking), but I don't yet see the channels.

Topics: Social Enterprise, Browser

Andrew Nusca

About Andrew Nusca

Andrew Nusca is a former writer-editor for ZDNet and contributor to CNET. During his tenure, he was the editor of SmartPlanet, ZDNet's sister site about innovation.

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  • Why I'm suspicious of the Facebook 'RockMelt' browser

    It does sound a lot like the flock browser. My concern would be the advertisements in the browser, are they going to show my friends pictures in all of them? Then ask me if i want to take the IQ quiz?
    Loverock Davidson
    • Great point.

      That's a great point, actually: RockMelt must be careful with its association with Facebook.

      There is both an upside and downside to being "The Facebook browser."
  • RE: Why I'm suspicious of the Facebook 'RockMelt' browser

    Ads would be my thought too...Incorporate their ad network into the browser in an attempt to get around Google's in-page ads.
  • How many freaking browsers do we need?

    I will admit I hate IE. However it is getting crazy sound like a niche market. Next will be the MySpace browser etc.

    I can see having Firefox and maybe Opera but how many web browsers do we really need?
    • Seriously

      One for me: Firefox. They won me over with Tabs, and have kept me there with Add-ins. Unless they royally screw up, or another browser with something astoundingly compelling comes along, I'll stick with what I use.

      I also rarely use IE whenever a page doesn't work in FF (I try IE tab first, but more often than not it's better to just use straight IE).

      Too many freaking browsers!
  • RE: Why I'm suspicious of the Facebook 'RockMelt' browser

    hI I would just like to say that why are they trying to make another browser that is completley unecessary and why do I want to spend more time downloading a third browser to just look at facebook when I have Firefox witch works just fine. Plus why do we need another browser on our computers to take up uneccessary space. I think instead of building another browser all these big companies like Microsoft apple and opera should figure out how to make the browsers we use everyday figure out how to make them more sure and less of a target for security problems and issues.
  • RE: Why I'm suspicious of the Facebook 'RockMelt' browser

    RockMelt is doing what Flock did a couple of years back... Flock integrates with far more number of social networks...
  • Why a judgment before using the product?

    Granted, there is a lot of user inertia, but for heaven's sake, try the thing out before judging it. I am disappointed in the intrinsic bias of technical sites against small companies: One one hand, a lot of space is given for Chrome, a mediocre browser faster by perhaps a few milliseconds than any other browser, on the other hand, a negative judgment is passed against another browser before it has even seen the light of day. A newer product, provided it is innovative enough is always good news.
  • RE: Why I'm suspicious of the Facebook 'RockMelt' browser

    ANusca is not really against it..by bringing it out to are attention, with a few of his good thoughts, he is preping us for it, if it should materialise. I don't see the need for another browser, but others may, and if it's really good, why not? It IS good to be aware of the history behind it. Personally, I distrust both facebook and google and avoid them when I can. I wonder how Rockmelt will affect the "security" & "privacy" of Facebook ?
  • Facebook wants its own browser...

    to shut up the complainers about the problems Facebook has with FF and IE. Facebook breaks on a regular basis, and many of the apps break. Facebook wants a browser that accommodates its standards (or lack thereof) so that Facebook doesn't have to design to accepted web standards and can throw any crap out there any way it wants, as long as its own custom browser will display it.

    Social networking becoming anti-social.
    big red one
  • RE: Why I'm suspicious of the Facebook 'RockMelt' browser

    Looks great! This just makes sense to me. I had to use Facebook to request the beta, so they are starting right away integrating with known social network sites.

  • A different angle

    I first have to say this is one of the best blog posts ive read in ages! Very informative, interesting and a quick read.

    "All of these companies have multiple channels, as well as domination in one area. With RockMelt, I see the dominant position (social networking), but I don?t yet see the channels."

    While I dont think that the big boys are going anywhere just yet, I believe that in order to stay competitive every browser will end up being a "social media browser". If rockmelt or someone else delivers, then that one channel will eventually be the one that everyone is fighting for. In a very short time the whole web will end up being one giant social network. its almost that way now. The connections with facebook are a little fishy and its sad to say but thats how those big companies become and remain big.
  • good idea about facebook

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  • RE: Why I'm suspicious of the Facebook 'RockMelt' browser

    ygokce,good post!