Rockmelt - How big is the threat to Google?

Rockmelt hasn't fundamentally changed the browser game yet. It does have some things going for it along with enough annoyances to keep Google from shaking in its boots too much.

I wrote about Rockmelt earlier this week, asking if "Rockmelt's social media mojo can take on the browser giants?" Since the new browser jumped into beta Monday, the blogosphere has been buzzing with mixed reviews of the new so-called "Facebook Browser." Given that Google's biggest competitive threat is arguably Facebook and that Rockmelt is built on Chromium, the real question is what sort of threat Rockmelt represents for Google?

ZDNet's Violet Blue (I still can't believe that Violet Blue is now writing for us - my kids might actually start reading ZDNet) had few kind words for the browser and on many points I agree with her:

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, of course, is in beta, so we can expect a lot of refinement in the months to come, but her points are well-taken. It simply isn't revolutionary enough. It doesn't immerse me in the social web in the way that it needs to or that one might expect watching the company's promotional videos. An easy example? Although I have a Twitter feed in one of the sidebars, when I click the embedded link to "Go to Twitter" it fails to sign me in using the credentials that are providing me the feed.

So what does this mean in terms of the competitive landscape? A few things.

  1. It certainly won't have most Chrome users jumping ship to take advantage of that really tight social web integration because the integration isn't all that tight. It's handy and promotes sharing and interaction in a single tool, but it has a long ways to go.
  2. People aren't going to stop Googling anytime soon either. Facebook search isn't integrated with the browser and, being a Chromium-based remix, has all of Chrome's hooks to Google search, including address-bar searching and native HTML 5 support.
  3. It's faster than Chrome and has a smaller memory footprint, despite their common underpinnings. Clearly there have been some optimizations at that level and this is one reason to switch from Chrome.
  4. It's one thing to use Facebook extensively; it's another to let Facebook know everything you do, everywhere you go, and require you to log in to your Facebook account to allow it to capture all of these data. As Violet Blue put it,

    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.

    That's enough to at least slow adoption a bit. The Facebook-as-Big-Brother feature is just a bit much, especially when the required login to Rockmelt/Facebook doesn't even net me some reasonable federation on Facebook-connected websites.

I don't, however, share Violet's urge to throw the browser out the window. Frankly, it's too fast for me not to like it and it keeps me out of Facebook and TweetDeck a bit by allowing me to manage my sharing on Twitter and Facebook right from the browser. For now, it's my default browser. As the Facebook-Google competition plays out further over the next few months, we'll see how the browser evolves and if I can stand having Facebook know as much or more about me than Google.

Also see further ZDNet coverage on Rockmelt: