Flash Review of RockMelt, a New 'Social' Browser

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A new browser with Twitter and Facebook embedded into it debuted in a closed beta test today. It's called RockMelt, and though it's based on Google Chrome, it's different enough to warrant trying out. 


The sprinkle of magic comes in the form of panes on the left and right hand sides of the main browser bar. On the left, you've got all your Facebook friends who are online. Click on any of them and you see their latest status updates. You've got the option to chat them up, too. On the right side, you've got easy access to whatever social media accounts you set up. I've got Twitter and Facebook over there, and it's nice to be able to stay in the browser window, hit a button, and have all my Tweets slide over in a well-designed pane. If I were a new Twitter user and didn't have a whole set of habits in place, this would probably be the only way that I ended up using the service. It just feels natural and easy to have your timeline embedded in your browser. 

The only other feature that I've noted is that there is a "Share" button up near the URL. Click there and you can post to the social media site of your choice. It's nice not having to use the bit.ly sidebar or an equivalent tool. 

But here's the thing, at least for me. When you're a heavy social media user, you develop your own habits and ways of managing your information flow. Those habits become ingrained over a year or two. I still use Twhirl as a Twitter client. Not because I think it's the best but because I'm used to its quirks. If RockMelt is aiming to convert people like me, they've got to climb over deep ruts in our fingers and minds. I'm not sure that RockMelt is sufficiently better than other browsers to make me switch over. 

And there is one annoying bit of UI design, too. When you search for things in the upper right search box, it presents your results in a drop down pane. I'm not sure why, but I really dislike the way that works. 

Bottom line: the only people I can imagine really going wild for RockMelt are very heavy Facebook users. Otherwise, I think you'll find RockMelt just a nice "socializing" of the browser experience. It's helpful but not mindblowing.
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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is the deputy editor of TheAtlantic.com, where he also oversees the Technology Channel. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer has called Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at Wired.com, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science Web site in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

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