The Implications of a New Browser

There’s a new web browser in town called RockMelt. Despite its odd name, there’s nothing odd about who’s backing it – none other than Marc Andreessen, co-founder of Netscape (you remember Netscape, don’t you?) and now a principal in a venture capital firm. Andreessen and others have funded RockMelt to the tune of just under $10 million.

Andreessen told the New York Times, “We think it is a fantastic time to build a company around a browser.” Gosh, déjà vu all over again.

RockMelt will undoubtedly have a difficult time attracting mainstream use. Microsoft’s Internet Explorer still dominates, battling Mozilla’s Firefox for the lead. Google’s Chrome and Apple’s Safari round out the top four. RockMelt will be lucky just to attract a modest following.

But the real story is not so much if this browser will be competitive, but rather what RockMelt implies. It turns out that RockMelt may well be more important for its view of the future than its ability to win the browser wars. “Had we known about Facebook and Twitter and Google back in ’92 or ’93, we would have built them into the browser,” Marc Andreessen tells the Times. “This is an opportunity to go back and do it right.”

Indeed, the most intriguing aspect of RockMelt, available in limited beta, is the fact that it is downright sociable. This is a browser with social networking features built right in. Running along the sides of the RockMelt browser window are two visual strips, if you will. On the left are photos of a user’s friends, and on the right are icons for a user’s favorite social networking sites. A few clicks and a user can add or remove friends, chat with them, update their status, share videos, and more.

“This is the beginning of what we think browsers will look like in the next decade,” says Eric Vishria, RockMelt’s co-founder. Tim Howes, the other co-founder, adds, “We built features into the browser to address people’s three top browsing behaviors: interacting with friends, consume news and information, and searching.”

Early reviews suggest RockMelt has promise. PC magazine compares it to Flock, another web browser that claims to be “social.” Michael Muchmore writes:

“One way I prefer RockMelt to Flock is in RockMelt you don’t have to make a new RockMelt account the way you have to make a new Flock account to fully take advantage of that browser’s social extras. RockMelt also lets you do more with Facebook right in the browser, without having to actually load the Facebook page —newsfeed viewing, chatting, posting. …

…if you live on Facebook and Twitter and don’t mind allowing access to your social data, RockMelt is superior to Flock.”

As for search, RockMelt apparently anticipated “Google instant previews,” Google’s just-introduced feature. According to TechCrunch, Google’s preview seems to load faster, but it displays a smaller, virtually unreadable version of a web page to the side. RockMelt’s approach is to actually load the site. Both offer “visual search previews,” just in different formats.

Whether or not RockMelt can chip away and grab market share from Internet Explorer, Firefox, Chrome, Safari, or a host of lesser browsers is a big question. But this browser may well have set the tone for the future with its smart integration of social networking features – and a few search features that aren’t too shabby either. What’s likely to happen is that current browsers will ultimately look dated next to the hipper RockMelt, suggesting that new versions of the old stand-bys will be just around the corner. That alone could make RockMelt significant, because it will have pushed its competitors to a new level of social awareness.

About Barry Silverstein

Barry Silverstein is a freelance writer/marketing consultant. In addition to writing for ReveNews, he is a contributing writer to Brandchannel.com, the world’s leading online branding forum. He is the author of three marketing books, The Breakaway Brand (co-author, McGraw-Hill, 2005), Business-to-Business Internet Marketing (Maximum Press, 2003) and Internet Marketing for Technology Companies (Maximum Press, 2003). Barry ran his own Internet and direct marketing agency for twenty years. You can find Barry on Twitter @bdsilv.

4 Responses to The Implications of a New Browser

  1. rahul says:

    I think it could capture the market as it is launched with extra and new features and main thing is that it is launched social networking features.

  2. Daniel M. Clark says:

    Ugh. Just…. ugh. Really? We have to build social media into the browser now… well, there are already plugins for all the others that do this, not to mention the myriad Twitter and social media clients. Personally, I hate to have anything in a sidebar in my browser – I want to see the site, not be distracted by what's going on in the sidebar. Tweetdeck, Seesmic, and the other dedicated apps will continue to do a far better job of managing social media than a browser sidebar ever could… so… honestly, I don't see the appeal.

    • bdsilv says:

      Thanks for the comment, Daniel. I think you make a good point about apps doing a better job. In fact, apps may eventually spell the downfall of the traditional browser. Still, it's interesting to see that some browser developers really feel it's necessary to build social media into the browsing experience.