Hands-On With New Social Browser RockMelt

Launched last weekend, the new “social browser” RockMelt promises to make it easy to share and keep up with your friends, stay up-to-date on news and information and search. It caused a lot of discussion in the comments after Om wrote about it. I’ve had a chance to take it for a quick test drive, and I find it useful.

RockMelt makes it very clear that it’s a browser for Facebook users; you must sign into Facebook in order to install the software. Those of you who are concerned about privacy will probably not be happy to see that RockMelt asks for the longest list of Facebook permissions I ever recall. But if you agree, the rest of the installation is quick and easy, and includes such standard installation features as the option to import settings and bookmarks from other browsers.

RockMelt is based on Chromium, the open-source project that Google Chrome (s goog) is based on, so the browser screen looks pretty standard, but it adds two “edges.” The one on the right is called the “app edge,” which includes icons for your Facebook news feed and profile, along with a Twitter feed. There’s also an option showing “Feed Suggestions,” and you can add RSS feeds to this edge if you wish.

The edge on the left is what heavy Facebook users will like. Called the “friend edge,” it has an icon at the top where you can post Facebook statuses or tweets. Unfortunately, it doesn’t offer a way to post links, images or videos, as you can at the Facebook website. Surprisingly, there doesn’t seem to be a way to post simultaneously to Facebook and Twitter.

The remainder of the “friend edge” includes icons of your Facebook friends. Click on a person, and you can see their wall posts, or start a Facebook chat with them. The icons appear to be sorted to show who’s online at the top. You can also select people as “favorites,” and then show only your favorites.

When I first installed the browser, the edges didn’t show, which I suspect was due to a surge in traffic. Now everything is working, and the edge information responds very quickly.

I was skeptical that I’d find RockMelt useful, since I was disappointed by Flock, another social browser that had similar ideas. As some folks have noted, there’s nothing revolutionary about RockMelt; it would be possible to create similar functionality using existing browsers and some add-ons. But RockMelt is well thought out and it has definite potential, even if it’s a work in progress.

RockMelt is currently in private beta. You can request an invitation at the RockMelt website.

Do you think a social browser would be useful?

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