We’ve all seen and used “social browsers” in the past. The idea is nice but the result is often a bulky, awkward and cluttered browser that you wouldn’t dream of using full time.
Rockmelt is here to change that. This browser might be the first ever to successfully integrate the services you use most with a solid browsing experience, all snapped neatly on top of an app that you might already use every day.
A Big Step in the Right Direction
The idea that a web browser should have built-in social integration is definitely not new. Other browsers like Flock and Cruz have come along with this very goal but ultimately fell short of attracting large audiences.
The recently abandoned Flock project was the biggest pioneer in this area, featuring deep integration with all of your favorite social services like Twitter, Facebook and Flickr.
It’s hard to say why Flock didn’t catch on. I actually liked the browser quite a bit but ultimately found it to be far too cumbersome and cluttered to use. I was caught somewhere between loving the features and hating the interface.
Rockmelt is the latest attempt at a social browser, picking up where Flock left off. Thus far, it’s hands down the best entrant into this arena that I’ve tried. Let’s take a look and see what’s so great about it.
Rockmelt: Built on Chromium
The first thing that you’ll notice about Rockmelt is that it’s built on the open-source project behind Chrome. This means that everything you love about Chrome, from extensions and applications to those topside tabs, is still present.
Needless to say, Chrome users will have almost zero trouble switching to Rockmelt and since Chrome makes it so easy to transfer information from other browsers, Safari and Firefox users shouldn’t experience too many issues either. Also, that solid Webkit core will ensure that all the latest web technologies function perfectly.
While many Chrome extensions work just fine in Rockmelt, they unfortunately aren’t all compatible.
One way that Rockmelt features social integrations is through a feature called “edges.” As the name implies, these are vertical sidebars that sit to the left and right of the main browser content.
The App Edge
On the left of the interface you’ll find the App Edge. This will show a vertical strip of square icons for the applications and sites that you’ve added.
In the App Edge you’ll find excellent integration with the top two social sites on the web: Twitter and Facebook. The square icons have notification badges to inform you of new updates, just click on an app icon to quickly check in.
The image above shows the built-in Twitter app. As you can see, it’s a pretty fully featured app with a constantly updating stream, replies, direct messages, lists, searches and even inline images.
Similarly, the Facebook app shows your News Feed and gives you basic Facebook features like commenting, liking, etc.
More Than Social Media
The App Edge not only gives you the ability to keep tabs on your favorite social networks, it also works with websites with RSS feeds.
I added Mac.AppStorm to my sidebar and Rockmelt informs me when new stories are published. This is a really nicely integrated way to stay up on your favorite content from around the web.
Under each post in the three images above, notice that along with default app options like commenting, there’s also a little clock icon. This allows you to mark interesting posts that you see in any of your app streams and come back and view them when you have the time.
All of the items that you mark from various sources and apps are stored in the “View Later” stream indicated by the clock in the App Edge.
To add content to the Apps Edge, you click on the little icon at the very bottom left of the browser window. This pops up a menu showing all of the options for adding feeds based on your most visited and recently viewed sites.
The Friends Edge
The right side of the screen holds the Friends Edge. This is basically just a Facebook Messages area. You can set your online/offline status, see all your friends and interact with chats and private conversations.
More Social Integration
The Edges just scratch the surface of the deep social integration that you’ll find inside of Rockmelt. Here’s a quick look at a few more great features.
More Facebook Integration
Right above your URL bar and bookmarks, you’ll see three familiar icons taken directly from your Facebook page. These allow you to quickly check on your Facebook notifications, friend requests and private messages from anywhere, just as if you were on your Facebook page.
As an awkward side effect, Rockmelt removes these buttons from your actual Facebook page. I’m not sure if that’s intentional or not but it always throws me off.
Quick Status Update
To the left of the basic back, forward and refresh browser buttons you’ll find a little pencil icon. This allows you to quickly set your status for your preconfigured social services.
To the left of the search bar, there’s a button for quickly sharing the current page with any of your friends. You can post it to your Facebook wall, send a tweet, etc.
A Unique Spin on Searching
Chrome users may or may not be disappointed that the single hybrid URL/search bar at the top has been replaced with two separate fields. The first carries over the same functionality as the default field in Chrome: type in a URL to go to a website, anything else will run as a Google search.
Rockmelt adds to this though with a dedicated search field. Why have a dedicated search when the default URL field already takes care of this functionality? Because this search field is special. Instead of redirecting the current window, it pops up your Google search in a little fly-out menu.
It’s a little strange at first and takes some getting used to, but it’s really nice to be able to run a quick search without leaving the content that you’re currently viewing.
Quiet Mode: My Favorite Feature
I can already see the comments coming. How are you supposed to get any work done with Facebook, Twitter and a million other distractions built into your browser, interrupting you every thirty seconds?
That’s an excellent question, one that I too was immediately concerned about upon using Rockmelt. However, the developers are fortunately a step ahead. By clicking the little bell icon you activate Silent Mode, which turns off the edges and other social content and gives you a nice, quiet browsing experience.
A social browser is a great idea, but I don’t always want one. Being able to turn these features off during work hours and back on during the rest of the time really helps turn Rockmelt into a browser that I could easily use full-time.
Worth A Download?
Google Chrome is a truly great browser, one that’s difficult to improve upon. However, if you’re a social media addict like me, the promise of a browser based around a social experience is always quite an alluring one.
More and more lately we find that social media is the reason we open a web browser, so building social functionality deep into the browser’s core makes perfect sense. However, as past contenders have proven, this is easier said than done.
As I mentioned at the start of this article, I think Rockmelt is by far the best attempt at a social browser to date. The integration with various apps and services is effortless and Rockmelt does an admirable job of giving you a ton of info in a fairly attractive and uncluttered interface.
I’m typically a Safari user so I’m even harder to sell for this switch than a Chrome user. However, I found myself thoroughly enjoying the week that I spent using Rockmelt as my primary browser. It’s the first browser that I’ve used in ages that truly changed the way that I browse, and that’s a refreshing thing.
If you’re the kind of person who makes a big deal out of being “over” social media, then Rockmelt is definitely not for you. However, if you’re like the rest of the humans living in developed societies and are still hopelessly addicted to Facebook and other services, you absolutely want to download Rockmelt and give it a try. Do what I did and spend a week using it as your primary browser and see how you come to appreciate all your favorite networks being always there when you want them and hidden from view when you don’t.
Leave a comment below and let us know what you think of Rockmelt. Is tighter social integration the future of web browsers or merely a trend that is bent on offering us something that we don’t really want or need?
A free Chromium-based browser with thorough and user-friendly social media integration. You've seen social browsers before, but don't give up on them until you've tried Rockmelt.9
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