Okay, so hands up if you’ve heard of RockMelt.
If you are one of the people who put up your hand — stop that. This is text and I can’t see you. Know, however, that you are quite possibly more connected and in tune with the techieverse than your now shame-faced tech-writer. Somehow, for reasons unknown to all but the almighty Goog itself, my keenly developed tech senses missed this wonder entirely! But, that’s all behind me, now. I’ve seen the light, got an invite, and have been playing with the world’s latest, greatest — and Google Chrome based — social browser for several days now.
Here’s what I’ve discovered:
RockMelt does for Chrome what Flock did for Firefox, but where I found Flock a bit overwhelming in its attempt to integrate social elements into the browser, RockMelt has what feels like it might be just the right mix. One almost has to wonder why Google didn’t think to do this in the first place. If they had integrated Sidewiki and Google Buzz in with the configurable social elements that RockMelt has brought into play, making them a part of the Chrome browser (and by extension, the OS) itself, both of those tools might have seen a much stronger and longer term user base.
In any case, RockMelt, which is still in beta, has a lot of good going for it. There are still a few hiccups, as is to be expected, but even so, the social Chrome is pretty appealing. This is a good thing — it means that Netscape founder Marc Andreesen’s money has been well spent.
Key Features of RockMelt
The primary difference between RockMelt and Chrome, aside from the fact that you have to log into Facebook to use the browser, is the left and right sidebars. Both are collapsible, about a centimetre in width and contain pretty buttons, often full of people’s faces. On the left, is the Facebook chat column, which shows you which of your Facebook friends are online, allows you to view their latest activity with a hover or a click, chat with them, send them a message, or post on their wall. You can also set up a favourites list in this column, and switch between it and the general tab with a single click.
All of this Facebooking takes place just below a miniature of your own profile picture (top left), which, when clicked, allows you to toggle your Facebook Chat availability, as well as update your social network status — including multiple Twitter accounts, if you decide to add them.
On the right edge of the page, you really get to dig in and configure RockMelt to suit both your browsing and social networking needs. Facebook and Twitter buttons give you access to both of those services, showing your feeds in real time. You can interact with items in the feeds as you would expect to be able to, liking, commenting, retweeting, etc. In Twitter, you can access all of your lists and your @messages, but I didn’t see anything for saved searches or DM’s. Also, if you have a lot of lists, you currently are not able to scroll to the ones that get cut off at the bottom of the page. The Facebook button gives access to people in both your main and custom profile lists, and your profile button right below it gives access to your notifications, photos and wall. I found the limited nature of the Facebook access — no pages, message centre, groups, or places — a bit surprising, but it will likely improve as the browser gets closer to official launch.
The right sidebar also serves two other important functions, it has a few other already integrated networks, like YouTube, and it allows you to add custom feeds so you can keep track of your favourite websites — it even makes suggestions based on the sites you visit most — and it is the home of your Chrome extensions. I like the way RockMelt handles extensions much better than the way Google does it. For one, I can decide on optimal placement of my extensions — and they will stay that way. Google’s insistence in making things rearrange themselves based on their perceptions of my usage has always driven me crazy. I also like the fact that the sidebar is collapsible, and it doesn’t shrink the size of the URL bar. Finally, If I am not using an extension that often, but don’t want to uninstall or disable it, it is simple to just remove it from the column/dock.
The main problem with RockMelt at the moment, especially if you have a lot of Facebook friends in your favourites, or a lot of extensions, is that the sidebars don’t scroll. Any more than 15 items, total, in either sidebar, and the ones furthest down can not be accessed. Also, the floating window that appears when most extension buttons are clicked is a fixed width element. This causes a problem with some extensions that are too wide for RockMelt. Hopefully these are things that will be rectified in a near-future update.
RockMelt also shares most other major features of Google Chrome, such as the new web apps area and browser synchronization. The apps are not as thoroughly integrated as they are with Chrome, being little more than just shortcuts, and browser sync is only available between other RockMelt implementations. It was a little bit annoying having to search out and re-add all of my apps and extensions, but wasn’t that difficult.
Sharing what you find while surfing in RockMelt is an extremely easy process. There is a giant button to the immediate right of the URL bar, and it allows for Facebook and Twitter sharing with ridiculous ease. I wish there were a send by email button, though, then I could drop the Shareaholic extension; free up some space. Speaking of email, there is what looks like an email button on the top right of the browser. Don’t be fooled. It is not for your email at all. It is really just a suggestion list of who to send your invites to. I find this choice on RockMelt’s part to be kind of confusing.
RockMelt is a fantastic spin on the Google Chrome browser, packing in most of Chrome’s features and all of its speed. The collapsible social features are a fantastic addition, considering you spend most of your internet time in the browser, and most people spend most browser time on a social network or two. It just makes sense, you know? There are still a few odd issues like the lack of sidebar scrolling, and the fact that, at least for me, embedded flash videos show up as blank spaces, but these issues are the sort of thing you expect in a beta test. RockMelt still has time to make things perfect, and I think it very likely that I will keep using it as it matures.
Tell us what you think of RockMelt.