NPR logo RockMelt: A 'Social' Browser With Extra Caffeine


RockMelt: A 'Social' Browser With Extra Caffeine


RockMelt is the first Web browser I've used that makes me feel twitchy all over. And that's sort of the point.

Based around Chromium, the open source code that also drives Google Chrome, RockMelt wants to be your browser for the social media era. To that end, the browser requires you to have a Facebook account to even use it, and it also integrates Twitter and RSS feeds in some visually interesting ways.

RockMelt's been in the news this week for its pedigree as much as anything else. The browser's backers include Marc Andreessen of Netscape fame — no stranger to reinventing the Internet — and he's been all over the media as the browser rolled out.

RockMelt is not the first browser to integrate social media. Flock can date its roots back to 2005 (with the most recent version running off the Chromium platform, too). There's also Fizzik and Kinoma Play — and almost certainly others.

I took RockMelt for a spin after receiving a beta invitation this week. After loading (and a one-time setup), the browser pulled up direct links to my Facebook friends (with photos!) in the left column, dropped direct links to my Facebook news feed, my profile, my Twitter feed and some RSS feeds in the right column, and popped up narrow column-shaped browser windows whenever I hit any of those links. It also pulled in the bookmarks from my other browsers.

Suddenly my active browser window was surrounded by more than 40 direct links. Within a few clicks, I had half a dozen other windows open — and the twitchiness began.

But again, that's sort of the point. Fire up RockMelt, hit your mouse a few times, and all of your likely web needs will be met at the same time. If you're someone who can kill time on Facebook for hours while simultaneously web-surfing, chatting, tweeting and so on, it won't take long for you to feel like RockMelt is wired directly to your cerebral cortex. And with Chromium at its core, you should have few compatibility issues with RockMelt.

If that twitchy feeling gets a little too overwhelming, there are ways to turn down the noise in the browser. For example, the column of Facebook-friend mug shots can be easily and quickly tucked away.

But why bother? There are other, better-established choices if you want something less busy in a browser. RockMelt is going the other way — it's trying to change the way people use the Web. It's up to you to decide whether that's a good thing.