Nov 10, 2010

RockMelt: Initial Impressions


Like all the rest of the usual suspects, I was able to get my hands on the new RockMelt  browser the other day in its pre-release beta version. (Thanks to Bill Green of MTLB for that one.

THE GOOD

It imported all my info from Safari pretty seamlessly (though passwords and permissions  don’t automatically install.)

It’s fairly simple to set up. But you do need to set it up for it to be useful. That means deciding which of your friends/family members get the 14 coveted widget slots on the left side of the browser, and which sites with RSS feeds you’re going to select as widgets on the right.

The widgets all appear as pop-up windows over the browser (though you can change that in the settings) and you can even detach them and drag them to a far corner of your browser.

One cool feature of the widgets is that they are outlined in blue when one of your friends or websites has new activity so you don’t have to keep checking.

When you Google something from the toolbar, the results shows up as a separate widget-like. ad-free, pop-over window. That way you get to check out the suggested sites without having to leave the results list. I’m still not 100% sure this is more efficient than opening up every link that looks like it might be relevant in a separate tab and rifling through them, but I’m willing to give it a shot.

THE BAD

You can @reply and retweet from the Twitter widget. Even share to Facebook. But if you want to write your own original tweet, you need to open up twitter.com. That’s not overly efficient. (UPDATE: Seems you can post to Twitter or update Facebook by clicking on your profile pic in the upper right. Though that still takes you away from the Twitter app, so my original comment holds. Sort of.)

The Friend widgets are ultimately not all that useful: the Chat function is Facebook chat. Which lots of people don’t use (or have permanently hidden) because unlike AIM or Skype, Facebook chat can be highly interruptive, especially if you’ve just jumped on for a quick Bejeweled Blitz break.

My other options with the Friend widget are sending Facebook messages or writing on their Wall. Which some people will no doubt find useful, but since I rarely use either feature, it renders the widgets sort of pointless.

THE VERDICT

RockMelt works well as a social browser. There are some features that need to be ironed out, but the basic idea is solid and it functions well as an actual browser.

The problem is that all the social stuff is very distracting when you’re trying to actually do work. I mean if you can always shut down your Twitter app and navigating to Facebook is a conscious decision. The little side widgets very quickly start to make you feel like your friends are standing outside the house waiting for you to finish your homework so you can come out and play. That’s not all that conducive to getting work done.

Off-hours, it’s not a bad toy. RockMelt definitely helps keep the social experience front and center and the “share” button on the browser makes it easy to post whatever it is you’re looking at to either Facebook or Twitter.

But ultimately, it’s not that special. There are plenty of plug-ins for Firefox and Chrome if I want to access Facebook all day long. Plenty of people download them. I never have. I use TBuzz or Amplify to share links straight from Safari.

Widgets and widget like objects are great for quick updates, but they pale beside the  actual website. So when I realized I’d been spending much of my time on RockMelt on Facebook.com, I knew what my verdict was going to be.

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