RockMelt’s secret social Web browser makes debut

November 7, 2010

The Web has evolved drastically during the past two decades. But the Web browser remains much as it has since it was first created.RockMeltScreen

That’s the premise behind RockMelt, a new browser that bills itself as having been built from the ground-up for the realities of today’s Web 2.0 world, in which interacting across social networks is as important as viewing Web pages.

The new browser has been under development in “stealth” mode for two years and has been the subject of much speculation, particularly since one of the company’s main investors is Marc Andreessen, the man credited with creating the first mass-market graphical Web browser.

Now RockMelt is pulling back the curtain and letting users try a beta version of the browser (although the company will initially only offer a limited number of invitations to use the browser).

RockMelt weaves social networking directly into the browser, and uses cloud-based servers to save users’ preferences, providing a consistent experience among the various PCs a person surfs the Web from.

Unlike a traditional browser, you have to log-in when you use RockMelt. That allows you to access your Facebook or Twitter feeds directly from the browser, instead of navigating to each service’s web site. The browser also displays a list of your closest friends and contacts along the left-hand side of the browser, making it easy to quickly share news articles, videos and other interesting Web finds.

Search is similarly integrated, with a drop-down list of search results accessible within the browser. RockMelt says its technology pre-fetches the most relevant Web pages after a user enters a search query, meaning that you can quickly inspect the various Web pages without having to wait for each page to load.

The search feature is powered by Google’s search engine, and the browser itself is based on Chromium, the open-source version of Google’s Chrome browser.

It will be interesting to see whether mainstream users cotton to RockMelt’s new take on the browser. At least one company, Flock, introduced a “socially-aware” browser a few years back yet has a scant 0.05 percent share of the browser market according to Net Applications. And RockMelt is facing heavyweight competition in the browser game, including Microsoft (the dominant player with 59 percent share), Google, Mozilla and Apple.

But the 30-person company, which has raised $10 million in funding, has big names in its corner of the ring, including Andreessen’s venture capital firm, Intuit chairman and Apple board member Bill Campbell, and VMware co-founder Diane Greene.

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