RockMelt, Facebook Partner to Battle Google Chrome

 
 
By Clint Boulton  |  Posted 2011-06-25
 
 
 

RockMelt, Facebook Partner to Battle Google Chrome


Facebook and RockMelt won't admit that their recent integration agreement is not a prelude to an acquisition, but it's not hard to find the value in such an arrangement if the companies decided to pursue a deal.

Why do this? For RockMelt, it would be a matter of survival. For Facebook, appropriating RockMelt for its 700 million-plus users could provide a super countermeasure to the rise of Google's (NASDAQ:GOOG) Chrome Web browser, which has over 160 million users.

Launched last November with backing from serial entrepreneur Marc Andreessen, RockMelt is a social Web browser. A niche product, it has a few hundred thousands users.

The application frames the browsing experience with people's Facebook contacts along the left edge of the browser window after users log into RockMelt via their Facebook e-mail and password. The right side of RockMelt includes buttons for accessing the Facebook News Feed, Facebook Profile, Twitter tweet stream and timeline.

RockMelt has been steadily improving the browser's speed and feature functionality, culminating in the RockMelt beta 3 launched June 14. The new version lets users manage Facebook friend requests, messages and notifications directly in the browser instead of solely on Facebook.com. When users start a chat on Facebook.com, it will open a RockMelt chat window.

These capabilities are the result of the companies' first formal integration. And it might not be the last. "RockMelt's deep integration with Facebook makes it easier for people to take their friends with them around the Web, creating more personal and meaningful experiences wherever they go," said Ethan Beard, director of platform partnerships for Facebook, about the deal.

RockMelt told eWEEK its hasn't held any acquisition talks with Facebook, but perhaps it should. While the browser has a vibrant community of active users, the market has not proven patient for social browsers.

Indeed, there is an uneasy parallel between Flock, easily the most popular of all the social browsers and RockMelt. Flock based its software on Google's Chrome browser before folding last year. RockMelt is also based on the open source Chromium project behind Chrome.

Ironically, it's Google's popular Chrome browser that Facebook could attack if it chose to buy its new partner.

Facebook and Google are locked in one of those primordial struggles for Web dominance, seeking to lure and attain as many users as possible and make money through online advertising served to those consumers. This is why Google has been struggling to bring more social elements to its Web services.

RockMelt, Facebook Could Gang Up on Google


Chrome, which is serving as the window port for Web applications running on platforms such as Google TV and the Chrome Operating System is a major part of Google's plans for expansion online.

To counter Google's Chrome march, the social network could grab RockMelt and appropriate it and position it for growth in a couple of ways: either as the foundation for a new user experience within its walled garden, or keep it as a separate product.

While the first option might be preferable on the desktop, where Facebook is entrenched, the second option might be a viable solution to its quest for mobile expansion.

Facebook wants to facilitate it mobile Web growth, where it only has 250 million users, and is reportedly building an HTML5-based platform for mobile apps. RockMelt, which offers application tabs on the right-hand rail, could be one vehicle for this.

IDC analyst Al Hilwa isn't sure an acquisition is in the cards at this stage, noting that one likely would have happened by now.

"I suspect Facebook is trying to figure out if marrying a browser would create an alignment that might divide and potentially reduce its users," Hilwa told Eweek. "On the other hand, browsers have gained share by being distributed through a strong channel like devices or by tie-ins to major sites, like Google Search for Google Chrome."

"Ultimately, Rockmelt has to strike some distribution agreements to expand its share. To some extent this partnership with Facebook acknowledges the huge dependency that RockMelt has had on Facebook."

Still, there is some happy irony in the notion that Facebook could acquire and appropriate a browser closely related to Chrome, one of Google's key entry points for continued growth on the Web.

 

 

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