After spending nearly a week using the RockMelt beta as my default browser, I’ve come to experience enough cognitive dissonance to make my head explode.
In short, I love RockMelt’s concept and implementation, but the browser needs to get faster and work out some of the kinks to be as fast or reliable as Google Chrome.
Why Chrome? RockMelt is a social browser based on the Chromium open-source project, so it feels as if it’s Chrome wrapped in Facebook.
For all intents and purposes, that’s what it is. Available for Mac and Windows machines, RockMelt integrates deeply with Facebook Platform to appropriate Facebook sharing features in the browser.
After the initial download, I received a message asking me to connect to Facebook, which readers can see here along with other RockMelt activities.
I entered my Facebook credentials and I was up and running, free to browse and share Web content. RockMelt is framed by Facebook contacts on the left, and tabs for Facebook News Feeds, Profiles and Twitter feeds on the right. Users may also add their own feeds to customize the browser.
Let’s go from left to right. The Facebook contacts-called the Friend edge-present as profile pictures, which may be sorted by favorite friends, or those who are online. Presence is signaled by green buttons for those who are online, orange for idle and blank for offline.
Clicking on the pics pops up a chat window, where users can use Facebook Chat to instant message or write on a friend’s wall. This provides easy, effortless communication right within the browser window. No navigating to Facebook at all.
The browser toolbar hovers in the middle over the browser window. Back and forward arrows and a bookmark star sit just left of a short URL address bar, with a refresh button to the left.
Users may type in any URL, and when they do they will get an offer to click the Tab button to search Google, the default search for RockMelt.
Next to this toolbar is my favorite button: the Share button. Clicking on this lets users share whatever Web page link is currently being displayed in the browser window below the toolbar.
Users may choose to post links to their Facebook wall or on Twitter. When they share, the link will be shortened with RockMelt’s built-in me.lt URL shortener.
This is fantastic; the user doesn’t have to copy and paste URLs and type in headlines or use TinyURL, Bit.ly, Goo.gl or any other shortener with analytics and all that superfluous stuff.
Users may also send direct messages via Facebook, which works exactly as DMs do on Facebook.com. Sharing location is not on by default, but is an option on a per share basis: Just click a button. RockMelt may want to allow users to share location by default as a clickable option in future builds.
Sharing, Searching Is a Blast with RockMelt
I mentioned the address bar was short. That’s because to the right of the address bar is a separate search bar that lets users search Google right from RockMelt. I thought having two top toolbars would irk me, but no.
The Google search bar is an elegant solution. Typing in a query and hitting Enter shows users previews of results without making them go clicking around from Web page to Web page. If a user wants to see the results in Google.com, they can click the “View in Tab” button above the preview. Clicking a result launches it to the tab window.
Let’s explore the App edge on the right, where users may access their Facebook News Feed, Facebook Profile or Twitter live feeds without clicking away to Facebook.com or Twitter.com. These tabs all offer much of the functionality from the social networks.
The App edge provides push notifications, tracking users favorite sites and alerting them when a new story comes out, a friend posts new pictures, or a new video is available. This is nice at first blush, but can get noisy fast if users opt to show updates in the task bar.
The Add Feeds tab is interesting. Clicking it shows an option to add the URL of RSS/Atom feeds they want to plant in the App edge bar. RockMelt also helps users build feeds by showing users recent Websites they visited and those they browse most often. Users may fill up the App edge by adding RSS feeds from Websites they visit.
The RockMelt management tab, which sits in the uppermost left corner of the browser, is a lot like the one in Chrome.
Users can import their existing bookmarks, browsing history and saved passwords from Chrome, Google Toolbar, Mozilla Firefox or Microsoft Internet Explorer.
Unfortunately, this was kludgy for me. When I imported bookmarks Chrome instantiation, it sucked in the data, but instead of appropriating the bookmark icons straight to the browser toolbar, it put them in a bookmarks folder, where I had to drag and drop them manually to re-create my user experience in Chrome.
I want a browser that will put all of the bookmarks in the toolbar above the browser window exactly as I had it in another browser.
One cool option in the management tab: Users tired of the Friend or App edges can hide one or the other or both by clicking the edges button.
RockMelt was fast at times, slow at others. It definitely had the feel of a browser that wants to be as fast as the latest version of Chrome, Firefox or IE. In my mind, it’s not there yet.
However, I’m going to keep using it over Chrome, which I switched to from Firefox one and a half years ago. Why? Because it’s so native to my Web surfing and sharing experience.
I don’t have to bounce around from browser window to browser window to access my top two social networks. I can share everything from within RockMelt, affording me efficiencies for work I can’t get from any other browser.
Are you one of the 700 million combined people who don’t use Facebook or Twitter? RockMelt is not for you. Stick with a lighter weight browser.
With that, I sadly bid adieu to Chrome and welcome RockMelt, whose name sounds gratingly like a boy’s Hasbro toy, as my new browser engine for work and play.