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The last few days there’s been a fair bit of chatter abou tthe new Rockmelt browser, after looking at the premise, I was heavily cynical.  It wouldn’t be fair to stay that way without giving it a chance so here’s my first impressions from the beta release…

You start using it by logging into your Facebook account, a double-edged sword.  While the level of integration with Facebook is pretty decent, it seems to use an app within Facebook to allow it to have access to most of your stuff.  As you see from the extended priviledges when using connect, it needs access to pretty much everything to give you a decent experience, although because of this it can be really slow to load.  Fair enough.  This is the first problem.  There are still many people that don’t use Facebook and many that are getting turned off it and also a large number that don’t want to share their data like this.  So Rockmelt is actually a Facebook browser.  So far as I could see, you can’t use it all all without the Facebook step.

The layout and experience isn’t bad at all though.  It uses Chromium as it’s core so works pretty much the same as Chrome, adding a big share button up the top and has optional ‘edges’ added to the sides, one for your Facebook friends (so you can see whose online) and the other for Twitter accounts and your Facebook news feed.  The integration really is pretty good.  If you use this stuff all the time anyway, I’m sure it’ll be a real asset.  Me personally, I find it way to in my face.  I like having to choose to engage with Twitter or Facebook otherwise, presented like this, it’s a massive distraction.  You can turn the edges off, but then it’s Chrome with a share button so where’s the benefit?

In terms of privacy, the preferences allow for yuo to manage this to a degree but I still feel uneasy with the reach into so many accounts with a high level of access.  Everyone wil have their own take on this, whether it’s just what we do nowadays – give us control to gain experiences, or whether we should hold back and be very selective over who has access to what and not give more than we need to.  With that in mind perhaps offering users the chance to manage the level of Facebook integration through extended priviledges might be a good step, alowing us some sense of control and electing to have certain functionality not work to it’s fullest degree.

Other projects have tried this ground before, most notably Flock, but I’m not sure this browser is aimed at me. For the casual home user I can really see it working well.  The layout is simple and uncluttered and makes it easy to use these two social tools. I wish it good luck but feel that it’s almost trying to make itself an aquisition target for Facebook.  It’s a great experiment but I remain unconvinced of there being a real need for it.  That said, I’d like to see some of my less web-savvy friends try it out and see what they make of it.

By hinging so much of it on Facebook, I feel that’s a real mis-step and would’ve liked to’ve seen interesting ways of working with many different tools and helping you to filter through them and picking out what’s interesting or relevant. Who knows, maybe this is just the first part of a bigger plan as it is only in beta…?

I’ll watch with interest.

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9th November, 2010