When I first heard about RockMelt, the “social browser”, I was intrigued. When I found out that I could test a beta copy of it, overly excited would probably be a good measure of my reaction. For those of you who may not be familiar with RockMelt, basically it is a new web browser still in beta, that adds social media like Facebook directly to the sidebars of the window to make it easier to share web items through a user’s social media accounts. After using RockMelt for the last week and a half, here are some of my thoughts.

RockMelt: The Good

Have we met before?

For those familiar with Chrome, you may find yourself doing a double take. When I first launched RockMelt, I had actually thought I accidentally launched my copy of Google’s Chrome browser as RockMelt is almost identical to Chrome, upon first launch. This is because the core of RockMelt is the Chromium open source which Chrome is also built upon. In my opinion, this isn’t an issue as I like the simplicity of Chrome. I was also happy to find that the normal Mac shortcut keys, like CMD+T opening a new tab, worked out just fine without any tweaking.

RockMelt browser

Give that browser a speeding ticket

RockMelt is built using Chromium open source as it’s base. This means that the browser is really fast…like really fast. I like that RockMelt also takes this a step further and works to download/render websites based off the current page and links that you are on to speed up your surfing even more.

Move over Safari, you resource hog!

This is where the nerd in me completely comes out. One of the most impressive things to RockMelt so far has been its memory (RAM) and resource management. Don’t get me wrong, I do really like Safari as a web browser. But when using it for a day means that over a gig of my RAM is locked up in it, even if there are no open websites or windows, something has to change. The image below shows the memory that is taken up after freshly launching Safari and playing one YouTube video with it. In comparison, when the screenshot was taken, RockMelt had been open for 4 hours and had 4 tabs open, one being the same YouTube video. The low system resources needed to run this browser will make it especially appealing to those running devices that may have limited resources like laptops.

RockMelt - Resources

Didn’t your mother teach you to share?

If she did, then RockMelt is the browser for you. My Facebook friends and Twitter followers will attest to the fact that I share a lot of content throughout a day as I come across great articles, comics, and other media. I really like how simple RockMelt makes it to share items from the site that you are on as well as update statuses. From any web page, a user can click on the Share button an be given the option to share out the link or media to their Facebook friends or via a tweet on Twitter.

Similar to the Share button is the easy ability for a user to update either their Facebook or Twitter status by clicking on their avatar on the left edge. This is great, of course, since you don’t actually have to load up Facebook or Twitter in another browser tab to update your Facebook and Twitter statuses.

RockMelt - Share button RockMelt - Status Update

Plugged into the Matrix all the time

The right and left ‘edges’ of the RockMelt browser are the most notable features of the browser. The left side will show a user which of their Facebook friends are currently online and allow the user to chat with them directly from a small pop up window. Users can also create a favorite list of their friends who that actually care are online. The right edge contains an area for the user to put in whatever feeds they would like to keep track of. The top feed shows updates to the users’ Facebook news feed followed by, if enabled, the users’ Twitter feed. Users may also add in any site’s RSS feed for updating. For example, I love movie trailers, so I have the trailers.apple.com feed on my right edge. As new trailers are added to the feed, I’ll receive a small notification that there is something new to look at. When the feed is clicked on, a window pops open showing the latest updates. The user can then click on any update and load the page in the main browser. The right edge is also completely sortable, so users can sort their feeds in any order they like.

RockMelt - News Feed

RockMelt: The Bad

Holy plethora of distractions, Batman!

The most notable downside to RockMelt is one of its greatest strengths. Having access to Facebook, Twitter, and selected feed updates as they happen becomes a distraction that the user has to intentionally ignore. I used to reserve looking at feeds, Facebook, and Twitter to a few times a day such as when taking my lunch break. No joke, the first day I used RockMelt, I had to quit the program and go back to Firefox and Chrome as I was getting way to distracted as I tried to work. I’m much better now as I’ve forced myself to ignore the updates until a logical break point, but having your feeds constantly updated as it happens can be a very tempting thing to look at. If you’re like me and you have a lot of friends who use Facebook and Twitter all day… you can see how one could spend all day looking at the updates. I think for this reason alone, I don’t think we will see that many businesses, outside of the social space and monitoring departments, adopting RockMelt.

Sure, take over my Facebook account

One of the first things that a user is greeted with when installing RockMelt is the Facebook Connect screen before RockMelt will open. After entering my login details, my jaw dropped. I was shown what RockMelt would be given access to on my Facebook account and the short answer is “everything”. I literally almost stopped right there as I follow a pretty strict policy of not giving any application that kind of access to my social accounts due to hacking, bugs, and general concern for some sort of privacy online. In the spirit of testing, though, I made an exception to my rule and granted access. This is a major problem for me, though, as it brings in concerns of hacks or bugs in the system somehow opening my Facebook account up to those with less than pure motives. I would also imagine that this is a full stop, game ending requirement for some people. Unless RockMelt changes how it accesses a user profile on Facebook, I wonder if it will ever become widely adopted.

RockMelt - Privacy Request

No advanced preferences or extensions

Granted, it is still a brand new browser and it is still in beta, but one of the things that I always never was a big fan of Chrome for was being a little too simple. One could argue that simplicity is the point. Since it is built on Chromium, RockMelt can technically install any extensions that are created for Chrome but it basically hides those extensions after install. This becomes frustrating for a user like me as I use a lot of tools for monitoring and stat pulling that require the use of extensions. So it would appear that RockMelt will be a browser for the masses and pros like me will have to use something like Firefox.

RockMelt: The Summary

Overall, after using the browser for over a week now, I can say that I like the browser. Most notably, it is basically a version of the Chrome browser that performs just as fast and adds in some fun and useful social media capabilities. Since it can become quite distracting and doesn’t offer some of the more advanced extension capabilities like Firefox, I don’t see RockMelt becoming the go to browser for professionals who rely on those capabilities. That said, from a consumer/user perspective, RockMelt is a fantastic browser that makes it so you can surf the web and monitor all your favorite feeds and social networks without having to navigate over to other tabs or browser windows. I’m interested to see what features and fixes come with the full official version.

So what do you think? Have you tired RockMelt? Is it the browser for you?

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6 Comments

  1. Linda

    Thanks for the great review. I really don’t like the fact that RockMelt wants access to so much of my Facebook information! From testing it out, do you think RockMelt needs access to that much info to function?

    • Thanks for the comment, Linda! I’m with you not liking to surrender that much information to RockMelt. From what I’ve seen, there are obviously things it needs access to above and beyond the information that is shared with everyone. It needs to see you and your friends’ online status for chat, have permission to post to your wall for sharing, pull in updates and notifications when you get messages, etc. The biggest problem that I have is, if you look in my screenshot it’s the fourth one down, you have to give RockMelt access to your data at any time whether you’re using the application or not. I could be wrong, but I can’t see any reason it would need to access my data when I wasn’t even using the web browser. This will be most likely be the reason that I will stop using it unless they change their access policy.

  2. Linda

    Thanks for the response and clearing up my concerns. I do agree with you that there’s no reason for it to need my info when I’m not using it. Hopefully they will fix that part in the full release!

  3. Brad, I’m finding the lack of extensions to be problematic. On Chrome itself, I’ve gotten used to subpar StumbleUpon and Roboform extensions. These are offset by great tools like Amplify.
    Whenever I try to add extensions to RockMelt, the extension site complains that I’m using an older version of Chromium. However, when I try to do an update, RockMelt says that it’s already up-to-date!

    The Facebook distraction is huge. I don’t know what you mean by updates, maybe I hid those, somehow. But, until I figure out how to hide my presence, people will find me and initiate chats. Not wishing to be rude or abrupt, I’ll stop what I’m doing (or worse, try to multi-task).

    If only Mozilla weren’t such a resource hog. To be fair though, in your screen shot, shouldn’t you be adding those RockMelt Helper threads to the RAM footprint? I use Windows and the Process Explorer shows half a dozen threads for EACH browser. I know that’s by design, which makes it easy to kill a frozen tab (if you can guess which process it is! I usually try the largest one :) )

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts on RockMelt.

    Cheers,

    Mitch

    • Thanks for your comments, Mitch!

      Yeah, the extensions issue is a big one. Like I mentioned, in Firefox I’m running at least 10 almost about all the time that helps with page and analysis work that we do for clients. I would hope that as RockMelt exits it’s beta testing, this all would be resolved.

      To answer your one question on the updates… the Facebook and RSS feed updates that I’m talking about are on the right edge of the browser and as there are updates to the various feeds, Twitter, or Facebook, a small yellow icon appears in the lower right corner of the feed icon. These are the ones that I have such a hard time ignoring. To help out your situation, one I used to have, if you click on your Facebook icon in the upper left corner of the browser, click the “Go Offline” icon. This turns off your online status in Facebook and stops people from randomly chatting with you throughout the day. Yea! :-)

      Finally, on the system resources, you are correct that I should have mentioned the helper services. On the Mac version of the browser there are usually a separate render service running for every tab that you have open (which, of course, make it quicker to browse to adjacent pages). Most of the time, I’ve only seen these suck up around 30-50MBs each. So if you are rocking 10-15 tabs at a time, RockMelt could also become a resource hog depending on what you have open in those tabs. My biggest point of my example, though, was that I had four tabs open in RockMelt and it had been open for a few hours while I had just opened one tab in Safari, played a video, and it sucked up a ton of resources (half of what RockMelt was using if you added everything up). This then leads to my biggest complaint of how Safari runs and why I love Chrome and RockMelt. You close a tab, in Chrome or RockMelt, you get the memory resources back. You close a tab in Safari and it holds onto the resources until the application is closed.

      Thanks, again, for your comments!

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