Can browsers still offer anything new? Rockmelt, which is introducing a version of its "social browser" for Apple's iPad, thinks so.
The browser's visual display of stories is based, in part, on stories that your friends are sharing, and it is centered around communication with the user's social network. In a posting on its corporate blog, the company said that, in developing the browser, it had been thinking about how to combine the Web, the iPad, and friends. The company has already released versions for Mac, PC, and the iPhone.
'New Way' to Explore the Web
The task, according to Rockmelt, was to "make sharing great web content easier and faster than ever before." The company said that the result, Rockmelt for the iPad, is "an entirely new way to explore the Web, built for you and your iPad from the ground up."
The browser offers ad-free content from various Web sites, based on what the company has identified as the top three browsing behaviors -- interacting with friends, consuming news and information, and searching. The browser is distributed free, and the company has not yet revealed its business model.
Complete with a swipe-and-pinch interface, the browser offers built-in chat for staying in touch with friends, a share button to update one's status, the ability to tweet links and make wall posts and, most visibly, social reading that displays news shared by friends in your social networks, to which you must be signed in. It also has automatic sync, enabling a user to access the latest news and bookmarks from other devices.
Displayed content, which the company compares to a flowing river, comes from the user's declared favorite sites and from content that friends and contacts from Facebook, Twitter, Spotify, Pinterest and other sites are sharing. Users can also "emotocode" stories with "like," "lol," "want," "aww," and other shorthand comments. News stories can be manually added, and the browser learns, over time, what stories might appeal to you.
Social Graph = My Interests?
The company, which has raised nearly $40 million in venture capital, began development on its browser three years ago, and issued a private beta in November 2010.
CEO and co-founder Eric Vishria has told news media that, in retrospect, 2011 will be seen as the end of the browser war between Google and Microsoft, and the "beginning of the war between Facebook and Google." Rockmelt is working with Facebook.
Vishria, who has described current browsers as "big dumb windows," is expecting that the under-35 market of users wants more. Searching for a friend's name, for instance, offers an auto-completion that allows a user to go directly to that friend's profile, to chat, and to post on the friend's wall.
Brad Shimmin, an analyst with industry research firm Current Analysis, compared Rockmelt's social sharing of content to Flipboard, which also displays content based on friends' choices.
But one potential issue, he noted, is that one's "social graph is not necessarily the same" as one's news interests. Shimmin pointed out that a friend could share a story about Ohio State, even more than once, but you may not be interested in that topic -- and guiding the browser to your interests could take more effort than it's worth.