rockmelt

Rockmelt shifts focus, tests a PC interface to the digital life

Despite predictions that the PC is on a path toward extinction, the folks at Rockmelt, makers of a "social browser" of the same name, are betting those forecasts are overblown.

While the company that's already had $40 million sunk into it by investors—including Marc Andreessen, multi-millionaire and co-author of the original Web browser, Mosaic—acknowledged last week it is deserting the browser business, it also announced that it will build a Web presence called Rockmelt for Web.

The move suggests that Rockmelt sees plenty of life left in the PC market and is staking its future on that notion.

Builds on social browser

When Rockmelt announced its browser in 2009, its founders believed the software would ride the social networking wave to success. Social apps were changing people's online behavior, they reasoned, and folks needed a new kind of browser to meet the needs of that behavior.

The browser, which has had more than four million downloads, was a sort of dashboard for a digital life. In addition to letting its users surf the Web, the browser dynamically kept them informed of changes to things that were important to them—updates on social networks and frequently followed websites.

The idea had its skeptics and by 2012, those skeptics appeared to be right, as the Rockmelt team began hedging their bets on the browser idea by taking it to the mobile world with apps for the iPhone and iPad.

Although some browser makers showed concern when Rockmelt launched—Mozilla, for instance, rolled out a Firefox social networking plug-in to diminish the appeal of the upstart—the browser never gathered the numbers it needed for survival.

Rockmelt discovered that old habits die hard, and that's especially true in the browser space. So it's launching a new website touted as the next generation in Web navigation.

Dynamic homepage

The website, currently in invitation-only beta mode, allows you to create a home page made up of tiles that constantly change. The tiles consist of a photo and some descriptive text.

Topics covered by the tiles you choose upon registering at the website. Two dozen topics are currently available, including arts, business, "cute," funny, health, lifestyle, news, shopping, tech & geek, travel, and videos.

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In addition, if you give Rockmelt permission to access your Facebook and Twitter account, updates from those services will be incorporated into the home page tile mosaic.

Consistent with Rockmelt's social roots, when your cursor hovers over a tile, a pop-up box appears allowing you to share the tile's link on Twitter, Facebook, or Pinterest.

You can also rate items. There's the familiar "like," but there are other ratings, too, such as "lol," "want," and "hmm."

Rockmelt for Web also gives you several ways to filter the content it pushes to you. For example, you can view just what your social networking friends are looking at, or what's popular on the Rockmelt network.

In addition, you can "pin" a tile to your home page, hide the tile, or flag it as inappropriate.

You can also "explore" topic categories. That enables you to discover websites that might interest you but would have otherwise eluded you.

Rockmelt admits that its website launch has a "back to future" flavor to it. "We founded Rockmelt to make the web more useful by giving people a better way to navigate its awesomeness," the company says in a statement. "Today, we’re very excited to bring these ideas back to the desktop, but in an entirely new way—actually, an entirely old way—through a website."

Going back to the future has its risks, however. If net surfers see the site as more "back" than future, then Rockmelt for Web may be headed for the same destination as Rockmelt the Browser.

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