This morning I spent a few minutes using Rockmelt and Flock, two new “social browsers” that integrate your social networks into the browsing interface. Both browsers are built in Chromium, the open source version of the Google Chrome browser. Because they are built on Chromium, both are fast and relatively lightweight and stable.
This is a nice browser, and I like the Friends on the left edge and Feeds and Apps on the right. The Friend edge has two views, to see your friends by online status, or see only your “starred” friends. A Share button allows a quick share of whatever you’re browsing. I had a bit of a problem importing my Chrome settings – it worked but not the way I expected.
TIP: Chrome bookmarks get put in an “imported from Chrome” folder, and so you have to drag them over to where you really want them using the Bookmark Manager.
Extensions don’t work properly. I use a few important extensions, including Google Voice and Bit.ly, and they just don’t work in Rockmelt. When installed, they show up on the Feeds and Apps edge, rather than the toolbar, and when clicked, they just open the website rather than their drop-down menu. This kills Rockmelt for me, but hopefully it’s something the developers can fix quickly.
My last complaint is a bit fussy: the bookmark bar drop-down menus have a strange double-spaced feel to them. This seems odd since the rest of the browser is nicely designed, and it is probably easily fixed.
Flock has a simple side-bar for seeing feeds. Here you can select what group of friends you want to watch, and you can manage who is in which group and add new groups. The interface is easy to understand and everything worked for me as expected. The Profile Page for your Flock Account features a Favorites feature that tempts me to start tagging websites again.
Flock has also really thought through the friend/connection interface. At first, I thought it didn’t work right. I had my friend Adina Levin showing up three times… Nope, just combine them by dragging one Adina onto another. Once all your Adina’s are combined, you can click the combined card to see detail of all their accounts.
TIP: The one you drag ONTO is the one that shows up as the picture for your friend.
One suggestion for the Flock developers: Flock should handled combining of friends using the identity consolidation microformat “rel=me”. This would allow the above consolidation to work automatically or be greatly simplified.
[ more on rel=me can be read at: http://microformats.org/wiki/rel-me ]
Neither browser is quite doing it for me yet. I like the simplicity of the Rockmelt Edge interface, but the bugs make it unusable for me. Flock is more stable, but the interface makes me do too much manually and it doesn’t have the industrial-strength multi-network features of a social networking app like Seesmic Desktop 2.
But I’ll be watching both of these effort closely. Both teams have done some interesting work here and with a little work either could win me over. I would love to see them synchronize with my google account. Both should parse and understand the lists I’ve already made on Twitter and elsewhere. And both should be able to do something interesting for me based on whose shared links I click and the updates I read. There is a lot of interesting opportunity here for an integrated experience that might make these browsers much more than a browser with some extensions.