Daily Archives: November 7, 2010

Does RockMelt (a new social browser coming tomorrow) have the right startup philosophy?

CEO Eric Vishria and CTO Tim Howes of RockMelt invited me over on Friday to see a new browser. Who is behind this? Marc Andreessen. The guy who started Netscape. He, and a bunch of other interesting people are investors in this company.

In this video you’ll see what makes this browser different. Or, you can see the other people who’ve seen it and are writing about it on Techmeme. You can sign up for access to the beta at RockMelt.com.

After all that, I’m left with the question: does this startup have the right philosophy?

Why am I wondering that?

1. I’m a power user. I have iPads. iPhones. Android phones. Windows Phone 7 phones. Plus Windows 7 and Macintosh-based desktop and laptop computers. Oh, and an Xbox and a Playstation and a Roku box, among other widgets and gadgets. My browsing experience spans nearly all of these, so someone who only has an answer for Windows and Macintosh is not likely to make its way into my life.
2. It requires a download. I’ve interviewed tons of “normal” users lately as I fly around the world. Most people are download adverse. Even iPhone and iPad users are not trying a whole lot of new things. Of the geeky early-adopter audiences I’ve spoken to, only about 5% have loaded more than 100 apps on those platforms. Users on old-style systems are far less likely to try new things.
3. It requires a login. Folks are not used to logging into their browser. That’s a major change to ask people to do to get new features.
4. It changes search behavior. I use Google Chrome BECAUSE it only has one box: the one where you enter your searches as well as your URLs. I think that’s elegant and nice. RockMelt asks you to use two separate boxes again, which clutters UI, but worse yet, asks you to change your expectations of how search should work (yes, it’s better, but change is hard for normal users — they probably will wonder why search isn’t just pulling up full Google).
5. The Twitter client isn’t full featured. It doesn’t support real time, for instance, like Seesmic and Tweetdeck do. So, advanced users like me won’t find it good enough.

That is a LOT of change to ask people to do and it’s a lot to ask early adopters to overlook. Here’s why that matters:

Late adopters usually change their behavior only after getting hounded by early adopters. I’ve seen this over and over. Many marketers think they can work around the early adopters and usually that turns out to be a bad strategy. Can you think of an example of when a new product ignored the early, or advanced, adopters/users, and got major adoption at the mass market without them? I can’t and I’ve been studying this for a long time.

Already I’m watching reactions on Twitter and most of the advanced user types are wondering whether this is like Flock (another social browser most of them have ignored) and some, like Rafat Ali, say that this is the worst of Silicon Valley bubbleisms.

Why is there such a negative reaction?

Change is hard, but there’s something else: advanced users have a framework of WHERE they’ll accept change. I call it “battlefronts.” Places where the industry is actively fighting it out. Right now I expect a LOT of change on mobile apps, for instance, but not much change on my desktop or laptop computers or operating systems. Browser wars? So 1996. But 2010? We’re in a mobile phone war, for gosh’ sake. Too much change in wrong place and it gets a blowback.

Tonight I’ll have several videos, for instance, from companies who are doing apps for Windows Phone 7. Those will be very well received, I expect, compared to RockMelt.

So, why do I care about RockMelt? Because social continues to radically change everything about my life. Look at Foodspotting, Foursquare, Tungle.me, and/or Plancast. Those are radical changes to how I live my life. I want a browser that integrates those into my Facebook and Twitter experience. So far that hasn’t arrived. Will RockMelt bring it to us in the future? Possibly, but today they haven’t and have aimed at slower adopters.

I think that’s a strategic mistake. How about you? In the interview RockMelt covers why they made the bets they did at 19m 40 seconds into the video. “There are 2.1 billion people who use browsers…that’s a lot of people.” Listen to their answer.

Is it the right philosophy for a startup to have?