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?

About Robert Scoble

As Startup Liaison for Rackspace, the Open Cloud Computing Company, I travel the world with Rocky Barbanica looking for what's happening on the bleeding edge of technology and report that here.

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

  1. Robert, I’m curious what your wife thinks of RockMelt since she’s on Facebook all the time.

    I’m trying it out today. I’m not sure that it’s really all that faster. Some of the little tweaks are cool if you’re in Facebook all the time.. Some things are not and need a few extra features.

    The search results pop down sidebar is interesting, and I don’t miss the ads, but I’m not sure I like it over plain Google.

  2. As a web developer all I have to say is “good luck”… I’m not gonna started testing my pages in yet another browser… 4 is enough already (IE, FF, Chrome & Safari)…

    … maybe if they payed me…

  3. I like the way Epic Browser — based on firefox code — integrates social networking sites in the sidebar.. but they are still in alpha beta or something

  4. So you have to have a Facebook account in order to use the Beta!? What’s RockMelt’s problem? Don’t they know that not ALL of those 2.1 billion browser users have a Facebook account? Me included? What’s their problem?

    Hmph.

  5. Awesome. They just reinvented AOL’s browser. Welcome to 1999. Retro is the way to go, fellas.

  6. The first 2 points don’t make any sense what so ever. Have you been using Google Chrome on your iPad and iPhone along with Mac and Windows? No. Probably Opera is the only browser that has the answer to your ‘question’.
    As for your second points: more than enough people have been downloading Google Chrome because it’s that damn good. Because the installation process is SO simple. Because most users who use a computer aren’t as stupid as all geeks are making them out to be nowadays. If a user likes it, they’ll download it, app store or no app store.

    1. Sorry, but on my Windows and Mac systems I’ve been keeping Chrome as simple as possible to as closely match my browsing experience on other platforms as possible. I don’t even store bookmarks on those systems. So, why would I “pimp them out” with new browsers that add capabilities that aren’t possible on other platforms?

  7. I’d answer your question with, “No. this is not the right attitude for a startup.” We expect start ups to bring us something new. Something far out. Something that takes time for the masses to adopt. Like Twitter and Facebook. Only two years ago, there were many doubters, and far fewer users. Their comment at 19 minutes in sounds like they want to launch as a mature company. Done building. Enough of a following to make the investors happy. Little risk and little evolution moving forward. That said, will give it a solid try as soon as I get the keys to take it for a spin.

  8. I’m liking RockMelt so far. A quick couple of points in response to above: seems like the Twitter feed is real-time (or very near-time – not sure how ‘real’ you want to be but it seems to be within 1 minute). I was initially not enthused by the search box but actually it’s quite neat. You can search OR enter a URL in the main address bar, or you can use the specific search box to get a list of search results to choose from from a popup list. So far so good but will keep at it. Does seem pretty simple for 2 years worth of dev though :-)

      1. Correct. In fact I’m keeping Seesmic open still for it’s instant search capabilities (shame about the constant ‘beachballing’ *ahem*).

      2. Does ‘real time’ really matter though? I’ve tried it with Tweetdeck, and I don’t follow nearly as many people as you, and I found it to be a constant distraction. It’s like having ADD. (And it will probably cause it.)

        While the tech behind real time is clever and would be useful in a financial application when these timely things *really* matter, or also with news organisation for internal use, but I like to pick up a paper and read it, not have someone throw a story in my face every second that a story breaks while I’m doing something else ;)

  9. Great interview and questions Robert. They sure have awesome investors, which is most likely why they are getting all the attention. I would’ve bet the company entirely on mobile though.

  10. I liked Flock, but I finally gave it up because there were too many other sacrifices. I hope RockMelt isn’t like that, but because of your early warning signals, I’m less enthusiastic to try it.

  11. The first time I’m “browsing adult material” and my mom’s photo shows up in the sidebar is going to be pretty weird. I’m definitely going to check out Rockmelt, I’m really not sure that a browser with these built in features is a great idea though.

    Will – http://tagmyphone.com/

  12. I think rockmelt is a step in the right direction. chrome, ie, firefox, opera, etc. are all trying to be faster which is important but we need to be able to make the browser more customizable and more aware of our social networks and accounts. Flock has tried this but it was too hectic and rigid. We need to be able to pick and choose the components we want to add to “Our” browser. Adding extensions and browser plugins kind of does that but we all know what happens after we’ve added one too many of them…everything slows down and crashes. We need a browser that can handle this snap-on parts.
    I wrote about social browsing and co-browsing a long time ago. Medi.um was doing something very cool in this space but it pivoted into search. http://bit.ly/bsLstA

    Also, I don’t like that rockmelt only allows facebook logins! We should be able to use other accounts like twitter, openID, google, etc.

  13. Robert – You have a great point. Most successful startups focus on being a big fish in a small pond as opposed to being a small fish in a big pond! Trying to make a dent aiming at 2.1 B users is a shot gun approach … No wonder they have 30 people, $10 M and 2 yrs of work … Successful start ups are a lot more nimble, hungry and try to solve one pain for people that it matters the most to first.

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