Get Social With RockMelt

I remember first hearing about RockMelt a couple of years ago when I wasn’t quite as active on social networks. Google Chrome with some Facebook extensions baked in? That’s supposed to get me to switch?

I scoffed, tried it out and scoffed some more. But now that I manage multiple accounts on various social networks, every little time-saver helps. And that’s why I’m glad I checked out the latest version.

For the uninitiated, RockMelt is best described as a social browser that connects you and your online activities to your social networks. It’s built on Google’s open-source Chromium (which implements the WebKit browser engine) and so will be mostly familiar to those who use Google Chrome.

Since its launch (and our Web AppStorm coverage of the app in 2010), the app has gotten a lot of new features that make it worth checking out. Should you make it your default browser? Let’s find out.

Overview

Having been built on Chromium, RockMelt offers the snappy performance on loading and rendering web pages we’ve grown used to with Google Chrome. The difference lies in how easily you can share what you’re up to and get in touch with friends and family on social networks.

The browser integrates heavily with Facebook and brings notifications, messages, friend requests and chat to the forefront as well as a slew of other apps. RockMelt is free to use and is updated regularly with new features. Keep in mind that this browser was designed for those who surf socially; it’s not a great choice if you use Chrome’s Incognito Mode often.

Browsing with RockMelt, with the App Edge showing an open app

Browsing with RockMelt, with the App Edge showing an open app

Getting Started

After you run the tiny installer it will proceed to download the RockMelt package and install the browser on your computer. You’ll be prompted to log into Facebook to grant RockMelt access to your information and messages so it can display them without you having to visit the webpage.

You can choose to skip this step, but you’ll miss out on all the neat messaging, chat and notification integration that this browser features. Once you’ve logged in, you can start browsing and sharing like there’s no tomorrow.

The Interface

As mentioned, RockMelt looks just like Google Chrome but with a few small differences. The first thing you’ll notice is the small Facebook notification area on the top right of the window. This resembles and behaves just like the notifications on the Facebook site and will let you know about new likes, posts, messages and friend requests in real-time.

The Twitter app on RockMelt

The Twitter app on RockMelt

Besides the usual buttons (Back, Forward, Refresh and Home), there are a few additional buttons in the navigation bar. On the extreme left is the New Message button to compose a status update for Facebook or Twitter (or to write/message any of your contacts).

On the right of the address bar is the Share button which lets you share the webpage you’re currently viewing with anybody. The button on the extreme right is to toggle Quiet Mode, which you can use to hush RockMelt’s notifications, message pop-ups and chat alerts.

Facebook chat with in-line images in RockMelt

Facebook chat with in-line images in RockMelt

Fancy Names

There are also two strips on the left and right of the window, called Edges. The left edge (called the App Edge) contains RockMelt Apps, which are specialized apps designed to bring you content in well-designed pop-up windows. There are apps for Twitter, Gmail, YouTube and plenty of regularly-updated sites like those on the Gawker Media network (Lifehacker, Gizmodo, Kotaku, etc.), TheOnion, CNN, The Times of India and plenty more, all available for free from the RockMelt App Center (which is also a great place to discover new sources of content you might enjoy).

Each of these allow to consume content easily, share it with friends or even save it to view later (by opening the View Later app). Many of the apps feature Social Reading, which I’ll touch upon later.

Extensions for Google Chrome, which you can get from the Chrome Web Store (open a new tab to retrieve the link) also work and sit in this edge. I personally still use HootSuite for scheduling tweets on multiple accounts.

Sharing a webpage with RockMelt

Sharing a webpage with RockMelt

The right edge (called the Friend Edge) is for your Facebook contacts, displayed as small thumbnails of users’ profile pictures. Clicking on any of your friends’ pictures allows you to begin chatting with them instantly, without having to visit Facebook. You can also right-click any contact to visit their profile, post on their wall or send a private message.

Both edges can be expanded by clicking the buttons at the bottom of each edge. You can also toggle the App Edge and Friend Edge by hitting Ctrl+Shift+[ and Ctrl+Shift+] respectively.

RockMelt calls its address bar the Social Omnibox and it’s not for nothing. Apart from behaving like Chrome’s search bar with instant results and searching within your bookmarks, the Omnibox can also find your Facebook friends and offers buttons alongside results to visit their profile or chat/message them. You can also search for your RockMelt apps and launch them even if the App Edge is hidden.

The New Tab page is also pretty fun – it shows Facebook friend activity (such as articles someone’s been reading), friends whose birthday it is on that day (yes, you can wish them right from that page itself!) and even friends you haven’t been in touch with recently.

Wish Facebook friends on their birthday from a new tab

Wish Facebook friends on their birthday from a new tab

Most of the apps for content from the RockMelt App Center feature Social Reading, which essentially allows you to share what you’re reading from various sources (articles are listed in a News box on your Facebook timeline) and see what your friends are reading. You can even discover new content that might interest you based on what content others are consuming – stories are marked as Top Stories (most read), Trending (most recently read) and Hot In Your Network and promoted to the top of app pop-ups.

Using RockMelt

Like I said, I’ve been way more social with my web browsing over the past couple of years and RockMelt makes sharing and following content a breeze. Prior to using RockMelt seriously, I’d loaded my copy of Chrome with plenty of extensions and bookmarklets to help me share and save stuff. RockMelt not only reduces the need for most of these but also adds some much-needed functionality (such as dedicated apps, Social Reading and the View Later feature).

Of course, it’s also kind of distracting since there’s now content pouring in from every corner of the browser window. I recommend using RockMelt for casual/home use and a copy of Chrome or any other browser you prefer for when you just need to get some work done.

Conclusion

RockMelt does what it says on the box, and very well at that. The user experience is very well thought-out and really makes sharing content and staying in touch easy and fun. The fact that it also supports Chrome extensions makes it a real winner. I’d definitely recommend this to my extrovert friends and even to those who enjoy reading online.

One thing to note is that RockMelt is suited more to Facebook users than Twitter users, so if you’re not very active on the former you may not find it as useful. Still, it packs enough features to keep any social media fan busy so why not give it a shot?


Summary

RockMelt is a social browser that connects you and your activities to your social networks, making sharing content and keeping in touch a pleasure.

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