Launched in beta today, a new browser called RockMelt connects with Facebook to make it easier for Web users to share news, pictures, searches and more with their friends – all without ever leaving the browser window.
Backed by Silicon Valley venture capitalist Marc Andreessen, who, as an engineer, became famous for introducing the Netscape browser in the mid-1990s, the RockMelt founders say their new service "re-imagines" a Web user's entire browsing experience.
"We really view this as a browser for modern Web users, folks who kind of live their lives online and spend time communicating with their friends online. They use the Web as a primary way to catch their news, they search really frequently," said Eric Vishria, RockMelt's co-founder and CEO. "It's really for a wide variety of people."
Once you're in the browser, you do not just see the typical search box, you see a vertical strip on the left with your Facebook friends and another on the right with widgets for Facebook, Twitter and other favorite Web applications.
As you search for content, read news stories, watch videos and more, you can share your online experience with friends without leaving the main screen. To send a video link to a friend, for example, you can just click on the video, drag it on top of the friend's picture and then choose to post it on his or her Facebook wall.
"It's the first browser that you log into," Vishria said. "By virtue of logging into the browser, you unlock the entire experience – friends, bookmarks, preferences. …Everything that makes your browser yours."
He also said that since RockMelt is the first browser that's backed by a set of servers in the cloud, a user can log on from home, work or a friend's computer and pick up where he left off the last time he was online.
Another Web browser, called Flock, is also built on Google's open-source Chromium software and also bills itself as a "social" browser. But RockMelt's Vishria says he's confident that they can make greater advances in the social Web browsing space.
"There was Friendster and then there was Facebook – time and execution matter a lot. Time and execution are everything," he said.
Tim Howes, MeltRock's co-founder and CTO, said the company intends to make money through search referrals, as other browsers do, but also hopes to eventually profit from other services, such as commerce and gaming.
"Search is the first service that has been built into the browser in any meaningful way," he said. "But the way we look at it is there are other services that can be built into the browser… And we think there will be an opportunity to monetize those."
In the short-term, however, he said the company is focused on one thing: its race to 1 million users, which it hopes it can achieve in about six months.
Despite the fanfare of today's launch, industry experts say the browser market is a tough nut to crack.
For years, Microsoft's Internet Explorer has led the pack, though Mozilla's Firefox and Google's Chrome have made some inroads.