Is Rockmelt just a browser for Facebook freaks? Or will it really rock our world?


Children, gather around the electric campfire. You might not believe this, but I remember a world without web browsers.

We had social networks back then. One of them was called The Well (for Whole Earth ‘Lectronic Link), but you needed to know cryptic Unix shell commands to communicate on it.

The web, in its infancy, was just characters and commands, words and numbers. No photos of Paris Hilton, no Britney Spears sex videos.

Then along came Mosaic.

I was there, back in 1992 or so, one of the first times Mosaic was shown publicly. It wasn’t a big press conference. We were crouched around a workstation monitor, and the guy demoing it talked about it in lofty, spiritual terms. I remember distinctly that he said Mosaic was something that was going to unify the planet and usher in a new era of understanding. It would give us a unified, global consciousness. Looking back, as wacked out as that statement might have seemed at the time, he was right.

Clustered there that day were a few people, many of whom are now legends in the computer industry. We were in a underground club at 9th and Folsom Street in San Francisco’s then pretty seedy SOMA nightclub district. This bar was in its “Cyber Cafe” phase, and it had bathroom walls papered with real computer circuit boards.

Everyone was wearing a lot of black leather, Cyndi Lauper-ish dyed hair and spiked dog collars and we were all kind of artsy and broke. Craigslist was a event list emailed to about 150 people. The dot com boom hadn’t started yet, and the tech world was about geeks, long hair and iconoclasts — not venture capitalists, MBAs and big money.

If you saw a picture of it today you’d laugh at how primitive it is compared to today’s web. But Mosaic was different. So different that it was kind of hard to grasp conceptually. It was visual. It had graphics. It had colors and windows.

When I first saw Mosaic I instantly knew I was witnessing history. A chill ran up my spine. This was something that would totally change the world — a massive leap beyond anything that existed before it.

Back then, everyone had a different email account, and belonged to a different network. (Prodigy, AOL, Compuserve, MCI Mail.) There wasn’t anything that connected these networks so it was really difficult to communicate unless you belonged to several.

Mosaic hijacked the World Wide Web from the hands of scientists, researchers and geeks and made it accessible to ordinary people. It unified all of those separate networks into a single space, a browser. And it was visual.

It solved a real problem. It enabled people to do something they couldn’t even imagine before it existed. It rocked my world.

So back to the future, Rockmelt.

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When I visited the new site for RockMelt and watched the hype-filled intro video today, it did not exactly have this effect on me.

RockMelt is cool. It has great marketing. They kept it simple. It is defintely already making waves. But is it a paradigm shift like Mosaic and Netscape Navigator? WIll it change the way millions of people work, interact and live?

I’m not sure.

Billed as a “social browser,” Rockmelt, which is created by some of the same folks who worked on Mozaic 16 years ago, (and later, the Netscape browser), and is funded by Netscape founder Marc Andressen, mixes the social world of Twitter and Facebook with the rest of the web. It is based on the fundamental principle that the Web today is not just about browsing and finding, it’s about sharing.

There’s a row of photos along the left (your friends), and a row of Social Network icons along the right. (Your networks.) Centered between the personal network and the public networks, lies the rest of the web, making it easy to navigate back and forth between your friends, your networks and the news and information you’re searching for, without, one hopes, having to constantly flip back and forth between tabs and log in and log out of different accounts.

Rockmelt is essentially about sharing.

If Rockmelt can do what social network integration tools like HootSuite are supposed to do, but in a more elegant way, unifying all of your social networks and friends into a single dashboard, it will definitely attract the Social Media Geeks and Freaks (like me) and the Social Web Professionals.

Ultimately, the only thing that matters is adoption — will people use it? Does it enable us to do something we’ve never done before?

Will my Mom use it?

Or will it go the way of Flock, Cruz, Fizzik and (probably, just because the name sucks) Blekko?

You can sign up for a Rockmelt beta program and decide for yourself. Let me know what you think.

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