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Rockmelt: Why The Social Browser Won’t Matter

The tech world is awash in stories about Rockmelt, a newly debuted start-up, that has announced a social browser, based on Chromium, the open source browser code developed by Google.

Robert Scoble wonders if the company is philosophically correct (Does RockMelt (a new social browser coming tomorrow) have the right startup philosophy? — Scobleizer), which is an odd angle, but he is correct in his observation that it will be hard to move folks from the browser they know, and the ways that they use social tools like Facebook and Twitter already.

Om Malik echoes Scoble’s philosophy comment, wondering why the twitterati seem negative about Rockmelt:

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?

Maybe Scoble and Om are circling around this philosophy thing, looking for a handhold, trying to grasp Rockmelt. But it’s like a bowling ball with no finger holes.

I think Rockmelt might turn out to be the equivalent of Tivo for the social web.

Tivo is a response to the established way of watching TV, making time-shifting and and ad avoidance possible. The idea caught on, and a lot of people bought DVRs. But the devices did not have a big impact on TV programming or even user experience, in the big picture. It’s a small idea, really.

Contrast that with iTunes/iPod impact on the music business. Or the changes in the entertainment business coming from Netflix streaming. Did you know that 20% of US prime time internet traffic is Netflix streaming movies today? That is going to lead to a wholesale change in all corners: user experience, TV devices, business models, and the future of theaters. Everything.

So Rockmelt, like Tivo, is pointing in the right direction, but it just doesn’t get you there. And what is that direction? The coming social operating system.

The future is apps, not better browsers. The browser is a kludge, in a way, providing a gateway to the web for operating systems that were designed with no web in mind. We are beginning to see the emergence of new operating environments — most notably iOS from Apple — that are based on the notion of an always on, connected web with billions of devices attached to it, and with people using those devices to communicate.

As more and better apps are built that are based on the premise of a connected web, browsers will be used less, until their use will become something like the Mac OS Terminal app: a way to get into the guts of things, used mostly by developers.

And these connected apps will take advantage of the metaphors and magic conjured up by the platforms they run on. And the most interesting and compelling metaphor to arise from today’s web is the social revolution.

The next generation of operating systems will be social at the core. We won’t be fooling with files and folders. We will be connecting with others, reading streams from our friends, and tossing observations and hopes and insights into the wake we leave behind, spreading out to all that think we matter.

So, yes, browsers will be social in that new social world, but so what? Everything will be.

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