Roger Cohen, The Quest to Belong
Next year’s Thanksgiving grace.
I saw a post by Benn Parr (Flock Social Browser Declares War on RockMelt with Version 3.5) about a new version of Flock, responding to the threat of RockMelt in the rekindled social browser niche.
It’s like a schoolyard brawl, where two kids wind up throwing punches because they like the same girl, not because they have any good reason to fight. It’s theater, not warfare.
There is something tantalizing about a ‘social browser’, but it’s all an illusion. There is a phantasmagorical attraction to the notion of an experience of browsing the web, reading things, discovering other things, all being informed by social networks, and all screwed into the browser.
But that is exactly what we are doing already. It just isn’t integrated into the browser. And as a result, the browser doesn’t have to know about the specific way that I interact with Twitter, or which social bookmarking tool I use, or which RSS capabilities I want. A social browser will always be some severely constrained subset of the range of social experience available, because developers are constantly dreaming up new apps.
Yes, a social browser might have some open architecture where third party plugins counld extend basic ideas about sociality, but that’s still limiting, too. Easier for a start-up to build something that plays in all browsers.
The future isn’t social browsers, but social operating systems. Once Apple, Google, and Microsoft (and others, like Jolicloud) start to standardize on common elements that should be built into the platforms — like profiles, streams, following, liking, reposting, and so on (as I started to touch on in my Tumblebacks notion) — applications could be much more quickly built, and would interoperate.
Today we take it for granted that an RTF file can be created and edited on a Mac, and emailed to someone without concern for their operating system, or email tools. In a few years, I will read something reposted by a friend in a social app, and I will be able to repost that into another app, and follow the author in a third, all without concern about things working. Contrast that with today’s mess, where reposting something from Twitter into my Tumblr blog takes minutes, not seconds, and whatever comments people make in Disqus on my blog about that post never find their way back to the original author.
This social plumbing requires re-architecting at the foundational levels of computing, not in the browser. The browser is a kludge: a tool developed to allow people to use the web on PCs that were designed without the web in mind. So we shouldn’t pour more attention into the browser. We have to look to the bedrock of our operating environments, and put social first, there.
Cuddy’s research suggests it’s our human nature to think that because Andreessen and Horowitz are famous entrepreneurs, they’re also highly competent investors, but at this point, they’ve done little beyond inject some excitement into a once plodding industry. Though everyone wants to pick “the next king of Silicon Valley,” the reality is that it’s too soon to give away that crown. Maybe it will someday go to Andreessen and Horowitz, but they’ll have to generate cash-on-cash returns first – just like everybody else.
So far they have yielded zilch. Rockmelt is a bad play, and what about Ning?
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.