New RockMelt socializes Chrome's Omnibox, new tabs

More than just for searches and browser history, social browser RockMelt gives some social clout to its high-powered location bar and new tab page as CEO Eric Vishria dishes on where he sees browsers headed in 2012.

The Omnibox has been beefed up in RockMelt beta 5 with deep hooks directly into Facebook.

(Credit: RockMelt)

While the big browser conflagration between Chrome and, oh, just about everybody else tends to suck the oxygen from a room, the Chromium-based RockMelt continues to keep its users warm and toasty with new features focusing on where social intersects the Web.

RockMelt beta 5 for Windows and Mac will be available around 8:30 a.m. PT Wednesday. Beta 4 is currently available for people who want to get a head start.

Facebook is already an integral part of the RockMelt experience, since an account is required to log in to the browser. RockMelt co-founder and CEO Eric Vishria explained in a visit to the CNET offices yesterday that social networking in general and Facebook specifically are indelibly tied to his browser. "RockMelt gets an average of seven hours of use per day, and 60 percent of our users are under 25 years old. There are also seven chat conversations in RockMelt per day, up from three at launch," he said, explaining the appeal of the browser to its fans. When pressed, Vishria refused to reveal specifics, saying only that RockMelt has hundreds of thousands of users.

The new beta adds two social features. One makes changes to the Omnibox, which is Google's name for the feature-rich location bar that lets you search your default search engine, history, and bookmarks simultaneously. The new RockMelt Omnibox lets you import pictures, initiate chats, and search your Facebook contacts. You can also navigate directly to Facebook's new timeline from the Omnibox.

RockMelt beta 5's New Tab page goes heavily social, in an attempt to make it more useful.

(Credit: RockMelt)

RockMelt's also developed an algorithm to show you in the Omnibox friends that you used to have more Facebook interactions with but haven't connected to in a while. It's not clear how good of an idea this is in a world where people can remain "Facebook friends" with a person long after the friendship itself has deteriorated, but maybe that's why Mark Zuckerberg gave us blocking.

The fifth beta also takes some important steps toward powering up the new tab page. It revises the mildly dynamic "most recent" sites view to build in some people news from Facebook's social graph. "What we've started to do is build actual content into the "most recently viewed" sites. I think there's even more there that's possible, where we make them more usable." The social new tab page will make it easier to see and share what you've been reading with friends. Both articles read by friends, and their sources, will be available.

The third new feature expands the browser's support for apps. Always ready with statistics to back his browser, Vishria said that the average RockMelt user has 12 apps installed and opens them 26 times a day, which is why beta 5 comes with better app support. You can expand the "app edge," the sidebar where apps are hosted, and can scroll through installed apps so you're not limited to what can be shown on your screen.

Like the Chrome Web Store, RockMelt has its own app delivery system. Called the RockMelt App Center, and "heavily curated," said Vishria, it has a "newsy focus," with an emphasis on Tumblr, Twitter, YouTube, and other sites that meld social and news.

Vishria spoke confidently that massive changes are in the offing for both browsers and the Web. "Internet Explorer is under 50 percent of marketshare for the first time in over a decade. Firefox market share has started to decline. The big winner has been Chrome, which has 25 percent, plus or minus. That's about double what they had last year. Google has effectively bought the No. 2 browser position."

The RockMelt App Center is a heavily-curated place to find RockMelt apps.

(Credit: RockMelt)

While the specifics of those numbers is debatable, there's no doubt that only three years after its introduction, Chrome has grown from an intriguing disruptor to an innovative leader, at least in terms of technology development if not pure market numbers.

"We'll look back at 2011 as the end of the war between Google and Microsoft, with Google the winner," he explained. "They used their brand and money to get marketshare." The coming struggle, he said, will be between Google and Facebook, with the browser as a key battleground.

One trend that Vishria is bucking hard is the doomsaying of personal computers. "Mobile is a very siloed experience," he said, noting that RockMelt does have an iPhone app. "It's very important, mobile is a growth area, but while everyone is off exploring the new land, I think there's huge value in the desktop/latop space."

To that end, he hinted that RockMelt's continued development into sharing might be bolstered in the future by exploring the isolated tower of search. "The biggest reason people open the browser on the phone is to search. Nothing's replaced the general utility of search."

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