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Need another distraction? Social networking in your browser

Steve Henn Nov 8, 2010

Need another distraction? Social networking in your browser

Steve Henn Nov 8, 2010


Kai Ryssdal: Part of the reason the global economy is so intertwined is because it’s so easy now for people reach out and touch each other — electronically speaking. Email, Twitter, Facebook, texting — not to mention the fact that most families have half a dozen phone numbers these days.

There’s a new Internet browser being released today that’s designed to make it even easier to stay in touch. It’s called RockMelt, and we’ve called Marketplace’s Steve Henn up in Silicon Valley to walk us through it.

Hey Steve.

Steve Henn: Hey, how are you?

RYSSDAL: I’m all right. Listen, RockMelt, what is it?

HENN: Well, it’s a new web browser. The founders of this company think the way we use the web has changed a lot in the last five years with Facebook and Twitter. But the way browsers are built hasn’t changed at all. So they’re trying to build in all of your social networking feeds to the browser itself. So on the left-hand side of the browser you can see all your friends. On the right-hand side, you can see all the sites you visit and check out what’s going on — whether it’s Twitter or the New York Times, just by scrolling over them.

RYSSDAL: Is it going to catch on, though? I mean, I like my browser, I’m not about to switch.

HENN: Well, yeah, right? And does the world need another browser? I’m not 100 percent sure, but it makes it a lot easier you to do all of the things you do online without toggling back and forth. And that was really the key insight that the CEO, Eric Vishra, had when he set out to build this thing.

Eric Vishra: The thing that really led us to this was the observation that the typical web user only visits five to seven unique websites. Like they only visit a handful of websites and they visit them multiple times a day, basically going back polling for updates. And to us, the thing that didn’t make sense about that is it’s 2010 and the browser isn’t, like, intelligent enough to understand that I do the same thing 10 times a day — just to have that content ready and waiting for me. And that’s what we’ve tried to do here.

RYSSDAL: So, Steve, RockMelt is an independent company, so eventually this thing is going to have to make money. Unlike Internet Explorer, which is from Microsoft, and Chrome, which is from Google, which as we all know doesn’t need any more money. So how are they going to make this thing pay?

HENN: Well right now, they’re not making any money at all. They want to build a big user base. But the next step will be to charge search engines, like Google and Bing, a referral for driving people to their site. And that’s just their first step. They think they will be able to charge shopping sites, like eBay, for building those sites into this browser as well. So down the road, they think there’s a really big market here. And some pretty savvy investors seem to agree. They have backing from Marc Andreessen, who is one of the founders of Netscape, and the chairman of Intuit, who was an adviser for Google in the early days and is on the board of Apple.

RYSSDAL: So there is an experiential question to ask here, right? I downloaded a version of RockMelt today, and before you even get going, you have to log in to your Facebook account. I mean, it’s completely intertwined.

HENN: Yeah, that’s right. And when it starts up, it will only appeal to people who are immersed in the social web. But if you live in that universe, if that’s sort of the soup you’re swimming through every day, I think it’s easier to use.

RYSSDAL: Marketplace’s Steve Henn on the latest in the browser wars. It’s called RockMelt. Steve, thanks a lot.

HENN: Sure thing.

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