RockMelt Web Browser Faces Uphill Climb

Posted by: Douglas MacMillan on August 14, 2009

Netscape co-founder Marc Andreessen is busy making dozens of small bets on startups in his $300 million venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz. RockMelt may emerge as one of his most intriguing investments, because of both his history as a pioneer in Web browsing and his current ties to social networking behemoth Facebook.

The New York Times reported on Friday that the Andreessen-backed startup will somehow incorporate Facebook user names in its browser, so that users could presumably interact with their friends on the social network while they’re surfing around the Web. Andreessen currently sits on Facebook’s board, but the newspaper reports that Facebook is not explicitly connected to the project. That wouldn’t prevent RockMelt from tapping into the social network’s API, a code that makes Facebook data available to other Web sites and services.

What makes Andreessen think the market will support another Web browser? Microsoft’s Internet Explorer still owns the lion’s share, 68%, of the market, though Mozilla’s Firefox continues to steadily gain ground with 22%, according to data tracker Net Applications. The next two most used browsers, Safari and Chrome, have yet to surpass 10% market share combined, but Apple and Google are investing heavily in those products.

As people turn to the Web for greater chunks of their day and more activities in their lives, the browser has become one of the most important pieces of software installed on most computers. That means the average newcomer won’t easily jump to some newcomer, regardless of its backer.

Though we know little about RockMelt so far, what we do know sounds a lot like Flock, the “social Web browser” launched in late 2007 that’s raised more than $28 million but has failed to gain any significant share of the market. I remember liking the idea of Flock – having a constant sidebar of conversations happening on Twitter, Facebook, and other social sites that are important to me while I surf elsewhere – but when I downloaded it, it was too slow and lacked some of the basic functions I’m accustomed to using in other browsers.

It’s also unclear what RockMelt could create that would be more appealing than the library of Facebook add-ons that are available for Firefox.

I’m skeptical, but if there’s one person who could inject a dose of creativity into Web browsing and help make a business out of it, it’s Andreessen. RockMelt is led by Eric Vishria and Tim Howes, former Opsware execs.

Plus: Firefox is proof that the entire browser category benefits from new, imaginative competitors.

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Reader Comments

CarGuy

August 14, 2009 08:27 PM

Back when Firefox first got rolling, there was resistance and skepticism from mainstream users, too. This isn't good or bad, it's pretty normal (any new product or idea can expect this in the face of established players). This is definitely a risk, and let's face it, the odds are not in RockMelt's favor. However, if they bring fresh ideas to the table, it could benefit IE and Firefox users: IE has borrowed ideas from Firefox, and Firefox is now working on concepts first shown in Chrome. Of course, it really needs to benefit RockMelt, and its unclear at this stage how they would expect to make money. People don't buy a web browser separately anymore, and haven't for a long time. I wouldn't expect widespread adoption in the enterprise (where they could make money like RedHat does on support agreements), and people won't put up with ads embedded in the browser if they can get one that doesn't have them. I guess without seeing the business and marketing plans, how this could succeed financially isn't very clear.

ricord

August 15, 2009 07:01 AM

To build a browser with a different approach is interesting and difficult.Why not?An other personal challenge for Marc Andreessen ?

pravin

August 15, 2009 07:43 AM

this is good.

Beltway Greg

August 15, 2009 10:20 AM

"Dozens of small bets." Yeah, he has the future mapped out.

Beltway Greg

August 15, 2009 10:20 AM

"Dozens of small bets." Yeah, he has the future mapped out.

Developer

August 16, 2009 12:07 AM

Different browser is not possible right now because whole content is documented in W3C standard, like HTML4 standard. Browsers can function like full client side software since thier limit to content is HTML, whereas full client software can do whatever developers wants. Unless, RockMelt is taking totally different approach, not adhering to HTML standard, they can do something different. Otherwise, i dont see what they can do different from what is already implemented in IE, Firefox etc.

jumboben

August 16, 2009 12:56 AM

all they have to do is disable the flash ads animation and they'll get all the market share they want

JOHN LEE BLACKWELL

August 16, 2009 01:09 AM

I'm sorry are you using the same Internet as the rest of us? Flock missing features? People won't jump from a browser to try another? IE and Firefox are the only Browser players in town?
It seems you don't really have much experience with the internet and I shudder at the dumbed down level of your reporting.
Your pseudo-pundit sort is always a league or greater behind every single innovation - I bet you said Facebook would never be a myspace and that firefox would flop.
You have absolutely no idea that there will not even be Websites anymore in a decade do you or browsers for that matter anymore.
Go to Uni again as a mature student and study with some kids or write about banking or motor cars or something - please.

Jones Smith

August 16, 2009 11:41 AM

Unfortunately, inovative ideas are lacking. Being a fervant user of firefox, i clearly agree that firefox was the bigbang when it came. Extremely new, fresh and competitive, it showed new heights.. lets pray and wait for another "firefox".

A revolution does not need new minds but refined ones - Jony

tiddle

August 16, 2009 03:26 PM

Let me get this straight. Andreessen wants us to use another browser because of better integration with facebook? IE not withstanding, I'd bet you'll find the same plugin that would have done the same in firefox. Firefox works great me. If Andreessen thinks he can get a 2nd act after netscape, let's just say that, his time has passed. Even though he's the poster boy for netscape, Andreessen isn't even the original main author of netscape - it's an older developer who quite contentedly ceded the limelight to the 21-year-old Andreessen to do dogs-and-pony show with Jim Barksdale.

Duane Byron Carlson

August 17, 2009 12:29 AM

Seasoned investors DO NOT bet against SERIAL entrepreneurs. While these guys
have excellent current corporate exerience, I am betting on NATIVE ABILITY. In STREET language, that means that they "Just Know" and most likely can't explain if questioned.
Tack sa Myket.

Duane Byron Carlson

Andrei Timoshenko

August 17, 2009 10:55 AM

Just because 'social' works for some aspects of online activities, does not mean that it should be thrown willy-nilly at all of them. To be able to interact with my "friends on the social network as I am surfing around the web", my friends have to be online at the same time as me, and be interested in the same things at the same time as me. This flies in the face of the Internet's two biggest strengths. First, that it is asynchronous and does not require concomitant participation. Second, that it allows one to exploit the long tail - one interacts with different random individuals on topics in which one shares a common interest with them. Can you imagine calling up a bunch of your friends right now and saying "come - let's discuss this article!" for every article you comment on, for instance?

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BusinessWeek writers Peter Burrows, Cliff Edwards, Olga Kharif, Aaron Ricadela, Douglas MacMillan, and Spencer Ante dig behind the headlines to analyze what’s really happening throughout the world of technology. One of the first mainstream media tech blogs, Tech Beat covers everything from tech bellwethers like Apple, Google, and Intel and emerging new leaders such as Facebook to new technologies, trends, and controversies.

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