RockMelt Browser Could Boost Facebook Revenue

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A Forrester Research analyst suggests Marc Andreessen’s RockMelt browser could open up new advertising opportunities for Facebook

One analyst has said she believes RockMelt, the Web browser serial entrepreneur Marc Andreessen and his engineering colleagues are developing for world-beating social network Facebook, could bring new revenue opportunities for Facebook and its long tail of application developers.

Little is known about RockMelt, although New York Times suggested the browser would store Facebook user names to let users interact with their Facebook friends while they’re surfing the Web.

Forrester Research analyst Sheri McLeish said RockMelt could help users toggle back and forth between Facebook, other Web services and the broader Web, keeping users on Facebook as long as possible. That would open up greater online advertising opportunities for Facebook, and could help Facebook’s application developers find the broader audience they seek.

“Facebook, along with Twitter, haven’t established a way to monetize the popularity of their tools, so I would imagine the browser could open up advertising revenue or other opportunities to charge vendors, resellers or someone else in order to get real estate on the site,” McLeish told eWEEK. “There’s so many people looking at these sites that it’s a shame not to make money off of that. The influence of peer recommendation is huge on purchasing.”

For an idea of what else RockMelt could include, it might be wise to look at Flock, a social Web browser based on the open-source Mozilla Firefox browser that streams status updates from Facebook, Twitter and 20 other Web services. Interestingly, Andreessen, who entered the limelight with the Netscape browser and is now a director on Facebook’s board, is an investor in Flock.

In a screenshot published by ReadWriteWeb, RockMelt invites users to, “Connect the RockMelt browser to Facebook to interact with your friends, share updates and media, and view your news feed.”

That synopsis alone sounds an awful lot like Flock. TechCrunch’s Erick Schonfeld published a wish list of features RockMelt might include to entice users, including one-button access to sharing of Web services and launching them from the Web browser.

A Flock spokesperson confirmed to eWEEK that Flock already provides these features, and is working on the Google Gears support.

eWEEK asked Flock President and CEO Shawn Hardin what he knew and thought about the RockMelt browser. Hardin, who appeared as surprised as everyone else by the announcement, spoke cautiously and in general terms about RockMelt, which seems positioned to compete with Flock.

“The idea of creating a more engaging and compelling experience for end users via a browser that recognises how much the Internet has changed in the last 13 [or] 14 years is obviously an idea that we think is incredibly important,” Hardin said. “Marc has obviously had a vision for how much more can be done with the browser than has conventionally been done in the last decade.”

Asked what features users might come to expect from a browser tailored toward Facebook, Hardin offered a pitch for the Flock browser, which was significantly upgraded in May. He said while Facebook is a great social service, Flock believes there are opportunities to blend media sharing with the ability to connect with friends online for several more Web services.

“We think Facebook is a great experience to take along in the browser, but frankly we also think it’s important to more broadly support a myriad of other social services … social friends-networking services as well as social media services,” Hardin said. “That’s why Flock’s strategy has been to embrace Facebook and deeply integrate with it, but also to integrate with services like MySpace, Delicious, Flickr and YouTube.”

However, by all accounts, Flock hasn’t burned up the Web 2.0 world with mass adoption since it launched in 2007. This leads some folks to question whether the world needs another browser; Microsoft Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox, Apple Safari, Google Chrome and Opera Software’s Opera seem to satisfy the world’s Web surfers.

Gartner analyst Ray Valdes, who has used both Flock and Facebook’s tool bar extension for Firefox, told eWEEK that RockMelt may be geared to highlight some of the more obscure features on Facebook only power users may be aware of.

However, he said he is skeptical about the need for a social-oriented Web browser.

“The question is, Will it really add value to the user experience in a sustainable way over time to justify the investment?” Valdes said. “In that regard, I’m somewhat skeptical given my experience with Flock and with the Facebook tool bar. I found them of value, but after a while they faded away from my daily routine.”

RockMelt is not open to the public, but users can visit the RockMelt Website to enter their e-mail addresses to get updates from the company.