Rockmelt: More Feed Reader Than Browser, And Not The Web I Was Looking For [Review]

There’s been a lot of hoopla today about Rockmelt, a free new iPad app for browsing the web. Everyone keeps calling Rockmelt a browser, but I disagree. This is not what I call a browser. It’s a feed reader.

A few years ago, pre-Twitter and pre-Google Reader (back when RSS feeds were the thing to use) feed reader apps usually came with a list of suggested sources. You could add each one to your personal feeds with a click. I can remember doing this the first time I downloaded NetNewsWire.

Rockmelt does exactly the same thing. It offers you a selection of curated sources from which you can pick the stuff that interests you. You know what it reminds me of? Flipboard. Flipboard with no flipping, and with a liberal splash of Pinterest.

It’s all about the social. Setup includes connecting Rockmelt to Facebook and Twitter, so it can show you the stuff your friends are linking to in those places.

In fact, Rockmelt is a social network in its own right. Once you’ve signed in, you have a profile there – you can edit your bio and upload a picture, and anything you comment upon will identify you with it. I was surprised to see on my own profile that, just minutes after signing up, I was “following” 84 other people. Who were they? I have no idea, and Rockmelt offers no means for me to see a list of them. I suspect they are individuals who are connected to me on Twitter and who also have Rockmelt accounts, but it would be nice to know for sure.

From the moment you start, Rockmelt throws lots of content at you. The drop-down menu at the top-left is the primary means of getting around, and it takes a bit of getting used to. It lists all the curated content categories, and your two most recent Rockmelt locations. To find the stuff from your Facebook and Twitter friends, look under the “Social” section in this drop-down list.

Rockmelt: More Feed Reader Than Browser, And Not The Web I Was Looking For [Review]

The flow of stuff never ends

One perplexing moment: I posted a simple image on Twitter, and soon it appeared in my feed on Rockmelt. Shortly after, the Rockmelt tile representing this post had a little strip under it, apparently linking to some random stranger’s photo stream. Had this stranger re-tweeted me? Nope. Perhaps they had re-Rockmelted me? I can’t say for sure: when I looked at the photo stream in question, there was no sign of my image there. So why was this random stranger’s name attached to my post? Your guess is as good as mine.

I can’t make my mind up about Rockmelt. I don’t think it’s as revolutionary as some other folks seem to think it is, but I do think it has some good new ideas. I wouldn’t call it a browser, because it’s not built for exploring the web the way it was originally intended: following hyperlinks from one page to the next. In Rockmelt, you open a tile, see what’s on it, then swipe it closed and move on to something else. You can click links, if you want. You can search the web, too. You can even type in a URL if you must. But that’s not what Rockmelt wants you to do.

Maybe it’s a generational thing. Maybe I’m too old to appreciate Rockmelt’s new ideas. Maybe this is how the younger generation likes its web to look. But I prefer a web that’s more open, a web where the only limits are my own interests and imagination. I don’t want to browse a curated, stripped-down subset of the web, I want the whole thing at my fingertips.

So, for those reasons, Rockmelt leaves me cold. But I’m interested to hear your opinions on it. Am I just too old and stuck in my ways, or is this really just a new twist on an old idea?

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About the author

Giles TurnbullGiles Turnbull is a freelance writer in England. He also writes for the Press Association and The Morning News. You can find out more at his website, and follow him on Twitter @gilest.

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