Mac Social browsers (a review)

A Mac social browsers review: For the last two weeks I've been bouncing back and forth between using different "social browsers" on Mac Mac OS X systems, including Mac browsers like Flock, RockMelt, and related apps like YooNo. Here's what I've learned about Mac social browser browsers, apps, and widgets.

Mac social browsers - RockMelt beta

While I find the RockMelt logo a little creepy (as in doomsday "Burger King ad guy creepy" because it shows the Earth's core cracking with molten lava flowing through to kill all humans), it has been the best Mac social browser I've used yet.

RockMelt Mac Growl integration

Without question the thing I like best about RockMelt is its integration with Growl on the Mac OS X platform. Assuming you already use Growl, just install RockMelt, hook it up to Twitter, Facebook, and others (a pretty easy setup, though it crashed once on me), and you'll see Growl notifications appear during the day as you're working along. I love this feature, as I just look up, see if it's anything important, and then it goes away. Awesome. I even liked it last night as I was watching a movie on Hulu, and these subtle notifications popped up as I was watching the movie.

Other than that, here's how I use RockMelt (and for that matter, YooNo and Flock): I use six Mac Spaces on all my computers, and my Mac social browser always goes in Mac Space #5 (lower-left corner). With RockMelt, I open one browser window for Twitter, and another window for Facebook, and keep them side by side. That way I don't have to click through tabs to see them, they're both right there when I go to that Mac Space. (You can press [Ctrl][5] to go to this Space, or configure another keystroke.) This multiple browser window approach may not work if you have many other social web accounts that you want to see all the time (LinkedIn, Flickr, whatever), but it works for me today.

RockMelt as a "normal" web browser

From time to time I use RockMelt as a regular browser, and in this regard I like it much better than Flock. For me Flock feels very heavy, and when I'm browsing the web, I just want to browse it with a clean browser, without seeing all this other "social UI" stuff. RockMelt has a nice feature where you can press a keystroke to hide the "edges" -- the "social" widgets on the sides of the browser. This is a great feature for normal, everyday browsing.

(If you want to go nuts with this, you can also put RockMelt into "full screen" mode. Just press [Shift][Command][F] on Mac systems.)

One more nice RockMelt feature is the ability to add and remove RSS feeds to your sidebar. I've used this more and more lately, and it's another nice "one click let me see what's going on with my favorite websites" feature.

Mac social browsers - YooNo

Regarding YooNo as a Mac social browser, I actually didn't like their browser integration, and switched to using the YooNo desktop application. Again I like this because I can put it in Mac Space #5, and it lets me create two side-by-side panels, one for Twitter and another for Facebook, and I can see them both at a glance.

YooNo is also supposed to provide "popup alerts", but I haven't seen this work successfully yet. This may be because I show the two panels side by side, and there's a note about "popups not working when a tab has input focus", I don't know. I should dig into this, but frankly, I've come to prefer RockMelt, and don't use YooNo any more.

One final note here: Whatever technology was used to create the YooNo desktop app, from time to time I have problems dragging the window.

Mac social browsers - Flock

Flock takes an interesting "social" approach in that you need a Flock account to use their browser. From a business perspective I can see what they're trying to do here; if they get you to create a Flock account, and you do a lot of sharing via Flock, they get some of your "social" mindshare there, potentially taking it away from Facebook and others, or trying to make it your social hub.

Personally I found Flock buggier than the RockMelt beta, and it did crazy things as I just started it up again, jumping around while I had to login to Facebook (again), and it finally crashed (again). I also think their browser UI approach feels very "heavy", and I couldn't find a keystroke to hide all the extra browser widgets for normal, clean web browsing.

Mac social browsers - iGoogle?

Taking a very different tact here, if you buy into Google's "cloud" vision (as in their ChromeOS notebooks, for example), none of these browsers is the right solution for you. Instead you presumably need to install Twitter and Facebook widgets with your iGoogle account, and use iGoogle as your social hub. Unfortunately the iGoogle Twitter widget doesn't work on Mac OS X systems, so that approach is currently DOA on Mac OS X systems.

Mac social browsers - Summary

I thought about doing a lot of my "social browser" work through Mac Dashboard widgets with Growl updates, but as I can continue to dig into this entire social browser experience, I've come to prefer the RockMelt approach. In particular, these two features stand out as "killer features":

  1. The Mac Growl integration.
  2. The ability to easily hide "the edges" and just use the RockMelt browser as a "clean" Chrome browser.

The more I dig into this, the more I like RockMelt as the "vision" of where browsers can go next, essentially becoming your "console" (dashboard?) for your internet social lifestyle. Frankly, I can't think of an easier way to get to your social websites and RSS feeds other than what they've come up with.

I also have to say that from a business perspective I conceptually like what Flock is trying to do in having you create a Flock user account, and then trying to make Flock the hub of your social lifestyle (some combination of Facebook, Twitter, StumbleUpon, and others). But unfortunately I found their browser to bulky and buggy to use on a regular basis.

Mac social browsers - Links

Here are links to all the Mac social browsers I've worked with: