November 08, 2010

RockMelt's Social Hooks Put Users In Control Of Invite Flow

Capping initial access to one's service has long proven to be one of the most successful ways to drive buzz around the product. Whether limiting the number of users is designed to reduce strain on the system, to reduce initial support demands during the beta period, or just to get people talking about the product as they beg friends and strangers for access, the process of launching a product to a subset of people has practically become second nature - with multiple layers of "beta" evolving. Today's launch of RockMelt is an interesting tweak on the old model, and a first test of the browser's real integration with Facebook as your social engine.

It is not too uncommon for users who gain early access to a product to have a limited number of invites to pass to their friends. You often see a flurry of posts on blogs or Twitter, or pings via e-mail that amount to "Who wants into Service X? I have 10 invites!" or the invites can be given away in a first come first serve raffle system. Alternatively, the service can do a first in and first out approach, whereby the faster you are to register, the faster you get let in behind the firewall, but all flexibility resides with the service itself. This is the "request and wait and wait and wait" method.

RockMelt has created a unique hybrid of the two, worth noting.

The site, if you don't have access, asks you to connect to Facebook, and request an invite. That puts you in the queue - but not one solely controlled by the company.

Once you have made such a request, a friend of yours who already has access to the browser can see that you have asked to get in, and can, through RockMelt, pass you a code that is exclusive for you. This presents an interesting dilemma, especially if demand far outstrips supply.

In my case, as with all standard new users of RockMelt, I was given three invites to hand out to Facebook friends who wanted to take the new browser for a spin. But dozens and dozens had already made the request, meaning I couldn't give out access to everyone I would like to and forcing me to hand pick three - for whatever reasons I felt.

Should I reward close friends? Family? Business colleagues? Partners? A-Listers who I want to impress? The choice was mine alone.

The dilemma is an intriguing one. I wouldn't want to pass along my invite to someone who I thought wouldn't benefit from access. I wouldn't want to pass an invite to a Facebook connection who was a practical stranger. So I made my choices.

Three folks got RockMelt invites, and the rest didn't. Maybe someone else will take kindly to them later. Maybe I'll get more invites. But RockMelt's twist is an interesting one - which will ensure you aren't giving out codes to people you have no connection with. If the graph is truly to be social, a missing link is just a miss.