Rockmelt: Now here's a product Yahoo could actually use

By Sarah Lacy , written on August 2, 2013

From The News Desk

I don't know what else we can really say about the shot of adrenaline to the heart of the startup world that is Yahoo's rapid fire acquisition strategy. We've talked about how CEO Marissa Mayer is practically single-handedly alleviating the Series A crunch and what the string of surging and slumping purchases do (and don't do) for Yahoo.

But Rockmelt is actually one purchase that I get. News came today that Yahoo acquired Rockmelt for "between $60 to $70 million," and that it plans to use the company's technology to "turbocharge its myriad of media and mobile properties." Rockmelt could actually help Yahoo modernize its core news, entertainment, finance, and sports business... if Mayer lets it.

News that Yahoo is killing Rockmelt's product on August 31 isn't encouraging. (The company's apps have already been pulled from the App Store and Google Play, but are still functional for existing users.) One can only hope it's doing so in an attempt to let the company's team, 32 of whom are joining Yahoo, Rockmelt-ize some of Yahoo's major core properties.

What I'm proposing is radical, likely way too radical for a company as big as Yahoo with a conservative user base that would balk at major changes. But I think Yahoo should use Rockmelt to totally revamp its front page -- or at least its core content verticals.

Rockmelt is technically a "browser," but it has a very modern concept of what a browser should be. The bulk of people searching are searching for content, so Rockmelt put the content front and center. In its most recent version -- an all-in, bet-the-company move on tablets and mobile -- Rockmelt created a gorgeous, social experience for digging up and interacting with content that might have gotten buried by other aggregators and search engines.

Conceptually it's not too different from what Yahoo's core strength in a Web 1.0 era was, only with a modern interface, relevant content, and less purple.

No offense to Henry Blodget and Arianna Huffington, but Yahoo is the original aggregator. Before everyone obsessed about Facebook "Likes" or SEO, publications were throwing tickers into headlines to get into Yahoo Finance. And Yahoo actually produces some decent original content -- it's just buried in a mess of other crap.

Let's see: A gorgeous way to get all your daily news and information relevant to you in a mobile, social experience... that sounds like, oh, I don't know... exactly what Yahoo needs. It's pretty much an exact articulation of what Mayer's "daily habit" wants to be. Rockmelt has literally been that for me. It's where I go each morning to flip through the day's news and get informed. Imagine that in front of half a billion eyeballs.

I'd heard a rumor towards the end of last year that Yahoo was thinking about a radical acquisition to do something like this. The name I heard floated at the time: RebelMouse (which coincidentally also had news today). The tipster told me that one senior Yahoo team member wanted to let Paul Berry's CMS and design aesthetic loose on a customizable Yahoo front page. When I asked Berry about it, he said that such a deal would be news to him, and I believed him and never wrote about it. It was probably one of those ideas tossed out and rejected for some reason or another.

Rockmelt is even more likely than RebelMouse to become an actually modern, mobile-centric news portal. And Yahoo owns it. Here's an opportunity for Yahoo to buck the conventional path of Silicon Valley acquisitions. I hope I'm pleasantly surprised.

[UPDATE: Rockmelt's cofounder and CEO commented on this story on Facebook, saying: "Heading over to Yahoo! Sarah Lacy, I think you will be very pleasantly surprised." We will see...]