If you spend any appreciable amount of time browsing Facebook or Twitter on a web browser, you’re no doubt excited about the possibilities of the new kid in town, RockMelt. But why abandon Safari when you can bring the social to the browser installed with every Mac?
RockMelt holds a lot of promise as “a browser for the Facebook era,” as it has been described by the Netscape alumni financially backing it. The new social-themed browser based on Google’s Chromium is all the rage on the Internet of late, and from the demo video posted on the company’s website, we can see why.
But as the saying goes, “Why throw the baby out with the bath water?” Apple’s Safari is an extremely competent web browser, and even more so with the addition of extensions in the latest Safari 5 introduced earlier this year. We set out to find some ways to make Safari more like RockMelt, and are sharing the results of our adventure with you, the loyal MacLife.com reader.
Twitter Me This
Let’s face it: No social-themed browser could ever be complete without Twitter, everyone’s favorite way to share up to 140 characters with the world (or at least, your loyal followers). Thankfully, Twitter was front and center at the introduction of Safari Extensions with an official version that brings real-time trends, searching, related tweets and yes, the ability to tweet about the page you’re viewing at any given moment.
Installation is simple: Simply choose Safari Extensions Gallery from the Safari menu and scroll down to the Twitter Tools section. Click the blue “Install Now” underneath Twitter for Safari. Now you’ll see a new Twitter Bar in Safari (like the one above) -- from any webpage, click the Related Tweets button and you’ll see a panel slide out from the left side of the browser showing anything related to the same topic.
Likewise, if a trending topic catches your eye, simply click on it in the Twitter Bar and you’ll see the same panel slide out with all of the tweets featuring that topic. Should your current page contain Twitter users, they’ll pop up between Related Tweets and Trending on the Twitter Bar, and you can click to view them. If you prefer to search for your own topic, just type it in the search field at the left side and away you go.
Unfortunately, if you want to tweet about the current web page (by clicking Tweet at the right side of the Twitter Bar), the Safari extension falls back to Twitter.com -- although it does conveniently paste the headline and link, ready for you to add your own comment or simply hit the Tweet button to send it into the world. You’re probably thinking, “There must be a better way!” -- and indeed, there is.
Ostrich To The Rescue
While Twitter’s own Safari extension is fine for users looking to see what’s hot on the microblogging site, many of us would rather see our incoming tweets and direct messages instead. Thankfully, a third-party developer named Jerome Gravel-Niquet has come to the rescue with Ostrich, a free Twitter client that works completely within Safari 5.
After installing Ostrich from the Safari Extensions Gallery in the same manner as Twitter for Safari, you’ll now find that your browser has a new button with a bird’s head on it. Click it and Ostrich will slide down from the top of the currently open browser window. You’ll have to allow the extension access via your Twitter username and password, but once you do, the panel will be populated with your Twitter feed.
Ostrich doesn’t stop there: You also have tabs for mentions, direct messages and starred posts as well. When the time comes for you to make a new tweet, click the “+” button in the upper right corner of the Ostrich window and away you go. Likewise, you can click the “X” in the upper left corner to close the window.
While the Ostrich window is closed, you can see how many unread tweets you have waiting on the toolbar button itself -- or turn this option off in the Extensions preference tab of Safari, which also allows you to determine how links in a new tab are displayed (foreground or background) as well as how often tweets are refreshed, from one minute up to 60 minutes.
The only caveat with Ostrich is that it requires a page refresh after being installed during an active browsing session -- necessary for its script to be added to the page. We recommend installing the extension, logging in and then restarting Safari for best results. Once you do that, Ostrich works quite flawlessly and for casual tweeters in particular, it may be the only Twitter client you’ll ever need.
Facebook, Safari Style
Getting Safari 5 to cozy up to Facebook is a whole other challenge. Apple’s Safari Extensions Gallery has a host of Facebook-themed extensions, but they’re all designed to change or improve how you visit the website -- giving you the ability to zoom or rotate photos, block ads or other undesirable aspects of the site such as Events, or customizing how your News Feed is displayed.
While sharing websites with Facebook users is easy from Safari (more on that in a moment), we did stumble upon one useful extension called Facebook Quick View. It’s not available from Apple’s Safari Extensions Gallery, but easily downloaded from developer GingaGadgets’ website.
Click the download link on that website and when finished, go to the Safari Downloads window and double click on the icon for the file called “Facebook_for_Safari.safariextz.” You’ll get a prompt like the one seen here offering to install Facebook Quick View for Safari, so click the Install button.
Now you’ll have a new button in your toolbar with the familiar Facebook logo; click it and you’ll be prompted to login to Facebook (assuming you aren’t already) and to allow the extension to access your account. Once you click Allow, whatever page you are currently on will fade to black and in the middle of the browser window will appear your Facebook News Feed, complete with a “Share” button to post something new, should you feel inclined.
Facebook Quick View is much more than just your News Feed, however -- in the upper left corner are four mini-tabs which display your News Feed, Profile, Notifications or Messages. The extension also allows you to comment or like other users’ posts -- think of it as the best parts of Facebook, minus all of the other noise generated by the website itself.
To exit Facebook Quick View, click the “X” in the lower right hand corner or click anywhere outside of its own screen and you’ll go back to whatever web page was open before you called upon it. There are no settings for Facebook Quick View, it’s pretty much just that simple.
Get Your Sharing On
If you aren’t looking for an immersive experience with Twitter or Facebook and just want to share interesting sites or links with your friends, Safari 5 is happy to oblige -- with the right extension (or two), that is.
RockMelt features a prominent “Share” button in its toolbar, and you can get your own in Safari. For Twitter, there’s SafariTweet -- download it directly from developer Joe Workman and double-click the file in Safari’s Downloads window (following the same process we outlined above with Facebook Quick View) and you’ll get a new button in the toolbar.
Click on the SafariTweet button and a new window drops down, fading out the current webpage and automagically preparing your tweet about it. If the URL is long, simply click on the scissors icon in the lower left of the window and your link will be shortened by one of five services of your choosing -- Thurly, Ke-We, Is.gd, Bit.ly or J.mp, with the latter two offering full access with your username and API key.
SafariTweet’s preferences also allow you to customize the tweet window with your choice of 18 different background colors as well as settings for border color, border size, backdrop color and opacity. All in all, this free extension does a masterful job of sharing websites with Twitter, all with the simplicity of RockMelt.
Sharing to Facebook is equally easy -- the social giant offers their own free bookmarklet, Share on Facebook, which works with all browsers. Just drag the bookmarklet to your Bookmarks Bar and you’re good to go, as long as you’re logged into Facebook.
Developer Thomas Feriero also created his own Share with Facebook extension which does the same thing, only with a toolbar button -- although in this case, the bookmarklet actually does a better job, since it works from a compact window rather than a full-page window in Safari, which requires a bit more mousing around in order to post.
We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ RockMelt
Let’s face it: RockMelt may make it easier to share and connect with your friends, but not everyone is so deep into the social networking scene that they’re willing to give up the browser they already know and love to use it. Thanks to the handy tips above, you may not have to.
Given Apple’s deeper Facebook integration with iLife ’11, we can only imagine that Cupertino is already hard at work beefing up a future version of Safari to go head-to-head with newcomer RockMelt. Even if you’re excited about RockMelt, the browser is available for now by invite only, so what do you have to lose while you’re waiting for that invitation to hit your inbox?
Follow this article’s author, J.R. Bookwalter on Twitter