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Do Branded Browsers Make Sense?

I have been skimming a few of the articles about search and portal companies such as Google and Ask looking to launch their own branded browsers. I don’t know that I have a whole lot add to the discussion, but I figured I would get my thoughts out anyway.

1. Control – My sense is that the overriding motivation for these folks to develop their own browsers is to gain greater control over how their userbases interact with the Internet. Thus far, this battle has happened at the toolbar level — it seems that everyone has a toolbar that they are trying to get me to install. The only application that has greater toolbar proliferation is the inbox. The ability for a web property such as Google or Yahoo! to influence where you search, make it dump simple to get to the mail service they provide, etc.

2. Better integration and reduced toolbar clutter – An adjunct to the control argument is the integration argument. Right now, I have toolbars to do a lot of the things that I would like to do. By owning and developing a semi-custom browser, features such as new email notification (like the Gmail notifier), RSS aggregation, and integrated search can be bundled in a more seamless way than is done today. To Firefox users, a lot of this sounds very ho-hum as many of these things are handled relatively well with Firefox plug-ins. But there are still lots of opportunities to do a better job of integration to reduce the toolbar clutter that currently exists.

3. Mozilla makes this a relatively low-cost proposition– With the presence of the Mozilla code base, getting into this business is relatively low cost. Any browser aspirant has a good base on which to build. Add to that a community of developers who are familiar with the code base and you have a relatively low-cost way to get into this business.

At the end of the day, I think these branded browsers, as I describe them, will be of greatest use to those who “live” in one web properties’ world. If you do all of your searching, stock checking, and email via one particular service. I am not sure that there is enough value here to entice the vast majority of users to substitute away from IE or Firefox to a branded browser, but there are certainly some diehards whose lives could be made easier in such a world.

What I find more interesting, however, is seeing someone use a branded browser to be a new platform. For example, if you used tabbed browsing in Firefox, why not have a branded browser where one of the tabs was an always-on mail tab? Ditto on RSS feeds. Ditto on stock quotes and any other dynamic news stream not really addressed by RSS. There are lots of interesting features that a Yahoo! or a Google could introduce via a branded browser that they more or less controlled.

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