Y Combinator-funded Socialbrowse has just launched in private beta. The service could best be described as a Twitter for links, but with a few unique twists that could make it an essential tool for web browsers. The first 500 TechCrunch readers to go here will get invites to the private beta, which is currently available as a Firefox-only extension.
To distribute links, Socialbrowse uses a “Follow” system that will be familiar to anyone that has used Twitter. Members can choose which users they’d like to receive updates from by “following” them, and all updates are mass-broadcasted to a user’s followers. Each received link can be displayed as part of “social feed” in a browser sidebar, or as a temporary notification message. To help keep link feeds flowing, members can choose to automatically follow the most prominent link sharers in topics that include technology, entertainment, and news.
Twitteresque link-sharing is nice, but Socialbrowse’s real value comes from the nifty icons that it embeds across the web. Every time a member shares a link, the system will embed a miniature version of their profile icon next to the link on the page itself, which is visible to all of that member’s followers (see image). It sounds intrusive at first, but in practice it is extremely useful, especially on link-heavy sites like CNN or Techmeme.
Now, instead of having to rely on link aggregators like Digg, users can browse the web as they normally would, using their friends’ icons to help single out the most interesting stories. Alternatively, users can head to Socialbrowse’s site, which tabulates the most shared links in order of popularity.
Socialbrowse is certainly promising, but it still has a few issues to clear up. Users are currently unable to leave a comment or description when they share a link, which can be confusing when a URL’s title is ambiguous. The site’s homepage is also badly in need of a redesign, or at least a color change.
Socialbrowse will see competition from a number of similar message broadcasting companies, which include Twitter, Pownce, and Jaiku, though none of these are focused solely on links. Socialbrowse was developed by the creators of 8aweek, whch we reviewed last February. 8aweek is still active, but CEO Zack Garbow says it has been placed on the backburner for the time being.