Browster 2.0 makes MySpace easier to use

Browser plug in Browster released version 2.0 of its product this weekend and is aiming to make MySpace profiles easier to view. A Windows download for IE and Firefox, Browster preloads pages from search results and provides a live minibrowser when inserted lightning bolts are hovered over. The new version also offers a live search box supporting a number of web, blog and shopping search engines inside the Browster window. Those search box results are combined with contextual ads. Future features will also generate ad revenue.

This version’s biggest change is that it makes the notoriously unnavigable profile pages on MySpace easier to use. Users can hover over friend photos or username links on one user page and get a preview of that friend’s profile in a Browster pop-up instead of having to click through, wait for the painfully slow page load and then repeat with the back button. Browster strips out the CSS hacks, music players and slideshows that clutter many pages – and that represent a big part of the business model of many startups profiled here! What’s left are the MySpace user’s “about me” section and all their photos. Essentially, it’s a way to check out someone’s friends and comment makers without having to leave one profile page and suffer through multiple pageloads (though Browster itself is only so fast). Browster may not be for everyone, but I actually find this new feature quite useful.

The San Francisco based company, whose CEO participated in our recent video documentary about Web 2.0, aims to take a cut of ads served inside their mini browser. One thing that can be said about the service is that it only pops up its previews when you hover over the lightning bolt icons instead of any time your mouse passes over any link. That’s a small distinction but one that makes Browster far more usable than, for example, competitor Cooliris (our coverage).

I think it’s a very useful idea, but unfortunately execution is easier said than done. An eight by five series of one user’s friend photos in rows can only be previewed vertically, one column at a time with the Browster “next” button stopping at the bottom of each column. Search results pages do navigate properly though.

The company’s revenue model is through ads on search box results and future features will have ads around them as well.

It’s mind boggling how many companies are making MySpace plays these days, but if the site can maintain its status as a virtual replacement for the rest of the web for many young people then it makes sense. It might sound strange to think of a whole new release of a preexisting product to target MySpace, but at an estimated 10k+ pageviews per second MySpace may be a big enough pie to make even small pieces a viable business strategy. Or fickle teenagers may move elsewhere and all these companies will adapt to the next fad social networking site. One way or the other, crazy as it might sound, I think that providing ancillary services for social networking environments is not a bad idea. If this morning’s announcement included how much AOL paid for Userplane that these sorts of strategies might appear all the more obviously viable.