Vysr, a startup that wants to let users access their favorite web services from any page, has released version 2.0 of its RoamAbout browser plugin. The big addition is an “OpenBar,” which delivers real-time notifications from services like Google News and Twitter to a toolbar at the bottom of your browser.
Earlier versions of RoamAbout were all about active use of the various applications built on its platform — for example, if you read a positive review of a restaurant, you could then select the address and open a map in RoamAbout; or if you found a product you liked, you could bring up a selection of related eBay listings. But the new OpenBar caters to passive users. You don’t have to select and use a RoamAbout app; instead, you can just watch the different updates streaming across the toolbar.
Most of the OpenBar’s real estate is occupied by a single, crawling line of text, which kind of resembles the news ticker you see on channels like CNN. This ticker can scroll through Google News updates, Facebook updates, or Twitter updates. You can search those updates and post your own, too. There’s also a notification button that can alert you, for example, when you’ve got new emails in your Gmail inbox.
So how useful is this? Well, it certainly ties into Vysr’s promise of letting you close those browser tabs and bring your favorite web tools with you as you explore. For example, when I’m browsing I always keep my work and personal Gmail accounts open in different tabs, so I can see when I get new emails. Now I can close those tabs, because the OpenBar notifies me about new messages. On the downside, while I appreciate that the bar doesn’t want to take up too much space, the fact that it only shows one line of text make it hard to parse large amounts of information. It’s easier for me to quickly scan all the new tweets on the Twitter home page than it is to wait for the new messages to scroll by in the OpenBar.
Still, even if the implementation isn’t perfect yet, it has convinced me to give RoamAbout another try (I uninstalled it last year after realizing I wasn’t using it all that often). And it may give the plugin a leg up over the similar Ubiquity product that Mozilla is developing and the Accelerators offered in Microsoft’s Internet Explorer 8. There are already some promising signs from RoamAbout 2.0’s beta test. Chief executive Guda Venkatesh says that of the service’s 60,000 users, only 10 to 20 percent keep RoamAbout 1.0 open all the time while they’re browsing. With 2.0, that number increases to 50 percent.