[LINK] Opera Unite 'web server'
stephen at melbpc.org.au
stephen at melbpc.org.au
Wed Jun 17 11:01:32 EST 2009
Taking the Web into our own hands, one computer at a time
Posted on June 16, 2009, by Lawrence Eng
My name is Lawrence Eng, and, as a product analyst for Opera Software, my
job is to understand our users and what they need, so we can serve them
Today, I will share my thoughts on Opera Unite, a new Opera technology
that Im extremely excited about.
Of all the new features weve introduced over the years, none of them
have filled me with as much anticipation as Opera Unite. This technology
is a radical first step towards addressing what I call the Internets
unfulfilled promise, which is about our ability to connect with each
other and participate meaningfully onlineon our own terms, and without
losing control of our data.
In this article I will explain what Opera Unite is, discuss the
Internets unfulfilled promise in more detail (and explain how it led to
us creating Opera Unite), and share some inspirational ideas to
illustrate what you can do with it.
If you havent already, download the new Opera Unite alpha builds
available, and start playing:
Opera Unite build for Windows
Opera Unite build for Mac
Opera Unite build for Linux/Unix
Let us know what you think!
1. Introducing Opera Unite
Opera Unite is a unique technology that turns any computer or device
running Opera into a Web server.
In other words, your computer (running Opera Unite) is truly part of the
fabric of the Web, rather than just interacting with it, and its
something anyone can use. With Opera Unite, everyday non-technical users
can serve and share content and services directly from their own
computers in the form of intuitive applications. That sounds kind of cool
from a technology point of view, but what can you do with it, and why is
With Opera Unite, we are giving developers a chance to develop
applications (known as Opera Unite services) that directly link peoples
personal computers together, so that you can connect with one or more of
your friends at the same time. It all happens through the browser, so no
additional software has to be downloaded, and it will work wherever Opera
works (Windows, Mac, Linux, and later mobile phones and other devices).
Opera provides the platform and you provide the applicationswhat you
create is limited only by your imagination. We believe Opera Unite will
redefine whats possible with Web applications, and we invite you to join
us in moving beyond stale ideas and limitations.
Our vision for Opera Unite
What will Opera Unite services look like? How will they be different from
other application platforms out there, and what will users be doing with
Opera Unite that they werent doing before, using other technologies?
The initial applications offered by Opera Unite are just simple demos
(such as a messenger application and a media player) that replicate
existing services and online functionality, showing them working in the
context of Opera Unite. Thats just the tiniest tip of the icebergthe
potential for what can be done is much larger. The key to Opera Unite is
that it enables a whole new class of social software on the Web,
applications that benefit from two or more people being online at the
same time. And, with Opera Unite, these people can all connect directly
without needing middlemen who control third-party servers.
What Opera Unite offers is an opportunity and a challenge to developers
and entrepreneurs who are creative enough to envision new ways that
people can interact online, so that computing becomes truly interpersonal.
At this point, if youre already convinced about Opera Unites potential,
feel free to jump to part 3 for some examples of what Opera Unite
services might look like in the near future. If you want to learn more
about why we created this technology, read the next part.
2. The Internets unfulfilled promise
Originally the Internets promise was that it would connect us all,
bringing people together in a whole new way, bypassing the constraints of
geography. The Web meant that we could all be part of a larger human
network. How we actually interact with each other online, however, has
been shaped by particular techno-social circumstances. Because of those
circumstances, our online interactions have been constrained and are far
Undoubtedly, the ability to participate online has increased, especially
for people in developed countries. Self-publishing, self-expression, and
social networking retain their status as the cornerstone of online
activity for millions of people around the world. That said, people who
create and share content will never approach true empowerment online
until the computers they use are actually part of the Internet.
Currently, most of us contribute content to the Web (for example by
putting our personal information on social networking sites, uploading
photos to Flickr, or maybe publishing blog posts), but we dont
contribute to its fabric the underlying infrastructure that defines the
online landscape that we inhabit.
Our computers are only dumb terminals connected to other computers
(meaning servers) owned by other people such as large corporations
who we depend upon to host our words, thoughts, and images. We depend on
them to do it well and with our best interests at heart. We place our
trust in these third parties, and we hope for the best, but as long as
our own computers are not first class citizens on the Web, we are merely
tenants, and hosting companies are the landlords of the Internet.
Social networking is important, but who owns it the online real estate
and all the content we share on it? How much control over our words,
photos, and identities are we giving up by using someone elses site for
our personal information? How dependent have we become? I imagine that
many of us would lose most of our personal contacts if our favorite Web
mail services shut down without warning. Also, many of us maintain
extensive friend networks on sites like MySpace and Facebook, and are,
therefore, subject to their corporate decisions via Terms of Service
and click-through agreements. Furthermore, what does it mean anyway to be
connected to hundreds of our closest friends? What about our real
social networks, the people we want to interact with on a regular basis
(like once a week, or even every day)? Why are online solutions to help
us with our real-world social needs so few and far between?
We are connected to a Web that has democratized much and is an amazing
source of information. However, the wisdom of the crowd, along with the
notion that our data ought to live on other peoples computers that we
dont control, has contributed to making the Internet more impersonal,
anonymous, fragmented, and more about the aggregate than the
individual. In fact, quite the opposite of the original promise. For too
long, weve been going online to connect to each other, but sacrificing
intimacy as a result.
With Opera Unite, I think we can start moving in a different direction. I
hope youll join me in imagining a more personal and social computing
experience that actually begins to deliver on the old (but not forgotten)
promise of the Internet bringing people together in meaningful ways.
3. A vision of Opera Unite services
The first few services weve released for Opera Unite are fairly simple
and offer functionality that youve likely seen elsewhere, perhaps on
desktop applications or 3rd party web sites. These first few demos are
meant to illustrate how Opera Unite services are put together and the
basics behind the new technology. Building on that foundation, what power
will developers unlock when they create and deploy Unite Services in the
future? Below is an illustration of what an Opera Unite service could
look like. In coming weeks, well follow this up with further ideas and
Opera Unite Jukebox
At Opera, when we first talked about media applications created for Opera
Unite, one idea was a simple music player, where I would play a song on
my computer, and my friends on their computers would then hear the same
song on their machines. Thats not a bad idea, but is it something people
would truly want to use? Does it offer anything revolutionary or anything
fun, like a social component, that makes it worthwhile to use?
In trying to come up with something better, I envisioned the Opera Unite
Jukebox application. Instead of just choosing a song and forcing all of
my online friends to hear it, the Opera Unite Jukebox will let me choose
10 songs from my collection and put it in the queue, and all 8 of my
friends who are connected to me (via Opera Unite) will do the same. In
doing so, we create a virtual jukebox that contains the songs weve all
selected. The jukebox will then play the songs to all of us (in random
order), creating a shared listening experience. Its sort of like online
radio but with a social component, harking back to the days of going to a
friends house to listen to records/tapes/CDs together. Itd be great for
get-togethers too, allowing everyone to be the party DJ.
Additional application features might include:
On-the-fly ranking of songs so you can see which of your friends has the
best (or worst) taste in music, as agreed upon by all of you
A small window displaying relevant track, album, or purchasing info
thats pulled from the Web as each song is played
A built-in chat box so you can discuss each others music as youre
listening to it
Built-in trivia games where listeners submit questions
A server to upload your playlists and trivia questions to, so you can
challenge other listeners around the world, even if you dont know them.
The Opera Unite Jukebox is just one simple example. Opera Unite services
can be just about anything. Its up to developers, companies,
entrepreneurs, end users, and anyone with a vision of what the
interpersonal Web really means, to take that vision and build the next
generation of applications that bring people together online in brand new
Think of multiplayer games, from simple two-player challenges like Chess
up to sprawling RPGs. And Opera Unite is not just about fun. Think about
collaborative applications such as spreadsheets, documents or Wikis,
which you can work on with friends and colleagues without having to host
them on a third-party site such as Google Spreadsheets or installing
specialized applications on a dedicated server. You could use reverse
Ajax or COMET techniques to mean that all the updates are seen on
everyones computers in real time; multiple people could make changes at
once, without having to lock people out.
Opera Unite applications can be just about anything. Its up to
developers, companies, entrepreneurs, end users, and anyone with a vision
of what the interpersonal Web really means, to take that vision and build
the next generation of applications to bring people together online in
brand new ways.
In upcoming installments of this series, we will discuss other uses we
envision for Opera Unite services.
Check out our Introduction to Opera Unite for a guide to getting it up
Read our Unite developers primer for more information on creating Opera
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