[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

 http://labs.opera.com/news/2009/06/16/

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 
better. 

Today, I will share my thoughts on Opera Unite, a new Opera technology 
that I’m extremely excited about. 

Of all the new features we’ve 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 Internet’s 
unfulfilled promise”, which is about our ability to connect with each 
other and participate meaningfully online—on our own terms, and without 
losing control of our data.

In this article I will explain what Opera Unite is, discuss “the 
Internet’s 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 haven’t 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 it’s 
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 
it important?

With Opera Unite, we are giving developers a chance to develop 
applications (known as Opera Unite services) that directly link people’s 
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 applications—what you 
create is limited only by your imagination. We believe Opera Unite will 
redefine what’s 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 weren’t 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. That’s just the tiniest tip of the iceberg—the 
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 you’re already convinced about Opera Unite’s 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 Internet’s unfulfilled promise

Originally the Internet’s 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 
from perfect.

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 don’t 
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 else’s 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 people’s computers that we 
don’t 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, we’ve 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 you’ll 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 we’ve released for Opera Unite are fairly simple 
and offer functionality that you’ve 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, we’ll follow this up with further ideas and 
concepts.

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. That’s 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 we’ve all 
selected. The jukebox will then play the songs to all of us (in random 
order), creating a shared listening experience. It’s sort of like online 
radio but with a social component, harking back to the days of going to a 
friend’s house to listen to records/tapes/CDs together. It’d 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 
that’s pulled from the Web as each song is played 

A built-in chat box so you can discuss each other’s music as you’re 
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 don’t know them. 

The Opera Unite Jukebox is just one simple example. Opera Unite services 
can be just about anything. It’s 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 
ways.

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 
everyone’s computers in real time; multiple people could make changes at 
once, without having to lock people out.

Summary

Opera Unite applications can be just about anything. It’s 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.

Further reading:

Check out our Introduction to Opera Unite for a guide to getting it up 
and running 

Read our Unite developer’s primer for more information on creating Opera 
Unite services 

--

Cheers,
Stephen


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