Everyone's a server! Opera calls upon browsers to 'Unite'
In an announcement early Tuesday morning, Opera revealed the parameters of Unite, a product it says will "enable a whole new class of social software on the Web." The platform is designed to better facilitate multiuser online applications and to give users greater control of their data even while making it available (if they so choose) to others online.
The Unite platform converts any PC that runs it, as Opera puts it, into both a client and a server; a small Web server lies at the heart of the browser-based system itself. For instance -- as Opera demonstrated in an application already written for Unite -- perhaps you'd like to share a file with a friend, but don't want to end up like Jammie Thomas. The file-sharing functionality Opera showed generates a URL for the folder in which you've stored your file on your own machine. Give that URL to your friend and she can simply browse over to it, with no third-party service required.
Opera showed an assortment of Unite-built applications, including a Fridge application (put a sticky note on your friend's computer screen!) that displayed some interesting thinking about how users might interact when there's no need for large services such as Flickr or Twitter to mediate the process.
Writing on the Opera Labs blog, Lawrence Eng writes that it's about retaking control of our own information in the age of social networking. "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.... With Opera Unite, I think we can start moving in a different direction."
There's already a developer's primer for Unite, and it provides a glimpse at how the security works -- without, in fact, requiring any special attention to the user's firewall settings. Clients aren't flapping in the breeze beyond the firewall; in fact, the firewall speaks only to Opera Unite's proxy servers, passing their data along to Opera's central Unite server. No new ports need be opened; no port forwarding is required.
Chris Mills, blogging at dev.opera.com, reminds potential users that this is alpha code. "It is a bit rough round the edges, but the functionality is mostly there now. We wanted to get it out to the community at this early stage to get feedback," he writes in his introduction to the service. Interested parties will need an Opera username and password (the same one you use on My Opera, Opera Link or Dev Opera), and they'll need to start thinking of a name for their computer.