Opera, best known for its browser, made the claim that, "On June 16th at 9:00AM, we will reinvent the web." You could almost hear the collective yawn of tech enthusiasts everywhere. But something strange happened Tuesday morning, the release of Opera Unite actually made an impression.
Opera Unite is, at its simplest, a way of sharing the usual suspects of videos, music, photos, etc. on the web. But Opera calls it "reinventing the web" because it requires a fundamental shift in philosophy for the average user from thinking about the web as uploading and downloading content from big servers, to sharing content in a peer-to-peer way.
Lawrence Eng, a product analyst for Opera, uses the example of uploading a photo to the popular photo-sharing site Flickr. You upload the photo to the Flickr servers and rely on the company to manage it for you so that friends can view the photo. Opera Unite's answer would be for you to leave that photo on your computer, open your browser, and direct friends to a unique URL to find your photo. In that way, your browser becomes a Web server, a place to host any kind of digital content.
It is the philosophy shift, not a technology innovation, that has made the impression. Robin Wauters of TechCrunch writes:
It's an intriguing concept, and it could fundamentally change the way we think about how content is shared on the Internet. Expect this to be a source of inspiration for other browser makers, hopefully crediting Opera Software for getting this type of innovation jump-started.
Others are unsure about the drawbacks of going back to an idea as old as the Web. For instance, the sharing only works when the host is online. Addressing security issues, CNET refers to McAfee's principle security analyst Greg Day to provide background on why most sharing services operate as third-parties and not as peer-to-peer networks:
The logical evolution of services like Facebook was about simplifying the process, so you rely on a third party who, in theory, has the expertise to host on your behalf and keep it secure.
And still the larger issue may be that for all the rhetoric about creating a product that frees you from the constraints of third-party vendors like Facebook, Google, and Yahoo, Opera may very well be asking for users to depend on them instead. Chris Messina writes that
Opera Unite does indeed rely on a P2P-like network to function, but the big problem is that you must push all your traffic through Opera's proxy service.
Furthermore, the Unite terms of service are, to put it nicely, less than kind to the user.
Opera Unite may not be revolutionary from the start nor is it exactly what's promoted at first glance, but it does make you stop and rethink how most people use the web today.