Opera Unite and p2p dreamin’

One of the overwhelming new features of digital culture is how objects persist on servers when we’re not tending to them. Facebook photos stay up, mail lie in waiting, pages representing not merely a mailbox, but ‘me’ persists waiting to present my digital self. A few months ago, I began to consider that client-side, “show it when I want to”, could make a resurgence. I would be the keeper of the master copy, not Picassa, not Flickr, not MySpace.

Today Opera, my personal browser of choice for over five years, fired the their first shot across the bow of cloud computing: [Opera Unite][]. Their browser is now an on-demand server. Configuration is dead-simple, and despite a few usability hiccups, its a completely coherent and intelligible experience. And I think it is how I want to share my data.

Consider this scenario that happened to me recently: I am viewing houses for a friend of mine. Consequently, I have to take pictures of these places and send to him. These are other people’s private spaces. If I upload these pictures, they are copied to a server. But there are too many to email (at least in one go), and p2p through IM (sending one at a time) is a nuisance. Enter Opera 10’s Unite. I select a directory and Opera gives me a webpage and a password. Sending this webpage to someone else, they see a well-formatted page with thumbnails and the ability to view and download pictures. Dead-simple and takes place solely between me (& my data) and the person or people I want to share it with.
I’ve heard some [criticism][] of Opera Unite – who wants to do this? Why not place it in the cloud and be done with it? Moreover, Opera is still a gatekeeper vis-a-vis dyndns. Details. Ultimately, I only see one perennial problem – having the server under one’s control means that it is only on when the computer is on. This might waste power, processor cycles, bandwidth or time.

Other issues of usability and purpose will work themselves out over time. Personally, I think peer-to-peer, rather than cloud-mediated services will always have a place. In a perfect world, I would even like to see distributed social software that queries and aggregates from clients in such a way that the client is an intimate part of the process rather than mere sender of data. I want you to ask me, not Facebook, for my photos. Opera United is a fine first step in this direction.

[criticism]: http://factoryjoe.com/blog/2009/06/16/thoughts-on-opera-unite/
[Opera Unite]: http://unite.opera.com/

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