This is where the real money is. Over at the Coding Horror blog, Jeff Atwood points out how URL shortening services are "destroying the Web" by inserting themselves as intermediaries in the simple act of pulling up a Web site in your browser. Users already know what they want to do online; the trick is to make sure they have to go through you to do it.
So where does that leave software vendors like Opera? On the one hand, Opera seems like it's in a good position, because it offers the one type of software that nobody can live without any longer. On the other hand, the Opera browser's aforementioned adherence to standards means it runs the risk of essentially becoming a commodity product. When all browsers render pages the same, who cares which one you use?
That's where Opera Unite comes in. It's more than just extra features that other browsers don't have. Although Opera Unite claims to "directly link people's personal computers together," to use it you need an account on Opera's servers, and all of your exchanges pass through Opera's servers first. That's an effective way to get around technical difficulties like NAT firewalls, but more important, it makes Opera the intermediary in your social interactions -- not Facebook, not MySpace, but Opera.
Is this the future of the software industry -- where everything is a service and software is just a means to facilitate more services? I hope not, but the battle lines appear to be drawn. If software vendors don't become the intermediaries then the Web companies surely will -- so software vendors had better get cracking.