Feeds

Shhh... Opera holds the web's most valuable secret

Eric Schmidt's nightmare

Providing a secure and efficient Helpdesk

Without anybody noticing, Opera has amassed one of the world's most valuable commercial resources. And the funny thing is, it isn't going to do anything evil with it. Marketing, new media and technology pundits may have to rethink a few things once they digest the size of Opera's well-kept secret. It is possible the gurus may have spent years barking up the wrong tree.

At current growth rates, Opera will soon overtake Google as the owner of the largest transaction farm on the web. It is the Opera mobile web cache. Google currently handles 85 billion transactions a month. From 2008 to 2009 Opera grew from 21 billion to 36.9 billion. It is growing faster than Google, and at some point in the not-too-distant future, on current trends, Opera will overtake it. Users also spend more time in the Opera engine than the Google engine, which spits most people out to other destinations.

So what does Opera plan to do with this trove? First, let's have a look how it came about.

Cache riches

Six years ago, two Opera engineers came up with a way of saving mobile operators money, by compressing web pages and sending them over slow, high-latency 2G cellular links in binary chunks. WAP had tried to do the same thing with WSP, but nowhere near as efficiently, and WAP required websites to created content in the WML format.

Opera's insight was that CPU time on servers was cheap, but on a humble mobile phone, CPU and bandwidth were very expensive. A web page may need to talk to 20 other servers, and some of these need to talk to other servers. This bricolage then needs to be reassembled locally, a task that has increasingly taxed CPUs over the years. (A CSS file contains conflicting positioning information using several co-ordinate systems - these are resolved locally.)

Opera initially offered the technology as a caching proxy to operators, called Mobile Accelerator. Then it decided to offer it directly to end users, via a new small lightweight browser that talked directly to a proxy hosted by Opera itself. The Opera Mini client could run on all kinds of phones and its popularity grew and grew. Opera's servers, which were originally in its downtown Oslo HQ, had to be moved outside, and soon became a major server operation. You can see it pictured here.

Now compare Google's "transaction engine" with Opera's "transaction engine", and the Norwegian's offering looks potentially very valuable indeed. Users spend far more time passing through the mobile cache than they do on Google. As well as searches, it contains destinations - news pages, social networking pages and emails. That's what behavioural advertisers want. This wouldn't be hard to do, and would involve injecting an advertisement into the binary stream that trickles into the Mini browser. But it's also precisely what makes it a No Go zone for the company, says Opera.

Because its users trust Opera with such intimate information, the company feels it can't engage in any Phorm-like behavioural exploitation. Break the bond of trust and they'll destroy the business. Once upon a time, Google had a similar philosophy - Don't Get Too Creepy Today (I may have mis-remembered that). Even Google does behavioural advertising now, but it's very careful not to use the b-word.

In addition, Opera doesn't feel it needs to. Opera has a few ideas on how it will make money in the future however, and some are evolutions of what it does today. So we'll examine these for a second, before looking at what it's got planned.

Auctions speak louder than (key)words

Today Opera's income comes from three streams: licensing and royalties in one stream, income from active users and transactions in another stream, and "internet economy" income such as driving referrals to search engines as a third. The latter, by the way, is what keeps Mozilla afloat. So mobile networks pay to use Opera's server technology because it saves them bandwidth, and improves the end-user experience.

Opera believes the future is transactional, which today amounts to less than 10 per cent of web advertising. So it's sitting tight and waiting. It's got an interesting trick up its sleeve, though.

Protecting against web application threats using SSL

More from The Register

next story
Brit telcos warn Scots that voting Yes could lead to HEFTY bills
BT and Co: Independence vote likely to mean 'increased costs'
Phones 4u slips into administration after EE cuts ties with Brit mobe retailer
More than 5,500 jobs could be axed if rescue mission fails
New 'Cosmos' browser surfs the net by TXT alone
No data plan? No WiFi? No worries ... except sluggish download speed
Radio hams can encrypt, in emergencies, says Ofcom
Consultation promises new spectrum and hints at relaxed licence conditions
Blockbuster book lays out the first 20 years of the Smartphone Wars
Symbian's David Wood bares all. Not for the faint hearted
Bonking with Apple has POUNDED mobe operators' wallets
... into submission. Weve squeals, ditches payment plans
This flashlight app requires: Your contacts list, identity, access to your camera...
Who us, dodgy? Vast majority of mobile apps fail privacy test
Apple Watch will CONQUER smartwatch world – analysts
After Applelocalypse, other wristputers will get stuck in
prev story

Whitepapers

Providing a secure and efficient Helpdesk
A single remote control platform for user support is be key to providing an efficient helpdesk. Retain full control over the way in which screen and keystroke data is transmitted.
Saudi Petroleum chooses Tegile storage solution
A storage solution that addresses company growth and performance for business-critical applications of caseware archive and search along with other key operational systems.
Security and trust: The backbone of doing business over the internet
Explores the current state of website security and the contributions Symantec is making to help organizations protect critical data and build trust with customers.
Reg Reader Research: SaaS based Email and Office Productivity Tools
Read this Reg reader report which provides advice and guidance for SMBs towards the use of SaaS based email and Office productivity tools.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.