The blossoming of the popular Internet

Excuse the title: I’ve found some things which seem to me to be related. Let’s start with a picture:

It’s from Cal Lee’s 1999 page
Where Have all the Gophers Gone? Why the Web beat Gopher in the Battle for Protocol Mind Share
(Notably, “mind share” is introduced as a new and unfamiliar term)

And I got there from Benj Edward’s piece

which has an interesting link to a post from the Gopher team at the point they decided to (try to) charge fees for commercial use. The line taken is, if you’re not commercial, calm down, nothing’s changed, if you are commercial, talk to us and let’s decide how much you’d like to pay. An unconventional line.

And as it happens I have a couple of links to short TV pieces on the novelty that was the Web, and the Browser, with a few screenshots of FTP and Gopher activity by way of contrast:

via this post on HNF’s blog (in German, natürlich)

Pull quote from Benj’s piece:

Believe it or not, there are still Gopher servers on the internet, but they’re mostly run for nostalgia. Because modern browsers don’t support the protocol, you’ll also have to get a stand-alone client or browser plugin to explore Gopherspace.

A great place to start is the Overbite project, where you’ll find Gopher plugins for many modern web browsers and even a client for Android phones. The best server to check out first is gopher:// .

Have fun in Gopherspace!


Yeah, Gopher is basically for “boutique” information sites.

It’s interesting, back in the day, I had essentially no contact with gopher. It was all USENET and ftp sites. I even used some ftp->email gateways where you could request a file and have it mailed back to you.

I had a UUCP connection for awhile and then, later, dialup account to Netcom (I was also active on Bix and Genie, a little bit) for the longest time, and rarely surfed the web. Occasionally I’d fire up a PPP program via the shell and dabble, but, I didn’t really use the web until probably 1997 or so when I got a cable modem. I thought it was pretty cool trying to insall FreeBSD with just a single boot floppy and the cable modem.

But during that entire period, I won’t say I never hit a gopher site, but it sure wasn’t common.

nn and elm were my tools of choice back then.

Me too - I think I never used gopher, though I had heard of it. For a while I used ftp-by-email gateways. And JANET, I think, again for file transfer, by whatever protocol.

There’s an insight in the article:

Gopher’s incredible popularity with libraries early on put the team on the wrong track. They imagined gathering all the world’s noncommercial information resources into a unified system. “What was actually happening in a lot of people’s heads was not, ‘I want to go to the library,’” said McCahill. “It was, ‘Hey, this is a platform for advertising and business.’ We didn’t get that until a little bit too late in the game.”

I remember to have used gopher and veronica in the early 90s but it kind of faded away. In SDF and the Tildeverse I played again with gopher a bit but I cannot get along with its capabilities any more. I need links in documents and if I abuse a map as document, a link needing a whole own line is a pain to use. (Same for gemini, but that will be retro later, so isn’t topic here yet.)

Does someone remember hyper-g?

I don’t remember hyper-g (history) but it reminds me a little of AmigaGuide, which I played with a bit.

Hyper-g and harmony (the browser) tried to replace the WWW those days.

And 3D gopher holes were a strange episode too or maybe some still exist, but I currently only use browsers for plaintext gopher holes.

Hmm, strange indeed. From 2001, about GopherVR (which first appeared in 1995):

My first Internet access in the early 1990s was via a shell account on a University computer of some kind (I seem to recall that it was a VMS machine, and that one of the only things I was permitted to do on it was to connect from there to a Unix machine, but it’s been 30 or so years and I am no longer sure), and one of the clients I had access to was a terminal gopher client.

As I recall it opened up by default to some sort of University site. I grew up in Ohio, and in Ohio many of the state universities (and there were, at the time, more universities per capita than any other state in the Union), maybe all of them, had joined a library coalition called OhioLink. One of the links on that University site was to OhioLink. I don’t remember the precise details of what it included, but I am fairly certain it included periodical catalogs and, if not actual library catalogs, links to library catalogs for member libraries. As I also had access to a library card for said University (courtesy of the same faculty member who gave a tween access to the computer systems), it was great fun for my brother and I to look things up and request books or periodicals from any library in the State, and then pick them up days later at the local branch campus. I don’t recall that we actually made such requests very often, but I know I spent many hours browsing the library databases.

My local library established a dialup catalog (which was not gopher, but some terminal-based screen application; it was the same interface that you would have used at the search terminals in the library itself, which were quaintly poised on top of card catalogs, as I recall) at about the same time, which held much of the same allure.

I’m not sure I ever used gopher after that. Same as your experience, Usenet and FTP served most of my Internet purposes until the WWW had well and truly broken onto the scene. I wound up attending Ohio University for my undergraduate work, and the OU libraries of course had access to OhioLink, which I made use of a number of times as a student. I don’t recall what the request interface looked like at the time, but I suspect it was either via ssh to a local Unix machine that served email, news, and quite a few other resources via a menu-driven shell (which was the usual contact with most of the University services) or possibly via a web page, particularly toward the end of my tenure there. I am quite certain it was no longer gopher by then.

It looks like there are some old OhioLink newsletters online, including January 1995 and March 1996, that discuss some of the gopher-accessible (and other) content.

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It seems, then, that gopher is a decentralised collection of curated hierarchical catalogs.

The very early web, in 1993, say, also had a number of curated catalogues - home pages. By 1994 we see Lycos and Yahoo with their centralised catalogues, and at some point search too.

There are some individual site histories around here:

(I’d forgotten Infoseek. Also Excite.)

I do recall altavista being a bit of a game-changer - from 1995

And I remember Ask Jeeves promising more (by way of natural language input) than they delivered, in 1997:

I must have made my first Internet connection circa 1995 (with trumpet winsock no less) ; there was a booklet with my first 28.8 modem that listed the main Internet usage and useful addresses for beginners. In my memory, www was footnote at that time, with emphasis put heavily on ftp, mail and usenet. But other services were also highlighted like gopher and wais. And while I was never fond of gopher, I have a soft spot for wais to this day. I loved the simplicity and analytical nature of the service. Well, that’s how I remember it through the rose-tinted glasses of time anyway.

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I started my Internet career sometimes in 1992/1993, when I started at university, becoming an electrical engineer. We had a brief introduction into internet services on a voluntarily basis by some university datacenter ops people. They showed us telnet, ftp, archie, Usenet and of course gopher. I think, there was no mention of WWW back then.

Probably a few months later, I started using a very early version of NCSA Mosaic.

Gopher BTW is still around. There are clients for all major operating systems, including iOS, and there are still servers up and running.

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More and more browsers drop GOPHER support which was included in the past. A browser should be a frontend at the point where many protocols meet many viewers (renderers?). New browser kids on the block even drop FTP! This all goes into a very wrong direction!

A start via proxy:

SDF, SDFeu and some nodes of the Tildeverse offer gopher hosting to their members. That’s an easy start if you don’t have a fixed address and/or domain name at home.

Here’s Benj Edwards again, reconstructing his first formative online moments, from logs taken at the time:

It would be curious how much, if any, Gopher inspired HTTP.

Because Gopher, honestly, is really bad. HTTP CAN BE really complicated, but for the 90% happy path, in bone stupid mode, it’s pretty simple. HTTP 1.0 is notably pretty simple, especially if you’re just publishing.

I looked at Gopher, modern Gopher, and saw very little compelling about it. In contrast to simple HTTP with simple HTML pages, it’s really a night and day experience.

Gopher is simpler, naturally. Gopher serving up (simple) HTML would be (almost) interesting.

As nice as raw publishing is, links is what makes things much more interesting (IMHO), and linking in Gopher is very, very rough. Now projecting links on to Gopher may be unfair, but it did have nascent linking (via its directory structure). Just enough linking to get little taste. A step up from FTP directories.

Honestly, a web browser on top of an anonymous FTP directory is almost the Gopher experience.

Gopher was one of those intermediate steps on the evolution of the internet.

gophermaps have an entry type h for HTML files. If the browser can handle it, GOPHER can serve HTML.

Via elpher:

Via elinks:

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That looks like a nice compromise. (Gopher is a directory, whereas WWW is hypertext, so they are not aiming at the same thing. Once you have a hypertext browser, coping with a directory should be straightforward - as noted, it’s functionally like browsing an ftp site.)

I think I touched the internet first time around 1989, from 1990 or so I started downloading compilers and Unix/X11 software, and of course in 1991 Linux arrived and I got aware of the Finnish ftp uni ftp sites. I never used Gopher, it was all USENET and ftp. I visited in addition to the Finnish sites, and sunsite, always looking for X11, Unix and Linux software. Those sites had it all so there was never a need for a service like Gopher, for me, at the time.

Are there any statistics for Veronica usage?
I started with the Web already around, but it wasn’t uncommon to have to resort to gopher sources for some more in-depth information. With Veronica search and Netscape Navigator, which was also a gopher client, the transition was rather smooth and, for a time, there was some coexistence from a user’s point of view.