SEO News
author-default

A Pre-Web Search Engine, Gopher Turns Ten

by , Comments

Before the web became synonymous with cyberspace, arguably the most popular search and directory program for the Internet was called Gopher. Despite rumors to the contrary, Gopher still lives, thanks to the efforts of a self-described group of volunteer hackers, who recently released an upgraded version of the software.

Gopher was created by Mark McCahill and his team at the University of Minnesota in 1991, taking its name from the university's mascot, the Golden Gopher. Gopher essentially combined the Telnet and FTP protocols, allowing users to click hyperlinked menus to access information on demand without resorting to additional commands -- a boon for users in the days before graphical browsers.

Using a series of menus that allowed the user to drill-down through successively more specific categories, they could ultimately access the full-text of documents, graphics, and even music files, though not integrated in a single format. Gopher made it easy to browse for information on the Internet.

Interviewed in a PBS documentary called "Understanding the Internet," Gopher creator McCahill said, "Before Gopher there wasn't an easy way of having the sort of big distributed system where there were seamless pointers between stuff on one machine and another machine. You had to know the name of this machine and if you wanted to go over here you had to know its name.

"Gopher takes care of all that stuff for you. So navigating around Gopher is easy. It's point and click typically. So it's something that anybody could use to find things. It's also very easy to put information up so a lot of people started running servers themselves and it was the first of the easy to use, no muss, no fuss, you can just crawl around and look for information tools. It was the one that wasn't written for techies," said McCahill.

Gopher's "no muss, no fuss" interface was an early precursor of what later evolved into popular Web directories like Yahoo "Typically you set this up so that you can start out with sort of overview or general structure of a bunch of information, choose the items that you're interested in to move into a more specialized area and then either look at items by browsing around and finding some documents or submitting searches," said McCahill.

A problem with Gopher was that it was designed to provide a listing of files available on computers in a specific location -- the University of Minnesota, for example. While Gopher servers were searchable, there was no centralized directory for searching all other computers that were both using Gopher and connected to the Internet, or "Gopherspace" as it was called.

In November 1992, Fred Barrie and Steven Foster of the University of Nevada System Computing Services group solved this problem, creating a program called Veronica, a centralized search tool for Gopher files. In 1993, another program called Jughead added keyword search and Boolean operator capabilities to Gopher search.

Popular legend has it that Veronica and Jughead were named after cartoon characters, since they seemingly derived from "Archie," a popular FTP search program of the time. Though the legend of Archie being named for the cartoon, the name in fact is shorthand for "Archives."

Veronica was likely named after the cartoon character (she was Archie's girlfriend), though it's officially an acronym for "Very Easy Rodent-Oriented Net-Wide Index to Computerized Archives." And Jughead (Archie and Veronica's cartoon pal) is an acronym for "Jonzy's Universal Gopher Hierarchy Excavation and Display," after its creator, Rhett 'Jonzy' Jones, who developed the program while at the University of Utah Computer Center.

After having been totally unmodified and essentially left for dead since 1996, the Internet Gopher has kicked back to life. The University of Minnesota placed the code under the GNU General Public License and an interested group of hackers set to work on it. On January 8th, they released version Gopher 3.0, code-named "Furry Terror."

Is Gopher still a viable tool for searchers, or just a quaint curiosity? That depends. A lot of good information that was originally stored in Gopherspace never found its way on the web, and using Gopher is the only way to access it. It's easy to find out for yourself -- both Internet Explorer and Netscape Navigator can fetch and display Gopher documents. Gopher addresses look like URLs but are prefaced with "gopher://" rather than "http://" as you can see in the first link below.

So if you've never played around with this pioneering search tool, give it a try -- or rather, Gopher it!

Gopher Turns 10
gopher://quux.org/h3.0.0.html

A Brief Introduction to Gopherspace
http://makeashorterlink.com/?N1342155

A good overview of Gopher and how to use it.

The Gopher Manifesto
http://makeashorterlink.com/?D27D21C4

For those who want to really dig into the past, or help support the current development efforts that are keeping Gopher alive.

All the Gopher Servers in the World!
gopher://gopher.tc.umn.edu/11/Other Gopher and Information Servers/all +

One of the last known directories of functioning gopher servers.

Search Headlines

NOTE: Article links often change. In case of a bad link, use the publication's search facility, which most have, and search for the headline.

Online portals news
Microsoft launches MSN mobile portals in Europe...
CNET Feb 6 2002 9:27AM GMT
Online access news
Star Trek web browser piloted by US ISP...
Silicon.com Feb 6 2002 9:12AM GMT
Online search engines news
Ask Jeeves Adds Comparison Shopping...
dmnews.com Feb 6 2002 7:47AM GMT
Online portals news
Shaking Up Shook: A Case Study in Implementing LawPort Portal...
LLRX.com Feb 6 2002 7:27AM GMT
Online content news
Third Generation Native XML Database...
Content-Wire Feb 6 2002 3:07AM GMT
Cross-Database Discovery and Structure Solutions...
Content-Wire Feb 6 2002 3:07AM GMT
Online marketing news
My plan for how to stamp out spam (Whats yours?)...
ZDNet Feb 6 2002 2:18AM GMT
Online search engines news
Google challenges pay-for-play search...
CNET Feb 6 2002 1:58AM GMT
Google Tweaks News Headlines...
Research Buzz Feb 6 2002 0:08AM GMT
Domain name news
Dot-Pro Deal Expected Before March - ICANN...
Elcom UK Feb 5 2002 9:02PM GMT
Web developer news
Review: Tool protects and educates Web surfers...
CNN Feb 5 2002 5:40PM GMT
Tech latest
Computer crash strikes space station...
New Scientist Feb 5 2002 2:13PM GMT
Online portals news
New AltaVista software searches corporate PCs...
CW360.com Feb 5 2002 12:16PM GMT
powered by Moreover.com


ClickZ Live Toronto Twitter Canada MD Kirstine Stewart to Keynote Toronto
ClickZ Live Toronto (May 14-16) is a new event addressing the rapidly changing landscape that digital marketers face. The agenda focuses on customer engagement and attaining maximum ROI through online marketing efforts across paid, owned & earned media. Register now and save!

Recommend this story

comments powered by Disqus