Gopher – The Other Web

DiggieDog Android app

Figure 1: My Gopher Hole as seen on DiggieDog Attribution: By bradfonseca (Own work)

Sometimes one goes down a rabbit hole investigating something and ends up somewhere they don’t expect. In this case, it’s actually a gopher hole but the end result is the same: a rapidly spinning propellor on my nerd beanie.

I made a couple pretty interesting (at least to me!) discoveries over the past two weeks. First, I found the SDF Public Access UNIX System and set up an account on it. I’ll have to create a separate blog post on that system and my experience so far. However, the main thrust of this post is what else I discovered while exploring the SDF: the Gopher protocol:

The Gopher protocol is a TCP/IP Application layer protocol designed for distributing, searching, and retrieving documents over the Internet […]. The protocol offers some features not natively supported by the Web and imposes a much stronger hierarchy on information stored on it.

Basically, as outlined in the article, Why is Gopher Still Relevant?, gopher is a browsing protocol that is very much like browsing a hard drive. Thus, it’s very intuitive to use. Also, because it’s mostly in plain text (though there is support to view various file types, like .jpg or .gif) it requires very little bandwidth to convey information. Gopher pages consequently load very quickly.

Gopher reached its zenith in its popularity in the mid-90s. However, the number of gopher servers (as indexed by Veronica-2, the gopher search engine) has been slowly growing and sits (as of May 2018) at 260. This is a miniscule fraction of the servers hosting the World Wide Web but there still is a lot of content to see.

That’s the thing: with gopher, content is really king. You don’t get a lot of window-dressing on a gopher site. You only see additional media and graphics if you choose to click through to the content. What you get up front is text. It’s clean, crisp and clear.

Writing content for a gopher site is also a joy. I was once told that the best way to write is to just write. You need to stop worrying about the font or the look and feel and just get words on the page. Gopher is an excellent way to achieve this.

Are you convinced? Are you ready to join the Gopher Revolution^{tm}? First, you’ll want to get a plug-in for your browser, like OverbiteWX for Firefox. If you prefer a mobile experience you could try DiggieDog, a gopher client for Android (the one I use) or the Gopher Client (for iOS) (I have no personal experience with this app but it appears to have good ratings). If you’d prefer a more direct experience with gopher, you could try Lynx, a text browser.

Writing up a content for a gopher hole is actually not too difficult once you grok the formatting and structure of files. I found a couple great tutorials: the Gopher Tutorial on SDF and Highway to the Gopher Zone. With these, I had a a basic gopher hole set up within a couple hours.

I guess I’ll end off here. I hope you enjoy your exploration of Gopherspace as much as I do! 🙂

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