Back in my NMC days in 2011 we did a live webinar conversation with Kevin Kelly.
While I never got wrapped up in technology wanting things, I do vividly remember Kelly’s concept of immortal technologies, that unlike extinct animals, technologies still remain out on some long tail curve of obscure ebay sales pages.
In his book, Kelly wrote about exploring this via a randomly chosen collection of farming tools in the 1898 Montgomery Ward catalog. With minimal web searching, je was able to find some place where those same exact tools were being manufactured, made, sold somewhere in the world today.
I regularly use supposedly dead technology tools- RSS, RSS Readers, Apple Aperture, blogs, heck maybe it’s time to put twitter on the list (note how in 2014 The Atlantic eulogized twitter as dead, but by 2015 it was only decayed. Cue Monty Python?).
Guess what, there are devoted technicians coding and keeping a network of Gopher servers
Yep, it was neck and neck with the early web… and lost. In my first years as a mullet headed young intructional technologist at the Maricopa Community Colleges, I set up a Gopher server on a Mac II. This is my best photo of the creature:
I wrote a short column on Gopher for our Labyrinth-Forum newsletter (that went out as paper in campus mail?), where I was trying to collect resources, and make versions of that newsletter available electronically (I think it was just a text file)
For what it was, Gopher was compelling as a way to connect distributed information in 1993.. until in October of that year a colleague named Jim Walters handed me a floppy disk labeled “Mosaic”…
Well this is all just old web fogey nostalgia, except that Kathy Shrock (who I remember from that era) tweeted something tonight about Gopher
Never noticed that there was a Gopher address on this page. (If you don’t know what Gopher was, don’t worry!) https://t.co/qEYJ2uMdIG
— Kathy Schrock (@kathyschrock) February 4, 2016
My curiosity itch was activated; I thought I had come across a Gopher emulator (I found it but the link was dead), but I did come across this entrance to the GopherSpace, presenting the Overbite Project (names like this warm my sarcastic heart).
This technology ain’t dead, leader Cameron Kaiser rallies it’s relevance
Most people who “get” Gopher are already using it and instinctively understand why Gopher is still useful and handy. On the other hand, people who inhabit the Web generation after Gopher’s decline only see Gopherspace as a prototype Web or a historical curiosity, not a world in its own right — and more to the point, being only such a “prototype,” there is the wide belief that Gopher plays no relevant role in today’s Internet and is therefore unnecessary. This has led to many regrettable consequences, such as the neglect of servers and clients, or even active removal of support.
Gopher, however, is more than a confederated affiliation of networks with goals of minimalism; rather, Gopher is a mind-set on making structure out of chaos. On the Web, even if such a group of confederated webmasters existed, it requires their active and willful participation to maintain such a hierarchical style and the seamlessness of that joint interface breaks down abruptly as soon as one leaves for another page. Within Gopherspace, all Gophers work the same way and all Gophers organize themselves around similar menus and interface conceits. It is not only easy and fast to create gopher content in this structured and organized way, it is mandatory by its nature. Resulting from this mandate is the ability for users to navigate every Gopher installation in the same way they navigated the one they came from, and the next one they will go to. Just like it had been envisioned by its creators, Gopher takes the strict hierarchical nature of a file tree or FTP and turns it into a friendlier format that still gives the fast and predictable responses that they would get by simply browsing their hard drive. As an important consequence, by divorcing interface from information, Gopher sites stand and shine on the strength of their content and not the glitz of their bling.
Good golly it sounds like Federated Wiki fervor!
Okay, you can get back to GopherSpace using the Overbite Add-On in Firefox; I fired it up and went down some tunnels. There is a root at
gopher://gopher.floodgap.com/1/ (without the real interface, you can wander down in gopherless browsers with a proxy URL http://gopher.floodgap.com/gopher/gw?gopher://gopher.floodgap.com:70/1/buck
Moving down through the gopher ladders from
All the Gopher Servers (that we know of) to
U.S. Academic, Government, Military Servers (.edu, .gov, .mil)… I found three gopher servers at .edu domains
- mirror.lug.udel.edu:70 (University of Delaware) seems to be a giant directory of linux distributions.
- gopher://nemesis.cs.berkeley.edu/1 (Berkeley) is a vast collection of Grateful Dead content; none of the images I could get to show, but there are all kinds of tunnels to go look around for Jerry and Friends.
- gdead.berkeley.edu:70 (Berkeley) is just an alias for the server above.
Okay, it’s slim on edu content, but there’s a vast warren of info here THAT YOU CANNOT GET VIA GOOGLE! Moo hahahaha.
The servers are running on Bucktooth (get it?) a perl based server.
I cannot wait for Reclaim Hosting to set up an installer!
— Alan Levine (@cogdog) February 4, 2016
But to the mighty Atlantic you cannot call any technology dead until you bring us a stone dead corpse.
Look you can still get CALTRANS updates via gopher. You can get realtime Weather maps via gopher. The latest xkcd comic? Why wait for it to slug through the NSA peeping web when you can gopher it? Create ASCII Text with Figlet?
And who needs Google when you got Veronica to search GopherSpace? No tracking, no ads, just information.
I think the web is dead, long live the Gopher Chief. I’m going back in to see where I can find a WAIS server….
Top / Featured Image: One of the many detailed panoramas at the Gopher Hole Museum in
Torrington, Alberta www.roadtripamerica.com/places/gopher.htm a shrine to the sheer human will to collect and share everything imaginable. My own flickr photo http://flickr.com/photos/cogdog/6034713670 shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license