Gopher protocol reborn

Ars Technica covers the renaissance of Gopher, the text-based menuing system that presaged the Web. My first net-industry job was building a gopher site (halfway through, we scrapped it in favor of a website). Good times.

Cameron Kaiser is a programmer on the Overbite Project, which brings better Gopher support to Firefox versions 2 and 3. When he writes about the relevance of Gopher in a Web world, he rejects the nostalgia for a "simpler time."

"The misconception that the modern renaissance of Gopherspace is simply a reaction to 'Web overload' is unfortunately often repeated and, while superficially true, demonstrates a distinct lack of insight," he writes. Instead, Gopher's advantages lie in the structure that its simple menu-based interface imposes on content.

"Gopher is a mind-set on making structure out of chaos," says Kaiser. "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."

The Web may have won, but Gopher tunnels on