Web Rival Gopher Back In Spotlight

A handheld game system designer recently celebrated the first units shipping by posting a text file on Gopher. If you’re old enough to understand that sentence, I hope your knees and back are doing OK.

The Playdate console fits in a palm and has a small monochrome screen and retro-style arrow and A/B keys. It’s the work of a company called Panic whose co-founder Steven Frank shared his thoughts in a post at the end of April that’s just come to wider attention through The Register.

The post was on Gopher, an internet protocol and user interface that was made public at a similar time to the World Wide Web. While some sources say the name was a play on an underling “go-fer” retrieving information, its creators worked at the University of Minnesota and adopted the nicknames of the university’s sports teams.

It was vaguely similar in concept to the World Wide Web, but was largely text based with most multimedia only available as a file to download. As with the Web, the big goal was to avoid the need to manually browse through multiple FTP severs to find information. Instead, Gopher used a combination of menus and searching to find information across multiple locations.

Why Gopher ultimately lost out is disputed. One argument is that the Web’s design, with any document able to link directly to any other document, was more suitable as internet use grew. Another is that the university’s decision to charge a license fee for Gopher servers used for business was a killer blow.

Gopher is still usable through specialist browsers, though the easiest way is through extensions for Chrome and Firefox such as Burrow, used for the screenshot above.

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