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                       Why is Gopher Still Relevant?

                 Cameron Kaiser, from the Overbite Project

   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.

   However,  there  is  much  to  be  gained from a heterogeneous network
   environment  where  there  are multiple methods of information access,
   and  while  the  Web  will  confidently  remain  the  primary means of
   Internet  information  dissemination, there continues to be a role for
   Gopher-based  resources  even  in  this modern age. Gopher and the Web
   can, and should, continue to coexist.

   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.
   From  a purely interface perspective, there is no question that Gopher
   could  be  entirely "subsumed" under the Web (technical differences to
   be  discussed presently). Very simple HTML menus and careful attention
   to  hierarchy  would yield an experience very much like a Gopher menu,
   and  some  have  done exactly that as a deliberate protest against the
   sensory overload of modern Web 2.0.

   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.

   Furthermore,  Gopher represents the ability to bring an interconnected
   browsing  experience  to low-computing-power environments. Rather than
   the  expense  of  large  hosting  power  and bandwidth, Gopher uses an
   inexpensive  protocol  to serve and a trivial menuing format to parse,
   making  it cost-effective for both client and server. Gopher sites can
   be hosted and downloaded effectively on bandwidth-constrained networks
   such as dialup and even low-speed wireless, and clients require little
   more than a TCP stack and minimal client software to navigate them. In
   an  environment where there are cries for "green computing" and "green
   data  centres,"  along  with  large-scale  media attention on emerging
   technology  markets  in  developing  nations  and the proliferation of
   wireless technology with limited CPU and memory, it is hypocritical to
   this  author  why  an  established  protocol  such  as Gopher would be
   bypassed  for  continued reliance on inefficient programming paradigms
   and  expensive protocols. Indeed, this sort of network doublethink has
   wrought large, unwieldy solutions such as WAP, a dramatic irony, since
   in  the case of many low-power devices such as consumer mobile phones,
   the  menu  format  used on them is nearly completely analogous to what
   Gopher  already  offered over a decade earlier. More to the point, few
   in  that market segment support the breadth of WAP, and those that can
   simply use a regular Web browser instead.

   Finally,  if  Web and gopher can coexist in the client's purview, they
   can  also  exist  in  the  server's. HTML can be served by both gopher
   servers  and  web  servers,  or  a  Gopher menu can be clothed in CSS,
   translated to HTML, and given to a web browser (and in its native form
   to a Gopher client). This approach yields a natural and highly elegant
   consequence: if you don't want to choose strictly one way or the other
   to  communicate  to  your  users, choose neither and offer them both a
   structured  low-bandwidth  approach  or  a  higher-bandwidth Web view,
   built  from  the  same  content.  The  precedent  of  a single serving
   solution offering both to both clients has been in existence since the
   early  days  of  the  Web  with  tools such as GN, and today with more
   modern  implementations such as pygopherd. Gopher menus are so trivial
   to  parse  that  they can easily be HTML-ified with simple scripts and
   act  as  the  basis  for both morphs; what's more, their data-oriented
   approach means they require little work to construct and maintain, and
   content  creation  in  general  becomes  simple  and  quick  with  the
   interface  step  already  taken  care  of.  Plus,  many servers easily
   generate  dynamic  gopher  menus  with  built-in  executable  support,
   providing  the interactive nature demanded by many modern applications
   while  still  fitting into Gopher's hierarchical format, and virtually
   all  modern Gopher servers can aggregate links to Web content to forge
   bidirectional connections.

   Modern   Gopherspace   represents   the  next  and  greatest  way  for
   alternative  information  access,  and  the  new  generation of Gopher
   maintainers  demonstrate a marked grassroots desire for a purer way to
   get  to  high-quality  resources. Not simply nostalgia for the "way it
   used  to  be," modern Gopherspace is a distinctly different population
   than  in  the  mid  1990s  when it flourished, yet one on which modern
   services  can still be found, from news and weather to search engines,
   personal  pages,  "phlogs"  and  file  archives. It would be remiss to
   dismissively  say  Gopher  was killed by the Web, when in fact the Web
   and  Gopher  can live in their distinct spheres and each contribute to
   the  other.  With  the  modern computing emphasis on interoperability,
   heterogeneity  and  economy,  Gopher  continues  to  offer much to the
   modern  user,  as  well  as  in  terms  of  content, accessibility and
   inexpensiveness.  Even  now clearly as second fiddle to the World Wide
   Web, Gopher still remains relevant. -- Cameron Kaiser

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