Blogging site MetaFilter has restored its Gopher server, after 15 years of downtime.
Explain to kids these days that there was a time when the World Wide Web was just one of several competing ways to navigate the internet and they'll stare at you blankly. Tim Berners-Lee gave the world Hypertext Transport Protocol (HTTP) in 1989, but that didn't stop a group of researchers from the University of Minnesota advancing Gopher a couple of years later.
By 1993 an IETF RFC emerged describing Gopher's aims as follows:
The Internet Gopher protocol is designed primarily to act as a distributed document delivery system. While documents (and services) reside on many servers, Gopher client software presents users with a hierarchy of items and directories much like a file system. In fact, the Gopher interface is designed to resemble a file system since a file system is a good model for locating documents and services.
Using Gopher was a bit like navigating a document tree and then being able to open text documents. Except the tree could span servers all over the world. Which, in 1991 or 1993, was rather cool – and more fun than WAIS or CompuServe.
Readers with keen memories will recall that 1993 was also the year when the Mosaic browser debuted, becoming wildly popular and fuelling what turned out to be an unstoppable appetite for HTTP and the World Wide Web.
Gopher remained well-regarded but dropped out of the public eye.
Enthusiasts kept the protocol alive, and so did MetaFilter – until 2001, when its Gopher server was taken down because it was chewing up “2 or 3 Mb of RAM”.
MetaFilter now says its servers have lots more RAM and when “someone from the community asked us to and it wasn't too much trouble” the service was restored.
To view gopher://gopher.metafilter.com/ you'll need a Gopher client, like iGopher for the iPhone or the OverbiteFF Firefox plugin. If you adopt such software, you'll witness a feed of new MetaFilter content, updated every 15 minutes. ®