This article is more than 1 year old

Hell desk to user: 'I know you're wrong. I wrote the software. And the protocol it runs on'

Gopher user dug themselves a deep, deep hole

On-Call Another weekend beckons, which means another edition of On-Call, The Register's weekly reader-contributed story of dirty jobs, done dirt cheap.

This week, meet “Bob” who in the early days of the Internet staffed a help desk that among other things took calls from users of the Gopher distributed file system.

Bob framed his story by reminding us of a scene in Woody Allen's Annie Hall in which Allen' character “corrects a pedantic-but-wrong neighbour in line at the movies by reaching out of frame and pulling Marshall McLuhan in to tell the man off."

Here's said scene:

Youtube Video

Remember the scene. It becomes relevant a few paragraphs down.

But back to Bob's story, which starts when took a call from a woman who had a problem with Gopher.

Bob says he offered the caller some assistance, but was told “You can't do that with Gopher.”

“I assured her that she could,” Bob told us. But the caller insisted I was wrong.

“I assured her that this was completely possible,” Bob says, whereupon the caller “became very upset, cited her bona fides as a system administrator and computer expert, and told me very certainly that she could not do the thing I described with Gopher, because Gopher was not designed to do that.”

"Ma'am," Bob tells us he replied politely, "I'm one of the people who created Internet Gopher. My name is on the RFC, number 1436. Additionally I personally wrote the Unix Gopher client we're discussing, and I absolutely guarantee that my software can do what I am telling you it can do."

“She reluctantly agreed to give it a try,” Bob says, and reckons he scored his very own Marshall McLuhan moment in so doing!

And now for a little reveal. “Bob's” real name is … Bob. Bob Alberti to be precise. And his name is indeed right there on RFC 1436, “The Internet Gopher Protocol."

Have you ever been in a position to definitively tell a user they're wrong? If so write to let me know and you could have your very own Marshall McLuhan moment in a future edition of On-Call. ®

More about

More about

More about


Send us news

Other stories you might like