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Ten Ways U Research Affects You
By Jon Gordon, February 2001
10. Cruising the web was made possible by the first Internet connection: Gopher

Before the World Wide Web, people used to get around the Internet on the back of a little rodent. The University of Minnesota's "Gopher" system, created in the early 1990s, organized the sprawling Internet, which was then largely the domain of academia, into lists and menus.

"Gopher was the World Wide Web without the graphics," said Mark McCahill, who led the Gopher team until its demise a few years ago.

The university made Gopher software available to anyone who wanted to run an Internet site, and it quickly spread around the world. Much of the Internet traffic of the time flowed through the U of M, home of the mother Gopher server.

But Gopher fell out of favor quickly, as the graphic-rich World Wide Web became the standard. The Gopher team failed to anticipate how commercial forces would transform the Internet into a mass medium. Gopher was left in the dust.

"What's changed now is that the Internet is an advertising and commerce medium," said McCahill. "World Wide Web pages with graphics are an excellent way of having ads."

Gopher didn't adapt to the changing nature of the Internet, and now it's rarely used. Still, the U of M has written a chapter in the history of the 'Net.

"Gopher was state of the art 10 years ago," said McCahill. "The concept of search engines, full-text searches, and browsing hadn't gotten loose in the world in a big way. Gopher got those ideas out there and popularized them."

Although Gopher is rarely used, it's not dead. There are still thousands of sites in "Gopherspace."gopher://

The University of Minnesota still maintains its Gopher server. gopher://

There's even a campaign to revive Gopher. Check out the Gopher manifesto. gopher://