<networking, protocol> A distributed document retrieval system which
started as a Campus Wide Information System at the University of Minnesota, and
which was popular in the early 1990s.
Gopher is defined in RFC 1436. The protocol is like a primitive form of HTTP
(which came later). Gopher lacks the MIME features of HTTP, but expressed the
equivalent of a document's MIME type with a one-character code for the "Gopher
object type". At time of writing (2001), all Web browers should be able to
access gopher servers, although few gopher servers exist anymore.
Tim Berners-Lee, in his book "Weaving The Web" (pp.72-73), related his opinion
that it was not so much the protocol limitations of gopher that made people
abandon it in favor of HTTP/HTML, but instead the legal missteps on the part of
the university where it was developed:
"It was just about this time, spring 1993, that the University of Minnesota
decided that it would ask for a license fee from certain classes of users who
wanted to use gopher. Since the gopher software being picked up so widely, the
university was going to charge an annual fee. The browser, and the act of
browsing, would be free, and the server software would remain free to nonprofit
and educational institutions. But any other users, notably companies, would have
to pay to use gopher server software.
"This was an act of treason in the academic community and the Internet
community. Even if the university never charged anyone a dime, the fact that the
school had announced it was reserving the right to charge people for the use of
the gopher protocols meant it had crossed the line. To use the technology was
too risky. Industry dropped gopher like a hot potato."
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