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What does a small, furry rodent have to do with computers? Well, they're kind of like a software bug, but only BIGGER! Just kidding. So what is this gopher thing? Glad you asked, because that's why I'm writing this.

Gopher originated at the University of Minnesota, which is considered the mothergopher and home to all gopher systems. These systems are set up mainly by universities and originally were used so that departments could post bulletins and such so that anyone could see them. Nowadays, you can find some of the same stuff you would find on the web, but nowhere near the same volume. So why use it? Well, because they are run by universities, and that means there is a reputation at stake, so you can be reasonably assured that the information you find is accurate.

Ok, ok, so what is it already? In a nutshell, Gopher is basically a distributed document service, meaning that a great majority of the things you find will be text. What a gopher system does is to allow you to move through servers using text menus. You may stay on one server or move across multiple ones just like you do on the web. In fact, you don't even need any special software to use gopherspace, as your browser already has the capability to do it.

Here's the mothergopher URL:

Here is what a gopher URL looks like with port specs:

This particular one is for the University of New Mexico and if you noticed the ':70' right after the '.edu', that is what port you are accessing their server through. The '/1' is a directory just like you would see in a web URL i.e. <http://www.biogate.com/vbok>. If you went to the UNM gopher URL, you would see a menu that looked like this:

Gopher Menu

<icon> Welcome to the UNM gopher server
<icon> UNM Ethics Code and Policy for Computer Use
<icon> CIRT, Campus Computing
<icon> Calendars, Events and Schedules
<icon> Phone Books, Email addresses and Directories
<icon> News Services
<icon> Libraries
<icon> Student Information
<icon> Faculty, Staff Information
<icon> Academic, Research and Departmental Info
<icon> Exploring the Internet

Not all gopher menus look like this, but they will all be similar, and they will always be a text based menu system (although in a browser they look just like a directory structure.)

If some of you jumped ahead and tried to navigate some of the menus, you may have run into an error like this:

"Access restricted to UNM accounts see main menu Welcome message."

This is because you are logged onto their server as an anonymous user. This is the default login name for browser based gophering (as well as browser based FTP.) If you have stand-alone gopher software that allows login/passwords and you have an account with whatever gopher server you are using, then you would be able to access those areas.

Gopherspace has it's own search engine. It's (she's?) called Veronica. Why? Well, Archie (as in archive) was already taken by another service called FTP, so it seemed logical to name it after Archie's girlfriend (If any of you are wondering who the heck these people are, they are characters from a '50s comic book series called Archie.) Unlike all the search engines on the web (AltaVista, HotBot, Yahoo etc.), Veronica is the same on all servers, so one search on one is going to return the same "hits" as a search on any other Veronica.

Let's make it more fun, there is another search engine in gopherspace called Jughead (Archie's friend), but this one only searches on the server that you are currently on. This is useful if you remember that a particular document was on a certain server, but just didn't quite remember where, and do not wish to search all of the servers. One thing to remember about Jughead is that a search on one Jughead will result in different "hits" than another server's Jughead search.

If you'd like to take a look at stand-alone gopher software, go here:

This is via FTP, but your browser will handle it.

Happy gophering!


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