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Gopher still going

Gopher, developed in 1991 at the University of Minnesota, is a text-only, hierarchical document search and retrieval protocol that was supplanted by the more flexible WWW in the mid-1990s. Some servers running this old protocol are still alive, however. The WELL, an online discussion board and community that started back in 1985, is still running a Gopher server. If you’ve got a recent version of Firefox, you can check it out in its original Gopher-y state at gopher:// or with any web browser at

It seems to have been frozen in early 1996 or so and houses several historical documents from the early 1990s. Many of the links are dead and some documents cannot be found, but poking around for 20 minutes or so, I found:

One of the articles by Sterling, his remarks from a privacy conference in 1994, touches on a topic that’s still hotly debated today:

I’ve been asked to explain why I don’t worry much about the topics of privacy threat raised by this panel. And I don’t. One reason is that these scenarios seem to assume that there will be large, monolithic bureaucracies (of whatever character, political or economic) that are capable of harnessing computers for one-way surveillance of an unsuspecting populace. I’ve come to feel that computation just doesn’t work that way. Being afraid of monolithic organizations especially when they have computers, is like being afraid of really big gorillas especially when they are on fire.

I don’t follow Sterling’s writing that closely, but I wonder if he’s changed his mind on this issue?

Matisse Enzer helped set up The WELL’s Gopher server and tells how it came to be on his blog. And here are a few other Gopher servers that are still running:


Update: It occurs to me that this might be up the alley of Digg’s users. If you’ve got an account there, you may wish to Digg this story.

Update: Here’s a write-up of GopherCon ‘92, “a small working session of Gopher developers and users”. I liked this bit:

Ed Vielmetti of CICnet gave a talk on “what we would be gathering to discuss if UMinn had never developed Gopher”, meaning primarily World-Wide Web (WWW). WWW was developed for the high-energy physics community and serves as a model of what Gopher could do if a discipline-oriented virtual community invested in it heavily.

Thanks for sending that along, Ed.

Update: The archives of the infamous Gopher server appear to be here. I don’t know how complete they are or when they’re from. (via digg)

Reader comments

benAug 01, 2006 at 10:58AM

What a coincidence ... I posted this less than 2 weeks ago.


NarniaAug 01, 2006 at 11:06AM

Nice to see that the WELL is being pillaged for info... what a community/movement/hideout that place was during the establishing years of standards and ethos in "cyberspace". Only wish Barlow hadn't stuck with that term

dave kellamAug 01, 2006 at 11:48AM

Another nostalgic post that takes me back. I always liked gopher... it was the first place that I discovered the CIA World Factbook (couldn't find a gopher link). RSS readers remind of gopher, guess it's that stripped down feel.

BruceAug 01, 2006 at 12:04PM

The first thing I got using Gopher was Zen and the Art of the Internet, by Brendan Kehoe. He's still around at

Sw. PremAug 01, 2006 at 12:58PM

Bring back the GOPHER!!

Ex-Alexandrian, Ex-UofMinnesnowtanAug 01, 2006 at 2:40PM

Minnesota, hats off to thee!

l0neAug 01, 2006 at 2:47PM

It is not amazing that Gopher servers are still alive. What is amazing is that, when I clicked on the link, I had a client that was able to talk to them! (It's Firefox, by the way.)

Grant HutchinsAug 01, 2006 at 3:41PM

About a year ago I searched for any gopher servers that were still up and decided after several hours of fruitless searching that it was completely dead. I could only find one or two projects at SourceForge for running a gopher server, with no live demos anywhere to be found.

I had pretty much given up, so thanks for this! Now I can finally explore gopherspace a little bit. Thanks for the nostalgia.

Toni ViemeröAug 01, 2006 at 4:20PM

My blog (in finnish) has been available using gopher and www for four years now :)

That guyAug 01, 2006 at 4:33PM

Poor WELL. This blog got dugg on digg, and now WELL's kerplotz

FletcherAug 01, 2006 at 5:10PM

More proof Al Gore created the Internet!

Carbon OcelotAug 01, 2006 at 5:52PM

I'm surprised Gopher at Floodgap didn't make this list. Cameron Kaiser still maintains his veronica 2 searcher.

kuldeepAug 01, 2006 at 6:21PM

GoPher ah! how I missed thee!!!...Some of my first menories of Internet here is INdia are browsing through gopher. I had no idea Gopher was still around,

Ivan PopeAug 01, 2006 at 7:08PM

names to conjour with.
And then came the World Wide Web

AndyAug 01, 2006 at 7:42PM

Camino will open gopher too... oh... and lynx, of course (which is really fun seeing it in it's original context).

Damn it. Now I want to set up a server. Have no idea what I'd do with it, mind you, except reall screw with peopl "Yeah I run a gopher server on my Mini."

olivierAug 01, 2006 at 11:26PM

Where is Paul Linder now ?
I always thought Gopher would have been a better WAP 1.0 than WAP.

Joe, AOL Journals EditorAug 02, 2006 at 12:12PM

Hi Jason -- I used to maintain the Gopher area in AOL's Internet Connection; I did a little entry about AOL's Gopher area, which still exists and is accessible (albeit hidden) via the AOL client software.

Thanks -- Joe

SuebobAug 02, 2006 at 12:42PM

I remember the WELL well. My first internet experience. Before GUI. Just green letters on a black screen. I was far away from Berkeley, so I had to pay long distance charges to access it. After so many people were using it to coordinate housing and relief efforts during the Berkeley firestorm, I remember thinking "This thing really has potential." I underestimated a bit.

Edward EinhornAug 03, 2006 at 1:45PM

That's really interesting. Thanks for alerting me to it. Somehow the whole Gopher thing passed under my radar originally, but going back and looking through it now is a really fascinating experience.

Edward Einhorn

DKRAug 04, 2006 at 12:06AM

gopherpedia? Perhaps in the past! Would be neat to see.

Paul LindnerAug 07, 2006 at 7:20PM


Paul Lindner here. Working deep in the bowels of TypePad and sundry other projects at Six Apart these days.

Anil thought that Gopher might make an interesting news item:

So I answered all his interesting questions.

AnilAug 07, 2006 at 11:35PM

Hey, we found Paul!

DannyAug 08, 2006 at 4:24AM

Last year (while irritated at the general crapness of OPML) I semi-seriously suggested Gopher NG, basically Gopher done with XML and RDF over HTTP taking advantage of developments in the (Semantic) Web. Since then a Javascript-based browser that implements pretty much all I suggested has appeared, from none other than Tim Berners-Lee: Tabulator.

Ben TremblayAug 08, 2006 at 4:42PM

Gopher still hot? Dang right! I'm still getting hits in my blog from this post. Can we say that it (gopher) is paradigmatic of "long tail"?

K ... what's going on here? I know a) I get fed up with just how bloated FF is and b) it's sometimes a perk to use telnet and/or pine. Maybe some of us really appreciate sleek / parsimonious?

p.s. Thinking about the interface I'm cobbling together for my "Participatory Deliberation" is where sleek/parsimonious came up. When I slip into that mode I see Web2.0 as spring-loaded and self-evident. A series/collection/suite of single-page apps?

AllenAug 08, 2006 at 9:42PM

I remember gopher -- and I remember it because I would sit in a 1000 station computer lecture hall for hours checking things... oh yea and MUD's -- who remember's these? :)

I remember how many times we would hit on girls using the MUD...

aah - the old days.... sure wish I would have known then what I know now!

Jay NemrowAug 16, 2006 at 3:56PM

For all those that say there are no Gopher Servers left...

Here is my gopher site

Here is a very active one

Gopher is alive, but more of a hobby now for a few purists. I enjoy the simplicity of it.

vixSep 12, 2006 at 2:02PM

Oh, fuss and bother with all the spam commenting. Anyway, Gopher was awesome. I used to marvel at the possibilities it presented as I tapped away at it in '93 at the U of MN, proud to be at the location of the launching pad. Thanks for the trip down memory lane.

This thread is closed to new comments. Thanks to everyone who responded.