Re: Death of Gopher Foretold, March '96

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From: Michael E. Warshaw (
Date: Fri May 19 2000 - 12:10:48 PDT

Been in Mississippi.....
----- Original Message -----
From: Carey Lening <>
To: <>
Sent: Friday, May 19, 2000 10:42 AM
Subject: Fwd: Death of Gopher Foretold, March '96

> Thought you might like to see this. BY the by where the fuck are you
> -c
> >Delivered-To:
> >X-Sender: rohit@
> >Date: Fri, 19 May 2000 00:51:45 -0700
> >To:
> >From: Rohit Khare <>
> >Subject: Death of Gopher Foretold, March '96
> >
> >
> >
> >The Death of Gopher
> >.
> >The Gopher -- an Internet "killer app" of
> >the early '90s -- is a dinosaur today.
> >But don't tell that to its creators.
> >
> >By James Romenesko
> >Published in the St. Paul
> >Pioneer Press on March 4, 1996
> >
> >The Internet software developers at the University of Minnesota realized
> >that their Gopher application was not just hot, but also hip, when they
> >turned on their television sets one night and saw MTV veejay Adam Curry
> >wearing an "Internet Gopher World Tour" T-shirt.
> >
> >The black T-shirt looked like something worn by a heavy-metal band to
> >promote upcoming concerts. While musicians have tour cities and dates on
> >the back of their shirts, the Gopher World Tour shirt sported names of
> >countries and the number of Gopher servers located in each part of the
> >
> >It was the early 1990s, and the University of Minnesota was savoring the
> >success of this freeware application that made the Internet so easy to
> >navigate. With Gopher, you could simply point-and-click to find
> >information ranging from college catalogs to campus newspapers. In its
> >day, Gopher was the Net's "killer application."
> >
> >"It made the Internet accessible to people who weren't propeller-heads,"
> >says Daniel Torrey, a member of the Gopher Development Team who has since
> >left the university.
> >
> >But that was then, and this is now. The multimedia-savvy World Wide Web
> >has become the Internet's new killer application. The developers of such
> >Web "browsers'' as Netscape have become Wall Street darlings and
> >
> >Meanwhile, the all-text Gopher -- although still used by many -- now has
> >musty feel. Netcom Internet Service Provider marketing chief John Zeisler
> >has said that a human year is about five Internet years, and thus, Gopher
> >is nearly a quarter-century old in cyberspace time.
> >
> >"Gopher is maybe pretty much done,'' admits Natalie Ostrom, a team member
> >who designed the Gopher icon, which runs while the application does its
> >searching. "It's kind of sad. With the younger people, you mention Gopher
> >and they say, 'Wasn't that eons ago?' It makes me feel like a pioneer.''
> >
> >Actually, it was just 1991 when the University of Minnesota put its files
> >out for worldwide viewing on the world's first Gopher server. Other
> >institutions swiftly followed. Eventually, more than 8,000 Gopher servers
> >popped up around the world. Even the White House had its own Gopher,
> >it demonstrated live on the "Good Morning America'' television show.
> >
> >The members of the Gopher development team became celebrities of sorts,
> >invited to speak at conferences around the country and show off their
> >genius. One former U programmer recalls being stopped and quizzed at
> >length by a stranger who spotted him wearing a Gopher World Tour T-shirt;
> >the young man wanted to share his Internet experiences with the Gopher
> >team member.
> >
> >"We thought we were rock stars,'' says Torrey. "We had a blast.''
> >
> >Gopher, named after the University of Minnesota's sports mascot, also put
> >the university in the spotlight. It gave the U an international
> >for being on the cutting edge of Internet technology.
> >
> >"It's given the university an identity,'' says Scott Elton, associate
> >director of university relations. "I get a little joy in seeing all the
> >mentions of Gopher and to see Gopher servers from other universities.
> >have problems on our hands if we had to promote the University of
> >Minnesota's `Badger' server.''
> >
> >How Gopher came into being is a story of a team of mavericks battling
> >against the university bureaucracy and trying to deal with many egos and
> >million scattered ideas.
> >
> >In 1990, the University of Minnesota administration decided it needed a
> >campuswide online information systems network and put a committee in
> >charge of implementing it.
> >
> >A university programmer named Mark McCahill, then 34, sat with the panel
> >and listened to its plans. He decided that a team from what was then
> >called the university Microcenter, Workstation, Networks Center could do
> >better.
> >
> >"Some of the people designing (the committee's network plan) didn't
> >write software,'' says McCahill. "It's sort of like having someone who
> >doesn't know how to make a car engine design the engine and then hand it
> >to the guys who actually have to build it.''
> >
> >At the same time, there was a second information systems project being
> >developed by the university's Academic Computing Services department. "It
> >was designed to be somewhat similar (to Gopher), but in many ways it was
> >more cumbersome,'' says Phil Kachelmyer, a Gopher Team member. "It never
> >got very far into the development stage before it was dropped.''
> >
> >McCahill went to a colleague, Farhad Anklesaria, and explained what was
> >being pitched by the committee.
> >
> >McCahill remembers, "Farhard kept saying, 'This is stupid. It doesn't
> >to be that complicated. Make it really simple. All we're really doing is
> >saying that you should have files and people can go look at the files.'''
> >
> >Anklesaria spent a weekend in early 1991 developing a prototype to would
> >do just that - essentially a beta version of Gopher. He presented his
> >concoction to McCahill.
> >
> >Recalls McCahill: "I said, `But Farhad, we'll never get this past the
> >committee because there's not enough there.''' The program wasn't
> >enough.
> >
> >McCahill suggested the addition of full-text searching capability to the
> >application - for some extra gliltz as well as value. "Full-text
> >was like a new thing under the sun five years ago,'' notes McCahill.
> >
> >The two, with assistance from the newly formed Gopher Team, fine-tuned
> >prototype as music from Nirvana and Mudhoney blared in the background.
> >
> >"It was a fun time,'' recalls team member Torrey. "It was a lot of late
> >nights and weekends and a lot of beer, pizza and speed metal.''
> >
> >Eventually, the team needed some files to dump into their baby Gopher so
> >they could demonstrate its text-searching capability.
> >
> >"We took the Usenet (Internet newsgroup) cookbook and put that into it,''
> >says McCahill. "That was the first thing - so first the Gopher was
> >recipes up. We figured everybody ate, and it was a good way of
> >illustrating what full-text searching could do."
> >
> >If you were looking for recipes with eggplant, you simply typed in the
> >word and the application would locate every eggplant reference - a
> >dazzling capability in 1991.
> >
> >But some University committee members still didn't like it.
> >
> >Says McCahill, "They weren't completely enamored with what we'd done,
> >partly because we had done it in a simpler way. ... There was some
> >that it wasn't frilly enough. There were some people who thought, 'I
> >it did what we wanted,' and there were others who thought, 'But you
> >do it my way.' There was some ego involved in this.''
> >
> >But McCahill convinced his bosses that Gopher would be useful on campus
> >for students with computer-related questions that previously had to be
> >answered by telephone helplines.
> >
> >"That was the argument that finally broke through the other objections,''
> >says McCahill. "They said, 'Fine, use it for that.'''
> >
> >When they unleashed Gopher on campus, the team also made their
> >available to the rest of the world via anonymous ftp, a simple Internet
> >system for sharing files.
> >
> >"We were probably kind of naughty (for doing it),'' says Natalie Ostrom.
> >(McCahill denies they did anything wrong, however.)
> >
> >Once other universities discovered Gopher, which happened quickly, the U
> >bosses had to accept it. Eventually, of course, they embraced it.
> >
> >"Within a year, there were hundreds of Gopher servers on all
> >says Torrey.
> >
> >Team leader McCahill says he initially hoped that 20 or so institutions
> >would get their own servers running; even he couldn't predict its
> >
> >He says, "When we first got working on Gopher, I said, 'This is a really
> >good idea and we don't get that many really good ideas. I want this to
> >out into the world.' I was excited and others on the team were excited,
> >but it's hard to tell how the rest of the world's going to react. If I
> >could tell that stuff, I wouldn't be working here, I'd be picking stocks
> >or something."
> >
> >In just three years, there were more than 8,000 Gopher servers around the
> >world, and the developers were considered stars in the Net community.
> >McCahill spent much of 1992 and 1993 traveling to conferences and talking
> >about his team's contribution to the Internet.
> >
> >The university sponsored an annual GopherCON seminar, which brought
> >representatives from The New York Times, the World Bank, Microsoft,
> >Motorola and other corporations to Minneapolis for three days to discuss
> >the latest Gopher developments. The seminar was considered a not-to-miss
> >affair for anyone seriously involved in new technology. The university
> >loved the publicity, trotting out Goldie Gopher as a goodwill ambassador
> >to greet guests from around the world.
> >
> >And then there was the shining moment that Adam Curry wore his Gopher
> >T-shirt on television.
> >
> >Explains McCahill: "Adam wanted to run a Gopher server and this was at
> >point when we said, 'The commercial guys are starting to do this, so the
> >university should get some money for commercial use.' We had a standard
> >contract that (gave the cost of using server software). But for Adam we
> >said, 'You also have to wear a Gopher T-shirt on MTV.' It was joke, but
> >took it the right way. We sent him a T-shirt and he wore it.''
> >
> >The Gopher developers didn't make any money other than their salaries for
> >coming up with what was then the world's hottest Internet application.
> >They discussed leaving the university and starting up a software outfit
> >their own, but the talks never went anywhere.
> >
> >"I think it was a little too early and the market wasn't there yet, but I
> >might be wrong,'' says Torrey.
> >
> >He admits he's thought about the money they could have made if
> >circumstances had been different. Perhaps he and the others could have
> >been the Marc Andreessens of their era. Andreessen, of course, is the
> >24-year-old behind first Mosaic and then Netscape; he is now worth $300
> >million.
> >
> >If other members of the Gopher team deny having dreamed about riches that
> >might have been, Torrey adds, "I say they're lying.''
> >
> >The World Wide Web has been around for years, but it wasn't widely used
> >until 1993, when Andreessen and his colleagues at the National Center for
> >Supercomputing Applications (NCSA) introduced Mosaic. This freeware
> >browser took off in December 1993 when a New York Times business section
> >front page story declared it the hottest application on the Internet.
> >
> >With that, Gopher's shine began to fade.
> >
> >Net users wouldn't let Gopher die a quiet death; they discussed its sorry
> >state on Usenet almost endlessly. One message poster recently summarized
> >Gopher's problem in one sentence: "Gopher isn't sexy, kewl, neater than
> >tailfins on DeSotos or featured in Time, Newsweek, or McPaper, er, USA
> >
> >Even Keith Johnson, author of a Bible-sized book titled "Using Gopher,''
> >published just last July, admits that he hasn't used Gopher in more than
> >year. He does his work on the Web these days.
> >
> >Gopher has been tossed into the cultural icon pile of retro artifacts.
> >Last month, Folio magazine columnist Steve Wilson reminisced about the
> >early days of Gopher and the role it played for those in the electronic
> >publishing community.
> >
> >"The end of an era is upon us,'' Wilson wrote. "Actually, the era ended
> >instantly in 1993 when the World Wide Web spread itself about the
> >Internet. ... We can't help but shed a tear at the rapid deterioration of
> >Gopher, the text-only means of surfing the Internet rendered obsolete by
> >the Web's superiority.
> >
> >"The strange, almost sentimental charm of Gopher sites is not unlike the
> >nostalgia evoked by early-to-mid-80s music videos - they're not very old
> >in the general scheme of things, but they seem so dated.''
> >
> >Still, there remain Gopher loyalists. Last spring, about 100 of them
> >gathered again at the University of Minnesota for GopherCON '95. In
> >previous years, the conference turned people away after it reached its
> >person limit. With the Web at its peak, however, the interest wasn't
> >for the fourth annual Gopher bash.
> >
> >The 1995 sessions featured Gopher programs with new bells and whistles
> >such as 3D and virtual reality, but they weren't dazzling enough to
> >attract much attention.
> >
> >Some of the papers delivered at last year's GopherCON examined ways to
> >save Gopher. University of Albany librarian David Tyckoson's thesis was
> >titled: "How to keep Gopher alive? Integrate Gopher system into library
> >environment.'' Ironically, though, even Tyckoson's own university library
> >abandoned Gopher in January and switched to the Web. "Our Gopher is still
> >up and running, but we're not going to update it,'' says Tyckoson.
> >
> >And the University of Minnesota has decided that GopherCON is history.
> >Last year's session was the not-so-grand finale.
> >
> >One of Mark McCahill's former partners says the team leader is probably
> >irritated that Gopher has been pushed aside by the Web. McCahill himself
> >calls the evolution inevitable - but he's still not a fan of the Web.
> >
> >What does the Web craze mean to him? "It means there's more advertising
> >the world than information systems - or in layman's terms: Gee, I see
> >billboards and ads than I see libraries. I think I'm in the library
> >business, not the billboard and ad business. Does (the Web) mean much to
> >the librarians? Not that much.''
> >
> >Could he and cohorts have made money if they had done things differently?
> >
> >"People have asked that a lot,'' he says. "They say, 'Maybe you missed
> >your chance. You could have been like Marc Andreessen.' The way I look at
> >it is like this: I like building systems. Marc Andreessen is not building
> >systems now. It's unlikely he's going to do that any time soon.
> >
> >"At this point, Marc is a guy who does a million talks and is a
> >figurehead. That lifestyle is incompatible with developing software.
> >me, I had a little taste of that in going and doing a bunch of Gopher
> >talks. You can't do both. I like building systems, so I think I'm happy
> >with what I'm doing.''
> >
> >He and others on the team continue developing software for the
> >Right now McCahill's working on an application called Forms Nirvana, a
> >to speed the routing of approval forms through the university.
> >
> >"That's kind of a contradiction in terms,'' he notes wryly. "Achieving
> >nirvana through filling out forms.''
> >
> >While the development will be useful for the U, it probably won't get
> >McCahill on the cover of Time magazine. He says he's doesn't feel
> >to top Gopher, or to create the next killer application.
> >
> >"Can we go head-to-head with Netscape in developing a monolithic client
> >that does everything? No, I don't have those kinds of resources. I can't
> >even try that. That's silly.''
> >
> >(c) The St. Paul Pioneer Press

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