Some months ago, while preparing a lesson for my Internet Technology class, I was doing some research on old protocols just to give my students the feeling about how the Internet used to work some years ago, and how it is much, much more than just the Web. During this research I found some interesting information about good old Gopher and how to run it from android devices... Hey, wait, did I say android devices? Yep! The Overbite project aims at bringing gopher to the most recent devices and browsers. As Firefox &co. from their latest versions have stopped supporting Gopher (shame on you), guys from the Overbite project have also decided to develop a browser extension to let you continue browsing it (well, if you ever did it before ;)).
What struck my mind is not the piece of news per se, but the fact that there was a community (I thought a very small one) that was still interested in letting people access the gopherspace... To find what? So I spent some time (probably not enough, but still more than I planned) browsing it myself and checking what is available right now...
What I found is that the gopherspace, or at least the small part of it I was able to read in that limited time, is surprisingly up-to-date: there are news feeds, weather forecasts, reddit, xkcd, and even twitter (here called twitpher :)). Of course, however, there are also those files I used to find 15 years ago when browsing the early web from a text terminal with lynx: guides for n00bs about the Internet, hacking tutorials, ebooks I did not know about (the one I like most is Albert Einstein's theory of relativity in words of four letters or less, that you can find here in HTML). Moreover, there's still people willing to use Gopher as a mean to share their stuff, or to provide useful services for other users: FTP servers (built on a cluster of Playstation 3 consoles... awesome!) with collections of rare operating systems, LUG servers with mirrors of all the main Linux distros, pages distributing podcasts and blogs (well, phlogs!). Ah, and for all those who don't want to install anything to access gopher there's always the GopherProxy service that can be accessed using any browser.
After seeing all of this, one word came into my mind: WHY? Don't misunderstand me, I think all of this is really cool and an interesting phenomenon to follow and I really love to see all of these people still having incentives in using this old technology. And it is great to see that the incentives, in this case, are not the usual ones you might find in a participative system. I mean, what's one of the main incentives in using Wikipedia? Well, the fact that lots of people will read what you have written (if you don't agree, think about how many people would create new articles in a wiki which is not already as famous as Wikipedia). And how many readers is a page from the Gopherspace going to have? Well, probably not as many as any popular site you can find around the Web. But Gopher, mainly relying on text files, has a very light protocol which is superfast (and cheap!) on a mobile phone. It has no ads. It adds no fuss to the real, interesting content you want to convey to your readers. And quoting the words of lostnbronx from Information Underground:
"... I tell you, there's something very liberating about not having to worry over "themes" or "Web formatting" or whatever. When you use gopher, you drop your files onto the server, maybe add a notation to a gophermap if you're using one (which is purely optional), and...that's it. No muss, no fuss, no dicking around with CMS, CSS, stylesheets, or even HTML. Unless you want to. Which I don't. It defeats the purpose, see?"
Aaahh... so much time passed since the last time I have heard such wise words... It is like coming back to my good old 356* and listening to its +players! Let me tell you this, I like these ideas and I am so happy to see this new old Gopher still looks so far from being trendy... Because this means that a lot of time will need to pass before commercial idiots start polluting it! And in the meanwhile, it will be nice to have a place where information can be exchanged in a simple and unexpensive way. Maybe we in the richest part of the world do not realize it, but there are still many places where older but effective technologies are widely used (some examples? Check this one about Nokia most popular phone, and read why we still have USENET), and if something like Gopher could be a solution in this case, well... long live Gopher :-)