What Information Sharing System Was Briefly More Popular Than The World Wide Web?
In the spring of 1991 a group of researchers at the University of Minnesota released a document distribution protocol known as Gopher. The Gopher system was strongly hierarchical, heavily organized, and completely text-based–a perfect fit for researchers and users who needed quick and simple access to remote documents using only limited-bandwidth and frequently text-only terminals.
Gopher was quickly adopted by research labs and universities around the world and–for a period of time in the early 1990s when the World Wide Web and its underlying Hypertext Transport Protocol (HTTP) were still young–it was the go-to solution for accessing documents. A combination of the rapid growth of the World Wide Web as well as the University of Minnesota’s decision to begin charging licensing fees for its popular implementation of the Gopher server software severely decreased the number of global Gopher users. By the end of the 1990s, the network of Gopher servers had stagnated and HTTP-based document search and delivery was the de-facto standard for global document exchange.
Despite losing the race to become the world’s document delivery protocol, there are still hundreds of Gopher servers online and a non-profit initiatve, The Overbite Project, focused on preserving and expanding the Gopher system.
Bonus Trivia: Gopher derives its name from three fronts. The gopher is the University of Minnesota mascot, gophers tunnel and burrow to reach their desired destination, and “gofer” is a popular slang term for an assistant that fetches things for you.