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Re: NSF and the Birth of the Internet
From: David Farber <dave () farber net>
Date: Tue, 19 Aug 2008 09:45:51 -0400

Begin forwarded message:

From: Robert Alberti <alberti () sanction net>
Date: August 19, 2008 9:34:17 AM EDT
To: Jim Thompson <jim () netgate com>, dave () farber net
Cc: Steve Goldstein <steve.goldstein () cox net>, DeWayne Townsend <d-town () tc umn edu >
Subject: Re: [IP] Re:      NSF and the Birth of the Internet
Reply-To: alberti () sanction net

Gopher provided access to the first search engines, and the first
abstraction of Internet content away from the machines upon which data
was stored. In other words, Gopher was the first system that allowed you
to search for things on the Internet before you actually knew where they
were. You didn't have to know the address of anything in advance of
using a Gopher client. It can be argued that this accelerated the rate
at which subsequent tools such as Mosaic were developed.

While I don't have records here in front of me, Gopher traffic across
the NSF backbone was not surpassed by HTML traffic across that backbone
until late 1993, early 1994 IIRC.

Gopher was a bridging technology for the time when modem speeds (which
was how many folks were connected) were at about 19,200 baud. The
average Gopher directory was 1,500 bytes in length.  The average HTML
page with its images was 15,000 bytes at that time. At 19,200 baud and
below, users did not accept multimedia pages (text and images) because
transmissions speeds were too low.  When modem speeds jumped to 56K
baud, HTML popularity increased because it was now feasible to get a
mixed-media page delivered in a timely fashion.

Gopher introduced (and suffered for so doing) the concept of software
licensing to the Internet. Nowadays the Internet is SO commercialized
that it can be hard to remember that in 1993 most domain names ended
in .EDU or .MIL. Domain names that ended in .COM were considered crass.
Commercial use of the Internet was anathema to many, who insisted that
since it was developed with public resources it should always be free
and open. However, supporting Gopher was quickly consuming all of the
resources of the tiny University of Minnesota department to which I and
my colleagues belonged. It was our (undoubtedly clumsily handled)
suggestion that Gopher software be commercially licensed that caused
many of its users to abandon Gopher for the Web, which was in any case
growing quickly in popularity.

Finally, during the brief Gopher era, our team was visited by exactly
ONE sitting U.S. Senator, a man who has been unfairly derided in
political circles under the completely false accusation that he claimed
to have invented the Internet. In 1991, while his present detractors
were then attempting to make the jump from rotary to touch tone dialing,
Senator Al Gore visited the Gopher developers as part of his work on the
US High Performance Computing Act.

Some interesting links:

http://ieeexplore.ieee.org/Xplore/login.jsp?url=/iel5/85/28382/01278848.pdf ?arnumber=1278848

-Bob Alberti
RFC 1436

On Tue, 2008-08-19 at 01:22 -1000, Jim Thompson wrote:
On Aug 19, 2008, at 1:02 AM, David Farber wrote:

Also the word "gopher" appears nowhere in the timeline, although for a
couple of years it WAS the Internet...

No, it wasn't.

I can get behind the idea that email was the Internet for a number of

But while gopher and WAIS were popular for a brief period of time
before NCSA shipped Mosaic and supported the IMG tag in HTML over
HTTP, they were
never responsible for anywhere near as much communication as email, to
say nothing of things like USENET / NNTP.


Robert Alberti, CISSP, ISSMP                       (612) 961-0507 cell
President, Sanction, Inc.                          (612) 486-5000 x211
http://sanction.net                                (612) 486-5000 fax
"Security solutions are cultural solutions facilitated by technology."

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