April 28th, 2010
Back in the early 1990s, before there was a World Wide Web, there was the Internet Gopher. It was a distributed information system in the same sense as the web, but didn’t use hypertext and was text-based. Gopher was popular back then, as it made it easy to hop from one server to the next in a way that FTP didn’t.
Gopher has hung on over the years, and is still clinging to life in a way. Back in 2007, I was disturbed at the number of old famous Gopher servers that had disappeared off the Internet without a trace. Some of these used to be known by most users of the Internet in the early 90s. To my knowledge, no archive of this data existed. Nobody like archive.org had ever attempted to save Gopherspace.
So I decided I would. I wrote Gopherbot, a spidering archiver for Gopherspace. I ran it in June 2007, and saved off all the documents and sites it could find. That saved 40GB of data, or about 780,000 documents. Since that time, more servers have died. To my knowledge, this is the only comprehensive archive there is of what Gopherspace was like. (Another person is working on a new 2010 archive run, which I’m guessing will find some new documents but turn up fewer overall than 2007 did.)
When this was done, I compressed the archive with tar and bzip2 and split it out to 4 DVDs and mailed copies to a few people in the Gopher community.
Recently, we’ve noted that hard disk failures have hobbled a few actually maintained Gopher sites, so I read this archive back in and posted it on BitTorrent. If you’d like to own a piece of Internet history, download the torrent file and go to town (and please stick around to seed if you can). This is 15GB compressed, and also includes a rare video interview with two of the founders of Gopher.
There are some plans to potentially host this archive publicly in the manner of archive.org; we’ll have to wait and see if anything comes of it.
Finally, I have tried to find a place willing to be a permanent host of this data, and to date have struck out. If anybody knows of such a place, please get in touch. I regret that so many Gopher sites disappeared before 2007, but life is what it is, and this is the best snapshot of the old Gopherspace that I’m aware of and would like to make sure that this piece of history is preserved.