Gopher, Gemini, and the rise of the small Internet

Beyond the Web

Article from Issue 245/2021

The danger and irritations of the modern web have unleashed a movement dedicated to creating a safer and simpler alternative. The old Gopher network and the new Gemini protocol have emerged as building blocks for this new "small Internet."

Anyone who has used the World Wide Web (WWW) lately knows that something bad is happening to it. It does not resemble the WWW of the early years, with enthusiastic amateurs freely sharing ideas and information. These things still exist, and the web is still an indispensable medium connecting the world. But the web experience is now encumbered with advertising, invasions of privacy in the form of pervasive tracking, enormous file sizes, CPU straining JavaScript, the danger of exploits, and door slams asking you to subscribe to a newsletter before viewing a site.

This unpleasant environment has led to a backlash. There are now some communities of developers and computer users who still desire a connected information system, but who seek a refuge from the noise, danger, and increasingly resource-hungry WWW. They feel that web technology does too much, and that since it makes various forms of abuse too easy, no lasting reform is possible.

The solution is to use or create a separate protocol that is simply not capable of supporting the technologies that enable advertising networks, user fingerprinting, or the myriad of other things that exploit users rather than helping them. This small movement has approached the problem from two directions that in practice are often merged: the revival of the Gopher protocol and the creation of a new protocol called Gemini.


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