Your Internet Consultant - The FAQs of Life Online

7.4. What do I need to know about Gopher and Veronica?

Gopher is one of the most fascinating and valuable information sources on the Internet because, unlike almost all the others, it's designed for both browsing and searching for information. If you think about it for a second, you'll realize that these are two very different strategies for finding information. Many books are designed for both: You can flip through this book, scanning questions until you find one that catches your eye, or you can use the table of contents or index to zero in on specific information without wasting time. Books on computer are becoming even more sophisticated, allowing searches for information that aren't included in the predefined index, combinations of keywords, and so on.

Internet tools are constrained to either one or the other information retrieval paradigms; WAIS is a search-only database system, whereas Usenet is a browse-only environment. The cross-over is Gopher, with the Veronica search application.

The idea behind Gopher is simplicity itself. Every document and file stored on a computer in, say, an FTP archive, has a description of some sort, even if it's just the name of the file. What if you could have a menu of items available on the computer? Add to this the ability to have menu items that are actually arrows pointing to other menus or even to programs themselves. Now you're talking!

That's exactly how Gopher works. It's a huge, interwoven menu of information available on the Internet, organized through thousands of submenus broken down by topic, geographic location of server, service, and just about any other way you can imagine. Think of it as a big tree with a myriad of branches. Any Gopher menu item will either move you to another menu (on the same machine or another), or it will do something like display a document, play a sound file, show a graphic, or invoke a program.

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