Gopher

It was becoming clear from discussions at early gatherings of Internet folks such as the August 1986 conference in Monterey that the Internet was going to need some means of discovering content. Existing systems such as Bulletin boards, Usenet, BITNET, or certain proprietary terminal based systems were not really interoperable between platforms, difficult to use, and not well suited to the ongoing paradigm shift to personal computing and Local Area Networks.

As Director of Networking at the Supercomputer Center I made sure to extend Internet connectivity to the UofM Micro group at the first opportunity. While this was partly to insure that they could help support basic file transfer (FTP) and interactive (Telnet) protocols for campus Apple and PC users of our big machines, I also wanted to catalyze the development of advanced application layer tools.

As I recall, Mark McCahill (eventual lead author of the Gopher browser) and I had a series of conversations about the Internet, various TCP/IP protocol stacks for Apple and IBM PCs, things like WAIS and Archie, and the need to keep it distributed, simple and transactional. Googling around recently, I ran into a 9/12/2016 clip of Leo Laporte interviewing Mark about those early days, and was flattered that Mark mentioned me, and said “There was a guy named Tom Jacobson …. hyping … this really cool stuff”.  (Thanks Mark!)

I also played a role keeping the punched card luddites, who were still fighting to maintain and justify their centralized computing service model(s), (using kiosks of 3270 or VT-100 terminals) from stymieing the Gopher effort on campus, though my influence and contacts at higher levels of the University administration.

Later, on several of my visits to CERN in Geneva with physics friends, I had discussions about collaboration between the new WWW effort there, and the Minnesota Gopher people, but alas to no avail, W3C ended up at MIT, it might have been Minnesota.

And yes, I think Mark deserves a large share of the credit for the term “surfing the Internet”. As I recall, he was an avid windsurfer, and there was usually surfing paraphernalia in a corner of his office.