The Gemini Protocol: A Better Internet Experience?
I recently wrote and dropped some links relating to an old internet protocol known as Gopher.
Compared to the modern web, Gopher is very minimalist, un-intrusive, and a lot of fun. But it’s not the only alternative protocol available. And today, I want to talk about what some might call its spiritual successor, Gemini.
Gemini, or “Project Gemini,” is a lot newer than Gopher or HTTP, with the project beginning in 2019 by a user named “Solderpunk.” You can think of it as an in-between of those two protocols, combining Gopher’s “text-centric” interface with the modern web’s link-based navigation (as opposed to Gopher’s hierarchical menu system).
With Gemini, there are no scripts and no CSS. Instead, as the Gemini FAQs state, Gemini “takes the position that visual styling of Gemini content should be under the sole and direct control of the reader, not the writer.”
If you know your web history, you’ll know this approach is more in-line with the web as its original concept: a fast way to share documents across vast distances. There are no pop-ups, no trackers, and no obligated stock photos at the beginning of every page either (guilty), meaning browsers can focus on browsing and writers can focus on writing without distraction. The result is also a fantastic experience for those using older hardware too. Indeed, one thing you’ll quickly notice when using Gemini is that everything loads super fast.
That’s not to say that there aren’t other forms of media in the “geminispace,” just they are linked to pages rather than automatically displayed. Gemini also features text input, search engines, and even simple games. But really, browsing Gemini is more akin to visiting a library than browsing the web. You’ll find plenty of media, but no one is trying to sell you anything, nor is anyone trying to pull you back into the library or shouting for your attention while you’re there.
I’m not going to do a full guide on using Gemini or the ideas behind it here. The FAQs are plenty detailed on the latter, and there already exists a brilliant quick-start guide for those who just want to get on and try it:
For starters, as I’ve argued before, exclusionary is not necessarily a bad trait - it might even be essential for communities to prosper:
Furthermore, I would argue that Gemini provides a browsing experience that even the small web can’t offer. That is, one based on the assurance that any page you click on, be it new, old, or unknown to you, is not going to be loaded with pop-ups, trackers, or huge swathes of data, because it simply isn’t possible. Of course, there are add-ons and specialist browsers that remove these aspects from the modern web anyway. But the payoff with these is large holes of unstyled junk (even Wikipedia looks ugly in Lynx, for example) or pages that don’t load at all.
Finally, we’re not talking about an either/or scenario. As the developers of Gemini note:
“Gemini is not intended to replace either Gopher or the web, but to co-exist peacefully alongside them as one more option which people can freely choose to use if it suits them.”
Perhaps in time, I’ll even build something there myself.