Down The Gopher Hole

Time to boot up that text-based browser, cause we’re surfing the gopher net. Also, actually fun web tools and more smol web art.

a Gopher

Gopher: The Web Alternative That’s Still Worth Your Time

Across the many dingy and delightful corners of the world wide web, you will find blog posts and essays detailing a desire for an Internet that is simpler, slower, and smaller. That is, as opposed to the schizophrenic multimedia experience we are subjected to today.

If you feel like this is you, you might enjoy using Gopher.

What the hell is Gopher, you ask? Well, Gopher is a hierarchical menu-driven internet protocol that predates the world wide web by a few months. It was created in 1991 by Mark P. McCahill and a team of researchers at the University of Minnesota, and back in the early 90s, it was a popular contender to HTTP.

We like to think of the web as a runaway success, and to some extent, it is. But it took a little while for the idea to catch on. It was not until the web became more illustrative and “more surfable” (and people realized you could use it to advertise stuff) that HTTP became the dominant protocol, and Gopher servers became an endangered species.

However, Gopher never quite died out. Instead, it’s been kept alive by tech and internet enthusiasts.

So what is it like to use Gopher today? How do you access it? And why would you even bother?

Let’s start by talking about how to get on the Gopher net in the first place. Unfortunately, most modern web browsers are not up to the task. But you do have a few options, the easiest of which is to use a web extension like Overbite for Firefox:

There are also a few proxy services that allow you to access Gopher via HTTP:

In my opinion, the best option is to use Lynx, a terminal-based browser perfect for emulating the full Gopher browsing experience:

There is also a Gopher VR client (yes, really). I have not looked into it much, but here is a Wikipedia article on the subject for those interested:

As for actually browsing Gopher, it can be a bit of a culture shock, especially for those of us who grew up with the web. And as Chris Wilson of Hackaday points out, the experience is closer to using a menu-based file explorer than “surfing” the internet.

Whereas on a website, directory links, images, videos, text, and other media are all lumped together on web pages, on a Gopher server, these are presented as separate files or directories on a menu. This hierarchical structure means you will often find yourself heading down one set of menus, only to head back on yourself. Hence you often hear the term “Gopher Holes” used to describe Gopher servers.

Exploring the internet this way can feel restrictive. But there are some advantages. The most obvious is that it gives you full control over what you download to your computer. There are no popups, ads, or cookies. Nor are there any sprawling images for you to scroll past. Instead, you only see what files you specifically want to download, not what the webmaster wants you to see, making it practically impossible for corporations to advertise to you.

(Unless they want to advertise via ASCII art. And honestly, any company that does that is probably going to get my business.)

The additional advantage is that browsing the Gopher net is super-fast and resource-light. You can browse it on pretty much anything with internet capability and a Gopher-friendly browser. And in a world where machines are quickly becoming vintage, I think this is pretty awesome.

Despite, or perhaps even because of, the limited number of servers, there is lots of interesting stuff to explore on Gopher. For instance, you can see the latest news, check the weather, explore Gopherpedia (an unofficial mirror of Wikipedia), listen to music, watch videos, or spend your time reading personal “phlogs” (the Gopher space alternative to blogs).

How do you find this stuff? By using the brilliant Gopher search engine, Veronica (Very Easy Rodent-Oriented Net-wide Index to Computer Archives), of course!

You can find Veronica (technically, Veronica-2) and a host of other useful links, tutorials, directories, games, and more via the Floodgap server. Said server has been running since 1999 and is the most common starting point for new Gopher sessions. It also features some explainers on the philosophy behind Gopher (spoiler: it is very Unix-like), which I recommend reading.


All of this might sound confusing, but spend around five minutes browsing the Floodgap server, and everything will become pretty self-explanatory.

As for creating your own “gopher hole” or “phlog”, there is a pretty decent primer on the subject here:

And here is a slightly dated but, I believe, a serviceable page describing how to set up a Gopher server:

One word of caution before you head off and become a Gopher-head: practice some good common sense about what you put on Gopher (including your searches!).

Gopher is a lot of fun, but it is not a place to share any, and I mean ANY, sensitive information. After all, there is no encryption here, and it is all too easy for others to find out what you are looking at, searching for, or writing. Of course, it’s not like you’re going to be buying anything on Gopher, and advertisers have no reason to collect your data here. But do not treat it as some super-secret off-grid sub-internet, because it is not.

As for the future of Gopher, do not expect some miraculous comeback from this protocol anytime soon. It has not been truly relevant since HTTP wiped the floor with the protocol back in the late 90s, and no enthusiasts are going to change that. For better or worse, the web is something we are stuck with.

But as Gopher creator McCahill points out, that is also part of Gopher’s charm. It’s not big or profitable and, as a result, it does not carry all the issues that have come with the big web:

“I looked at it [(the web)] and went, ‘You know, I’m actually more happy doing stuff that’s in service of research and education than trying to get super-rich selling ads’… another reason I’m okay with the web beating out Gopher, I don’t have things like Facebook and its weaponized surveillance platform on my conscience directly.”

The experience of browsing Gopher reminded me of the first time I rediscovered that people were still making old-school static web pages on the “small web.” I came looking for a nostalgic trip, but what I found was a community driven by DIY aesthetics and self-expression.

Like with the small web, Gopher does not need to make a comeback to be relevant to users. And it does not have to “defeat” the big web or even make itself a popular alternative to make it worth your time. It’s plenty of fun as is.

Gopher is not the only interesting alternative internet protocol, mind. But that’s a deep dive for another time.

Further links

Real Cool Web Tools

I’ve seen an uptick in marketers emailing me recently with “resources” or “tools” they think readers of my website will “love.” If you have a site with any kind of links page, you’ve probably had some of these too.

These people are usually low-end marketers trying to earn some backlinks to their client’s site in the hopes that Google-daddy might pay them some attention then.

A recent suggestion (from a person who emailed me five times) was a link to a top 5 grammar checkers articles, which included such unknowns as “Grammarly” and “Hemingway App.” Rifting stuff.

But these did get me thinking, what are some actually good tools my readers would love?

Who knows! But I needed another topic to talk about. So here are a splattering of web tools I think are decent, and you may enjoy yourself.

Marginalia search

Marginalia is a search engine designed to discover the smaller, primarily text-based websites that search engines such as Google tend to ignore. The whole thing is hosted on a single PC in Sweden, and it honestly makes browsing the web so much more fun.

Email Alias Providers

If you try to send me an email through my website (which you should, unless you are trying to push your crummy articles), you might notice that my email appears like gibberish. That’s because I use email aliases, which keep my real address under wraps while forwarding mail to my real inbox.

Besides keeping your address safe from vagrant marketers, an email alias is useful if you sign up for different services that you don’t trust not to spam you or compromise your address.

There are a bunch of these alias services available, and I’ll link a few here. But, as always, be aware that whenever you use a service like this, you are “transferring trust” from one service provider to another. I personally trust my email alias provider more than I trust giving my email to every website I sign up for (though I still keep separate emails for important and trivial matters). But you should always do your due diligence.


Want to access YouTube but without all the spooky Google stuff? Right now, Invidious, a Youtube frontend, is your best bet.

Google appears to be trying to crack down on the servers. But so far, they have not been successful.


If you are looking for a decent, free, open-source grammar checker on the web, you’re kind of out of luck.

True, I’ve yet to try the downloaded version of Language Tool. But regardless, we’re talking about web tools here, and the free online version of Language Tool kind of sucks, in my opinion.

I’ve recently taken to using some d.i.y. scripts for checking my grammar. But I do like Grammark, a decent, but by no means perfect, little web tool that can help you find some issues.


Want yourself some Geocities-era Gifs for that awesome retro-themed website you’re building? Then Gifcities, courtesy of the Internet Archive, is the search engine tool you are looking for.

Win98 Icons

Prefer some old-school Windows icons? Go get yourself some.

J-club Bandstand Radio

I’m more of a math rock and grunge guy, but occasionally I dig some jazz, especially while I’m working. With that in mind, I like this radio station, which is actually two stations in one: one playing retro jazz and the other Japanese jazz.


I’ve talked about this endlessly before. It’s where my website is hosted, and a whole plethora of far more creative nostalgic-tinged sites.


Want a really simple blog without the bloat or fuss? You could get a static site generator, but they can be a bit of a pain to set up. Instead, you might want to check out bearblog, a simple blogging platform that comes without any tracking or junk.


Buttondown is what I use to create my newsletter. It’s free to use for up to 100 subscribers pretty easy to use, and, since it is all run by one guy, less likely to collect and sell your data.

I can’t pretend to know a huge amount about newsletter providers, but it is the best option I’m aware of besides open-sourced self-hosted options.

More Smol Web Art

Bizarro art, comics and more. But most importantly, an ASCII art citedel on the homepage. I’m not going to try and explain this site any further, just have a look

Inspired by bedr00mz, I decided to see what other ASCII-style art I could find. And well, here’s what I found.

And yes, most of the art here is mushroom-based

Can web design be considered a form of art? I think so, and that’s why i’m linking this page.


Currently working on:

Recently Published

Apologies to my email subscribers regarding the last issue of In The Margins. From what I’m hearing, it didn’t go out. I have no idea what went wrong but it’s probably an error on my part.

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In The Margins is written by Mike Grindle. It is and always will be cost-free, ad-free and junk-free. If you wish to support its existence, consider sharing it with your friends.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. Please note that quotations and images are not included in this license.

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