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Gophers, Networks and Access to Information

By Bill Sanders, Computing Center

Spectrum Volume 17 Issue 29 - April 20, 1995

What do burrowing rodents have to do with the burgeoning world of electronic-information networks? Figuratively speaking, a great deal.

Estimates vary, but there is no doubt that Internet, the global computing network of networks, is growing at a staggering pace--a sort of urban sprawl across the electronic landscape. In a few short years, the Internet's thousands of computers have become hundreds-of-thousands and its hundreds-of-thousands of users have become millions.

Furthermore, an accompanying flood of on-line information challenges even the best efforts of providers to process, organize, and present materials in meaningful, easy-to-use ways.

Enter tools like Gopher, network browsing and presentation software from the University of Minnesota, that permits the arrangement of electronic information in menus for easy access by computer. Put your information in the menus of your gopher "server," attach your computer to the Internet, and your information becomes resident in "gopherspace" where people everywhere with gopher "client" software can "burrow" to it through the network.

TODAY

Most universities, libraries, government agencies, and a growing number of commercial entities make information available over the Internet, much of it through Gopher. Virginia Tech is no exception and maintains its "home" gopher service at the following Internet address: gopher.vt.edu.

Newman Library, various colleges and departments, and administrative offices also maintain gopher servers by which they make timely, relevant information more readily available to their constituencies, while providing them with access to other gopher sites. Thus, students, faculty and staff members, as well as members of the Blacksburg Electronic Village, check local information of interest to them, browse among menus from gopher to gopher, and search gopherspace by entering keywords and jumping directly to specific gopher locations all over the world.

The Computing Center gopher (which can be found under "Information Systems" on the Virginia Tech home gopher) is being restructured and contains entries for the following:

* Acceptable Use of Information Systems at Virginia Tech,

* What's New(s) around the center, including the current issue of FASTLINE, the center's on-line newsletter,

* Computer Purchasing information,

* A growing repository of software available for use in on-campus labs, for purchase though the university, and for downloading to your personal computer,

* Announcements of short courses and other training opportunities,

* On-line computer reference materials and users guides, and more.

For example, the Software Hut is now open, home to the most recent versions of network software applications distributed by the center. You may download these to your personal system directly from the gopher and use them (some license restrictions and shareware costs may apply).

TOMORROW

Gopher, a "mature" technology by computing standards (it's been in use for about four years), is primarily text-based; that is, while it can store and transfer many different types of files among various types of computers, it can itself display on screen only those files containing plain text.

More modern network browsers can handle not only text, but also graphics, sound, and motion images. Thus, gopherspace is quickly being subsumed by the World Wide Web (WWW) whose more powerful browsers have names like Mosaic, Netscape, and Lynx, all of which remain gateways to gopherspace (and to all its information) in addition to their more advanced capabilities.

Thus, Gopher is a sort of lowest common denominator, providing a network information tool for almost anyone with access to the Internet. As such, it may represent a good starting point not only for you, but perhaps even for businesses beginning to extend their services into the electronic community. Who knows? It might not be too long before you can fire up your Gopher client and go "burrow" some money from a local bank.

For more information, contact Computing Center Consulting by calling 4-HELP (4-4357 on campus, 231-4357 from off campus).