Gopher is a distributed document search and retrieval network protocol designed for the Internet. It was released in 1991 by Paul Lindner and Mark McCahill of the University of Minnesota, whose mascot is the Golden Gophers.
Gopher's original design goal for sharing documents was similar in scope to the World Wide Web, and as such has been almost completely displaced by it. The Gopher protocol offered some features not natively supported by the Web, imposing a much stronger hierarchy on information stored in it, and many consider it to have had the superior protocol for storing and searching large repositories of information.
When the web was first introduced in 1991, Gopher was well-established and quite popular. Then, in February of 1993, the University of Minnesota announced that they would begin to charge licensing fees for Gopher's use, which scared off many people and organizations that ran Gopher servers. Some people believe this is what relegated Gopher to a footnote in the history of the Internet.
Many people believe that Gopher's downfall was actually caused by its limited structure, making it inflexible compared to the free-form HTML of the Web. With Gopher, every document has a defined format and type, and the typical user must navigate through a single server-defined menu system to get to a particular document. Many people did not like the artificial distinction between menu and fixed document in the Gopher system, and found the Web's open-ended flexibility much more useful for constructing free-form, interrelated sets of documents and interactive applications.
Gopher's search engine is Veronica. Veronica offers a keyword search of most gopher-server menu titles in the gopher web. A Veronica search produces a menu of gopher items, each of which is a direct pointer to a gopher data source.
Gopher support was removed from Internet Explorer in June, 2002 due to a security vulnerability. Mozilla retains support for the protocol however. As of 2002, there are still a few gopher servers present on the net, in organizations such as the Smithsonian and the US government ; a few are also being maintained by enthusiasts of the protocol.
As of January 2003, Super Dimensional Fortress has begun giving free gopherspace.