Gopher was developed in the early 1990s at the University of Minnesota, and is considered one of the predecessors to the modern web. One of the earliest protocols for searching and retrieving documents over the internet, it was the de-facto engine for online users prior to the rise of web based services.
It was initially designed as a menu driven, text based system, which was ideal for remote computer terminals of the day. The system included the ability to tap into the Archie and Veronica search engines, and gateways to FTP, BBS, and UseNet. It’s low bandwidth protocol was preferred by network administrators over HTTP in those early days, and adding to it’s rapid adoption was the ability to easily setup a Gopher server on campus networks.
As the web began to rise and the first browsers like Mosaic appeared, those programs started consuming Gopher services as part of their functions. HTML based documents also offered a more free form way of searching and retrieving. Although it planted the seeds for modern search engines and was one of the earliest online electronic libraries, it was supplanted by the HTTP protocol and the World Wide Web as it exploded into commercial use.
Despite being eclipsed by it’s big brother, there is an active user community and Gopher is still in use today.