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Before the World Wide Web

Tech

Sometime in 1993, I was talking to Erik Biever, a friend who worked at the University of Minnesota Libraries. I asked him about Gopher, since it had been getting quite a bit of press in the computer magazines. He told me, "That's not the way to go, the software costs money. You want the World Wide Web instead. I'll bring the floppy disks when Paula and I come to visit."

Which he did. I was already online using CompuServe, so he walked me through installing all the bits needed to use the Web: things like the Trumpet Winsock and the Mosaic browser. My immediate reaction was "This is way too complicated. No one's going to install all this stuff."

Well, I was wrong. And websites were easy to make. In fact, the process could be automated with a plugin for WordPerfect: create a document, run the plugin, and save as a complete website. And Microsoft came up with a system that would install the Winsock and the Internet Explorer browser automatically. (Yeah, I know, but IE was a real breakthrough.)

So by 1994, I'd made websites for myself, a nonprofit I volunteered for (now Transportation Choices Coalition) and my first web client, the Bullitt Foundation (thank you so much, Denis Hayes!)

The rest is history. But it could have been very different, were it not for some short-sighted decisions by the University of Minnesota. And thank you, Erik, for your excellent advice!

"Eventually, though, the U did want some money — for itself. At GopherCon ’93, Yen announced that for-profit Gopher users would need to pay the U a licensing fee: hundreds or thousands of dollars, depending on the size and nature of their business."

The rise and fall of the Gopher protocol


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