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To: Multiple recipients of list PACS-L <PACS-L@uhupvm1.bitnet> Subject: GopherCon '92-Trip Report, Pt. 1 of 2 From: firstname.lastname@example.org (Edward Vielmetti) Subject: Trip Report: GopherCon '92 (by) Prentiss Riddle From: email@example.com (Prentiss Riddle) Subject: GopherCon '92 trip report GopherCon '92: Trip report Prentiss Riddle firstname.lastname@example.org 8/17/92 Part 1 of 2 SUMMARY: GopherCon '92 was a small working session of Gopher developers and users. Focuses included proposed extensions to the Gopher protocol; how to organize the Internet resources available through Gopher in a more usable fashion; Gopher server administration, including security and privacy issues; and the future of Gopher development. Also announced at the conference was a special offer of NeXT hardware for use as Gopher servers. BACKGROUND: GopherCon '92 took place on August 12th and 13th in Ann Arbor, Michigan and was sponsored by CICnet, a regional network in the Great Lakes/Midwest area. It was attended by about 50 people (despite an advertised cap of 30) including Gopher developers, CWIS administrators, systems programmers, user consultants, and a number of librarians. Almost all were employed by universities or regional networks. OVERVIEW BY THE GOPHER DEVELOPERS: The conference began with an overview by Mark McCahill and Farhad Anklesaria, two members of the Gopher Team at Minnesota. I liked their summary of the two initial goals for Gopher: -- To provide the plumbing for a great CWIS. -- To be "Internet duct tape" for connecting a wide variety of networked services. Although many of us at the conference tended to be driven by the demand for one or the other of these, ultimately they go together nicely. GOPHER+: The Monday before the conference the GopherTeam at UMinn had distributed to the attendees an announcement of a set of proposed enhancements to the internet Gopher protocol, called Gopher+. A revised Gopher+ proposal has been announced to comp.infosystems.gopher (ftpable from boombox.micro.umn.edu:/pub/gopher/gopher_protocol/Gopher+) so I don't want to dwell on the details, but Gopher+ is intended to add some of the things the Gopher community has been calling for: mechanisms for identifying and contacting data providers and maintainers, mechanisms for returning more information from the client to the server, and alternative representations of document types (e.g. text vs. PostScript). Gopher+ will be backward-compatible with old Gopher: old Gopher clients and servers either do now or can easily be modified to ignore extra information in the Gopher+ protocol, and Gopher+ clients and servers will continue to work when pointed at old Gopher servers. In the words of McCahill & Anklesaria, "Gopher+ is Gopher with a bag taped to the side to hold more". Gopher+ raises two broad categories of doubt in the minds of many of us, which were discussed in almost every session at the conference: complexity and security. Will Gopher+ become so complex that client and server software become impractical to write, especially on low-end platforms? ("Will the bag on the side become bigger than the Gopher?") This will only become clear when the Gopher Team at UMinn writes some working code. The security issues, on the other hand, were pretty well resolved in extensive discussion (see below). Overall I think we all left the conference feeling optimistic about Gopher+ and happy with the backward-compatible development path proposed by the Gopher Team. RELATED TECHNOLOGIES: Ed Vielmetti of CICnet gave a talk on "what we would be gathering to discuss if UMinn had never developed Gopher", meaning primarily World-Wide Web (WWW). WWW was developed for the high-energy physics community and serves as a model of what Gopher could do if a discipline-oriented virtual community invested in it heavily. WWW is based on SGML (Standard General Markup Language"), an ISO standard for marking up text which WWW uses to implement hypertext. SGML is a bear and it is a significant investment of effort to properly add a document to WWW, but the result is quite powerful (for instance, WWW handles footnotes in hypertext). The usefulness of a markup language of some kind for Gopher came up repeatedly, particularly to solve the "large text" problem (a good use of a markup language could allow a client to ask for successive chunks of a large document rather than the whole thing at once). It was pointed out that WWW servers can point at Gopherspace, and the possibility of using Gopher to point at WWWspace was discussed (by presenting an SGML document as a Gopher directory, in which text and hypertext references would appear as separate items). Finally, the relative numeric success of Gopher over WWW was discussed (there are orders of magnitude more Gopher servers than WWW servers out there): Gopher seems to have won out primarily because of the ease of entry (it's much harder to put up a WWW server than a Gopher server), although another factor may be that a hierarchical presentation is more appropriate than hypertext for the broad-based audience of a CWIS. PROTOCOL EXTENSIONS: The Gopher Team had already spoken about their proposals for Gopher+, so this was a chance for others in the Gopher community to air their own wish lists and local modifications to Gopher. Fred Crowner and Clifford Collins of Ohio State talked about a lot of human factors work they had done on their CWIS, primarily through enhancements of the Gopher curses client: variable 1- column or 2-column format, depending on number of items; help by item, rather than a single help context; "go words" so users can learn commands which allow them to jump directly to commonly used items; mail input by the user ("Ask-a-Programmer", "Ask-a- Purchasing-Agent", etc.); "chunking" of very large documents (e.g. course catalogs), which proved to be a serious hairball and which they would now implement differently (probably by breaking a large document into numerous small ones and indexing them). They also put work into making the client more secure for unauthenticated users. Andrew Gilmartin of Brown University added a lot of information to the Unix Gopher's link files: author, provider (not the author but the person who gave the information to the CWIS administrator), administrator, expiration, creation and modification dates, keywords, and index type (full, keyword, none, or all). This closely paralleled the proposals for "attributes" in the Gopher+ protocol. There ensued some lively debate about the meaning and necessity of several of these attributes, with the librarians particularly emphatic about the necessity of maintaining detailed information about the origin of a document. This underscored the necessity of fully defining the semantics of important Gopher+ attributes in advance, so clients and servers can be written which agree on how to use them. Lee Brintle from the University of Iowa's "panda" project talked about some of their extensive modifications to Gopher: printer selection, remote updating of files by data maintainers, scripting (a forth-based interpreter in the client to allow massaging of input to and output from complex servers such as the geography server), grep-like searching of non-WAISified data, and search by title on the current level (a la rn and elm). Panda has evolved into an entirely different animal from Gopher (for starters, it is written in C++) and it is not clear which of these enhancements may make it back to the mainstream. The one Panda feature which seemed to gain everyone's approval was the ability to put explanatory text at the top and/or bottom of the screen rather than in an "About" file. RESOURCE DISCOVERY AND NAVIGATION: Or, as librarian Nancy John of the University of Illinois at Chicago put it, "collections development, cataloging and filing." :-) There has been much discussion in Gopherland at large of how to develop an index of resources in Gopherspace, which would then be served out by Archie. Billy Barron of the University of North Texas summarized two competing approaches: -- "ls -lR", e.g., automated recursive search of all of Gopherspace: this is easy and gets you everything in Gopherspace, but the quailty of information is low. -- Registration: authoritative sites for a particular resource would register the resource, either by putting a "LocalResources" directory out in Gopherspace or by use of a standard "IAFA template" (this could become an "IAFA attribute" in Gopher+). This is more work than the "ls -lR" approach, does not get you everything, but the quality is high. Billy Barron favors using both approaches and somehow signaling the difference to the user. Tim Howes of the University of Michigan talked about his Gopher to X.500 gateway, "Go500gw", which was well received. It is up and running on port 7777 of totalrecall.rs.itd.umich.edu if you want to see it in action. Marie-Christine Mahe of Yale noted that librarians need more than a single hierarchical view of Internet connections to libraries (alphabetical? geographical? by online catalog type?), so she built a searchable index of them. At returns three items per library ("About", ".cap" and ".link" files) which may be confusing to users unfamiliar with interpreting Gopher guts. She sees great possibilities for using indexes to select libraries based on collection strengths (who'd have known that there are great Canadian literature collections in Australia?) and lending policies. Ed Vielmetti talked about the art of finding the grassroots resource discovers out there. Typically an individual will begin to compile "My list of agricultural resources on the Internet" and periodically distribute it to a few newsgroups or mailing lists. Over time it grows in comprehensiveness and audience. It may surface in one of the usual repositories for such lists (such as the Usenet newsgroup news.answers). The way to put them into Gopherspace is as a directory: an "About" file, the text of the full document, and then a collection of Gopher links which point to the resources (other Gopher servers, ftp sites, telnetable services, newsgroups, etc.) themselves. E-JOURNALS BOF: I attended the Birds-of-a-Feather session on Electronic Journals organized by two collectors of them, Ed Vielmetti of CICnet and Billy Barron of UNT. The question at hand was how to organize the collection of an exploding number of journals published electronically. Joel Cooper of Notre Dame pointed out that there is a bill before Congress which would essentially put the entire output of the Government Printing Office on the Internet, and said that "if we don't solve the problem now we'll be buried by it." Vielmetti and Barron outlined a proposal to have volunteer collectors or curators take on the responsibility of assembling collections of Gopher links to online documents by subject area, possibly starting with the Library of Congress subject headings and subdividing as the project grows. Librarian Nancy John said she felt like she was "in a library school playpen" as she watched non-librarians try to reinvent the wheel. The response from the computer people was that (1) librarians may have begun to catalog online documents but they have not put that cataloging information into Gopherspace yet, and (2) the Internet is fostering an explosion of grassroots publishing, not all of which is of interest to library cataloguers. One much-desired tool would be a Z39.50 interface for Gopher, which would allow access to some online catalogs directly from Gopherspace. In the converse direction, Nancy John agreed that if Ed Vielmetti would cut a tape of MARC records, she would add citations for the E-journals he has collected into OCLC. End of Part 1 of 2 ----------------------------------------------------------------------------- Gleason Sackman BBS: email@example.com Coordinator Internet: firstname.lastname@example.org SENDIT - NoDak's K-12 Telcom Network Bitnet: email@example.com BOX 5164, NDSU Computer Center Voice: (701)237-8109 Fargo, ND 58105 Fax: (701)237-8541