Forgotten Internet services

The Internet is a relatively new invention, yet it already contains many artifacts that appear ancient to modern users. Having discovered Internet around 1994, I remember a couple of services that where quite popular then and later disappeared from the face of the Internet.

finger

With such a cool name (you could finger somebody, uh huh huh), it’s a real pity that finger service practically ceased to exist. As its author, Les Earnest states, the name comes from running finger down the list of users (and not what you may have thought, you pervert :) ) displayed by another ancient utility who. What can be thought as an ancestor of modern instant messengers (you could check who is online) was invented in 1971.

By today’s standards, finger is a grave violation of security considerations, providing detailed personal information on staff members of a company or university. That’s the main reason for its extinction in 1990s.

I remember that it was still quite popular in 1994, while I was studying on University and discovering wonderful (still a little bit crude at that time) world of Internet. When you had someone’s email address, one of the standard practices was to finger it to get some more information on the person (just as you today use google to find the person’s blog). However, increasing number of sites was cutting off finger access and on my university, it was only locally available.

gopher

Gopher is another service, whose name is guaranteed to ring no bells for 95% of current Internet users. It was created for very similar purposes as WWW, to provide means to easily find documents that can be linked with each other. However, it was much more strict than WWW and HTML, requiring putting every document into a very strict hierarchy and separating the concepts of documents and menus. It seems that the authors were too much devoted to the file system metaphor.

As I can remember, Gopher was a royal pain to use: you had to traverse several levels of a tree of menus (each time waiting a few seconds for retrieval of new page) to finally realize that the document you are looking for is located in different branch of the tree. Soon after that I discovered joys of HTML documents and WWW server and luckily never had to use Gopher again. According to Wikipedia, there are about 100 Gopher servers available in the Internet today, so the extinction is not as complete as in case of finger.

That’s the two that I remember using. Feel free to add more in comments. And while I’m speaking of Internet history, be sure to have look at Internet ’96 page. Good laugh guaranteed. And it seems to me we have done quite a lot of progress with that WWW thing.

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One response to “Forgotten Internet services

  • jedrek

    I remember using archie to search for FTP sites. The trick to finding illicit files back then was to search for hidden subdirs: ‘…’ and the like.

    I also remember that, until PPP and SLIP came around, my at-home internet access involved dialing (using telix usually) into a *nix box and using the command line utilities there: ircii, archie, gopher, ftp, etc. Then I’d launch sz (send ZModem) to actually get the file to my local machine.

    Ach, memories.

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