The Small Internet

“The Small Internet, as I’ve seen people call it, is built on alternative protocols. Previously that meant a protocol called Gopher, which was popular in the 90s but ultimately lost the battle to HTTP. It has, however, maintained a small user-base of hackers and hobbyists who enjoy the technical simplicity and text-oriented nature of Gopher. Recently a new protocol called Gemini was collaboratively designed as a kind of middle ground between the simple Gopher and the more complex HTTP. It aims to better serve certain use-cases that Gopher cannot quite fulfill while still keeping things simple compared to the WWW. For example, Gemini mandates the use of TLS to encrypt traffic between a Gemini server and a client and supports MIME-types, so servers can better instruct clients to deal with different types of files. Generally speaking Gemini and Gopher seem to be co-existing peacefully and many Gopher clients have added support for Gemini as well. It’s also not unusual to link to Gopher content from Gemini sites.

The Small Internet is in some ways similar to the Big Internet we know. It consists of servers, from which people serve documents and files. People host their own journals on it (called “phlogs” on Gopher or “gemlogs/flight journals” on Gemini) similar to how people host blogs on the regular web. There are search engines and content aggregators. Some people even mirror web content on the Small Internet, you can for example read Reddit on an unofficial Gopher mirror.

Where the Small Internet differs is in presentation. Pages are mostly plain-text, you cannot serve scripts to your users and you cannot embed images into pages directly. This means that Small Internet pages tend to be relatively snappy and simple compared to their WWW counterparts. That doesn’t necessarily mean they are ugly, however. ASCII art is frequently used to spice up pages in lieu of style sheets and banner images.”

-samsai, “Introduction to Gemini and the Small Internet.” May 17, 2020.