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Gopher’s Rise and Fall Shows How Much We Lost When Monopolists Stole the Net

Science-fiction writer, journalist and longtime Slashdot reader, Cory Doctorow, a.k.a. mouthbeef, writes: The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) just published the latest installment in my case histories of “adversarial interoperability” — once the main force that kept tech competitive. Today, I tell the story of Gopher, the web’s immediate predecessor, which burrowed under the mainframe systems’ guardians and created a menu-driven interface to campus resources, then the whole internet. Gopher ruled until browser vendors swallowed Gopherspace whole, incorporating it by turning gopher:// into a way to access anything on any Gopher server. Gopher served as the booster rocket that helped the web attain a stable orbit. But the tools that Gopher used to crack open the silos, and the moves that the web pulled to crack open Gopher, are radioactively illegal today.

If you wanted do to Facebook what Gopher did to the mainframes, you would be pulverized by the relentless grinding of software patents, terms of service, anticircumvention law, bullshit theories about APIs being copyrightable. Big Tech blames “network effects” for its monopolies — but that’s a counsel of despair. If impersonal forces (and not anticompetitive bullying) are what keeps tech big then there’s no point in trying to make it small. Big Tech’s critics swallow this line, demanding that Big Tech be given state-like duties to police user conduct — duties that require billions and total control to perform, guaranteeing tech monopolists perpetual dominance. But the lesson of Gopher is that adversarial interoperability is judo for network effects.

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

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