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Information Discovery and Retrieval Tools

Online lists and guides are useful for reading about interesting online services, but there are so many resources and information archives available that it's hard to keep these guides up-to-date. They can also be difficult to search if you've got something particular in mind that you want to know about. If you subscribe to a resource announcement email list, like net-happenings@is.internic.net (staffed by a very famous dedicated volunteer, "Mr. Re-Post Man" himself, Gleason Sackman--See the Appendix for more information), you may start scribbling names and numbers all over the place. Most people starting out use the "Post-It Database System," sticking those little yellow memos all over their computer monitors. Save yourself the effort, because there's no way you can keep up with all the new and great stuff that's made available every day. There is a better way.

What you should spend your time on is learning about the electronic tools (the second class of info-tools mentioned earlier) that are available to you, tools that help you search and browse documents, retrieve information on certain subjects, and locate interesting resources. In 1993 there was an explosion of access and interest in powerful tools such as archie, WAIS, Gopher, Veronica, and WorldWideWeb. Most of them are responsible for generating the phenomenal growth rates in network traffic; for example, as was pointed out in Chapter 1, the traffic for the WorldWideWeb in 1993 increased by 341,634 percent. (So if you get caught in an Internet traffic jam, you know whom to blame.)

Each of these applications provides a single interface into the hundreds of disparate services and databases on the Internet, offering easier ways to search or browse them. In other words, you don't have to remember computer names, port numbers, or directory structures, or learn lots of new interfaces to hundreds of different computers. These applications can even establish links and relationships between themselves and other services, cross-referencing and helping you find information more easily. Unfortunately, though, you'll still be forced to play confusion roulette every now and then to figure out which application is needed to find a resource.

Clients and Servers

To comprehend how these advanced applications work, you need to understand a fundamental networking concept--the client/server model. This is a very powerful networking concept, and it's used all over the Internet for more than these applications. In general, clients are applications that run on your own computer, taking advantage of its special features. A graphical client, for instance, will allow you to use your mouse instead of typing in commands. A client program hides many of the network details from you, including computer names, ports, and commands, and it obtains its information from servers. Servers are programs running on computers that are reachable via the network. They know where the data and documents are, and they take care of servicing client queries.

Unfortunately, the client/server model requires a direct network connection to the Internet. If you're sitting at home with just a microcomputer, modem, and terminal emulation software, you probably won't be able to partake of these powerful applications right away. However, there are ways to turn your PC or Mac into a directly connected computer even though you're dialed-in, simply by using some special software. This type of connection (described in Chapter 7) uses protocols called SLIP and PPP that must be supported by your Internet provider. If all you've got is terminal emulation software (such as Kermit or PROCOMM), you can still use these applications through terminal clients and telnet clients; in other words, you either remotely login to public terminal-based interfaces, or you use a client application that's not resident on your own computer (perhaps on the computer into which you've dialed). They're not as friendly and easy to use as their graphical client counterparts, but at least you'll still have access to these powerful servers, and can get an idea of what they do.

One more thing: Because there are so many different ways to access resources, you need to take an inventory of your local situation and what is available to you. Once you're on the net, you'll hear people casually say something like, "Point your gopher client at sunsite.unc.edu." You should first take note of the method of access (in this case, Gopher), and the destination (in this case, sunsite.unc.eduF). Most of the time, people will not give you explicit instructions when telling you about a great resource (that is, type gopher sunsite.unc.edu, or select "Another Gopher" from the file menu and type sunsite.unc.edu in response to the prompt), because there are just too many ways to get there. Once you understand how to use the applications on your own system, an instruction like the one quoted above should be enough to get you going. The following explanations will help you understand what's available for your situation; you need to follow up and read suggested help files to learn the specifics.

Gopher

By far the easiest tool for novices is Gopher. You're just going to love Gopher, because it's simple, it's fun, you don't have to get dressed up to use it, and it gets you places fast. Just one Gopher session will fly you to a hospital in Melbourne, the Minnesota State Legislature, the Exploratorium in San Francisco, the Wellington City Council, and Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok. And if you're not up to it, you don't have to go places. You can browse and download magazines, such as Wired, The Economist, Inc., and Financial World Magazine.

The name gopher can mean several things. In the traditional sense, it is a "gopher" for information. You can also think of it as a furry animal that runs out and sniffs around "Gopherspace" for you. The name actually came from its birthplace, the University of Minnesota, whose mascot is the gopher.

So get ready, 'cause you're about to go gophering! Gopher organizes access to Internet resources using a menu system. It provides smooth passage into other Gopher servers, allowing you to browse and search documents, and links you to resources and databases, such as USENET news, online library catalogs, and campus-wide information servers (explained below). You may not know it, but while you're "sniffing" around Gopherspace, you're actually doing things like transferring files, changing directories, telnetting to computers, and querying servers all over the world.

Organizations can easily bring up their own Gopher servers and menus, and make available any information they want. When this book was first written in the summer of 1992, there were around 100 Gophers. As of today, there are as many as 25,000 Gophers poking their heads out of the ground. The estimated growth rate for Gopher traffic in 1993 was 997 percent! Most of the participating Gopher servers are tied together by Gopher links in their menus, so by connecting to one organization's Gopher, you can usually "break away" and burrow into other gopher holes across the world.

How to Use It. Gopher is a hierarchical menuing system. When you initiate a Gopher session (with a client program), you can either connect to a default Gopher server or specify a particular server. Either way, you'll be accessing some organization's top-level menu. You travel Gopherspace by either typing the corresponding menu item number, using your arrow keys to position a menu arrow, or clicking on an icon. This will lead you to another menu, another computer (via Telnet), the document you seek (which may be text, an image, or a sound file, for example), or a searchable database. Once you figure out your local Gopher situation, you should familiarize yourself with all the commands and options available to you; be sure to read all the help messages on your screen. For example, when a Gopher menu item leads you to a Telnet session, it will warn you that you're "leaving Gopher." Be sure to read the instructions on your screen (if there are any) that explain how to login and how to use the system. During a Gopher session, you may burrow down very deep into menu after menu before you find what you're looking for. At this point, you can either quit or work your way back up through the menus until you get back to where you started.

Accessing Gopher. There are lots of different ways to access Gopher. One is by using a public Telnet Gopher client. To do this, you simply telnet to one of the public Gopher computers and login. This is not the best way to use Gopher, because these public clients are often maxed to the limit; but if you do use this method, choose a host that's geographically close to you. Below is a list of computers you can telnet to, login as gopher (usually), and then use their menu system.

The second way to get access is by using a Gopher client on your own computer. If you're on a Unix system, for example, try typing gopher at the Unix prompt and see what happens. There are easy- to-use graphical clients available for most computer systems, PCs, Macs, Unix (X Window, Emacs), and so on, but they need to be directly connected to the Internet in order to work. The Appendix lists places where you can download free gopher client programs for your computer.

Terminal Gopher Systems. If you're accessing Gopher via a terminal client (not a graphical client), here are some useful instructions. First take a look at the sample Gopher menu below. As you can see, each item has a "/" following it. That means each of those selections will actually take you to another menu. Other symbold you'll see on gopher menus:

		Telnet session 
	/	Another Directory  
	 	A keyword Search


Some Public Gopher Sites Accessible via Telnet
Geographical Area		Hostname			Login Id
North America consultant.micro.umn.edu gopher North America uxl.cso.uiuc.edu gopher North America gopher.msu.edu gopher North America panda.uiowa.edu panda Europe gopher.ebone.net gopher Sweden gopher.sunet.se gopher Australia info.anu.edu.au info South America tolten.puc.cl gopher Ecuador ecnet.ec gopher Japan gan.ncc.go.jp gopher

All of these gophers are accessible by Telnet. For example, type telnet gopher.sunet.se and login as gopher to access the Swedish gopher.

Terminal Gopher Navigating. By using your arrow keys, you can navigate Gopher quite well. The up and down arrows position your cursor arrow; the right arrow selects the item; the left arrow takes you back up to the previous menu. (You can also go back up a level by typing u for "up".) You can skip forward and backward through the screens using the following commands:

Next Screen: >, +, Pgdwn, space

Previous Screen: <, -, Pgup, b

Other commands include h for help and = to display technical and location information about the entry (useful for when you use Veronica--discussed below). You can also save files to your hard disk by typing s. For a list of other commands, type ?.

Here's a sample Gopher menu for the Internet Wiretap (wiretap.spies.com):

Internet Gopher Information Client v1.11

Internet Wiretap

--> 1. About the Internet Wiretap/
2. Clinton Press Releases/
3. Electronic Books at Wiretap/
4. GAO Transition Reports/
5. Government Docs (US & World)/
6. North American Free Trade Agreement/
7. Usenet alt.etext Archives/
8. Usenet ba.internet Archives/
9. Various ETEXT Resources on the Internet/
10. Video Game Archive/
11. Waffle BBS Software/
12. Wiretap Online Library/
13. Worldwide Gopher and WAIS Servers/

Press ? for Help, q to Quit, u to go up a menu Page: 1/1

Where to Start. To get an idea of the Gopherspace, select "Other Gopher and Information Servers" (or something close to that) if it's available on your top menu. You should see a menu item called "All the Gopher Servers in the World." Choosing this will give you an alphabetical list of every registered Gopher server in the world.

In the above Wiretap example, to get to "All the Gopher Servers in the World," you would select number 13, "Worldwide Gopher and WAIS Servers." Choosing that will give you another menu, with the top selection "All." This is the selection that shows you the alphabetical list of all Gopher servers. So you see, the street signs are not standardized, but by carefully reading each menu for clues, it's easy to cruise Gopherspace.

If you browse this list of every Gopher server, you'll see a lot of university entries. Gophers are native to the university environment; the system was invented as a way to provide campus-wide information systems (CWIS). Today Gopher CWISs are serving as digital kiosks that provide campus-specific information, such as event calendars, phone and email directories, newsletters, restaurant guides, local weather, available jobs, athletic and cultural events, and course catalogs. While much of the information may not be of interest to outsiders, some of the services do provide links to useful databases and online library catalogs. Also, these systems may be a good place to look for email addresses. Try visiting the Earlham College Gopher, based in Richmond, Indiana (gopher.earlham.edu). Or Gothenburg University in Gothenburg, Sweden (Igopher.gu.se). Or Griffith University in the Brisbane-Gold Coast corridor of Australia (griffin.itc.gu.edu.au).

Even though there are a lot of university Gophers, more and more companies are realizing the advantages of providing online access to information about their products and services. For example, many publishers are making their book catalogs available online. And you can even make purchases online using Gopher! All you need, of course, is a credit card. Just think, no waiting in long lines at the mall or suffering through high-pressure pitches on infomercials!

If the long list of "All the Gopher Servers in the World" overwhelms you, check out the other menus that organize Gophers geographically (by continent, country, state, or city) or by subject. If you've been following the examples in this book, you've probably seen these menu items.

Navigation Paths. Many resource guides list ways to find a document hidden deep down in Gopher menus. A common way to represent this is to list all menu items separated by slashes, "/". Using the Wiretap example above, let's say a friend found an article she wanted you to see. She might send you email telling you how to find it using this notation:

Wiretap Online Library/Music/Various Top 100 Lists/ Worst 100 Singles of Last 25 Years

She could just tell you the menu item numbers (12, 11, 4, 7), which would be shorter and easier, but Gopher menus can change easily--items added and deleted at a moment's notice. So it's better to just list out the complete path.

Bookmarks. Once you've gone gophering and gotten lost in Gopherspace a few times, you'll appreciate this next feature. Gopher allows you to tag places of interest to you and assemble all of them in one easy-access menu. To do this, you simply mark an entry with a bookmark and it gets added to your bookmark list. So instead of bumbling around and looking lost, use the bookmark feature!

Here's how you tag entries using a terminal gopher client. Suppose you are browsing the MTV Gopher (mtv.com), and you decide to bookmark the "reviews" menu. Position the arrow on the "reviews" entry and type a (for add). The "reviews" menu item will be added to your bookmark list. To access your bookmark list (a Gopher menu), just type v. (To leave the bookmark list, type u or the left arrow.)

You can also add entire menus to your bookmark list by typing an A (an uppercase "A"). If you typed A in this example, the entire MTV Gopher menu would be added to the list.

It's easy to delete bookmarks. First, call up your bookmark menu by typing v. Then position the arrow on the item you wish to delete and type d.

Veronica

Going gophering can become an addictive hobby, and it's an engaging way to find out all sorts of interesting things you don't really need to know. But what if you need to find an idea for a game to play at your next family reunion, and you don't have time to go burrowing through every Gopher site in the world? You can rest easy because there's a device nestled within reach of most Gopher menus called Veronica. Veronica was developed by the University of Nevada, and stands for Very Easy Rodent Oriented Net-wide Index to Computerized Archives.

Veronica lets you search for an item from every Gopher menu in the world. You supply it with a keyword (or several words), and it will compile a single Gopher menu of items containing that word (or words). This is quite handy, because now you have everything available to you at once, instead of having to sift through mountains of menus. From your results, item 1 may be from a Gopher server in Chile, while item 2 might be found in Hong Kong. You can find out where selections were obtained by positioning the arrow to the desired item and typing = if you're using a terminal gopher client.

Accessing Veronica. Veronica is "built into" Gopher, so at this time, you don't need a special client program to access it. It's usually available as a menu item on most Gophers. There's no standard name for it, but try selecting the following items to find it: at the top-level Gopher menu, select "Other Gopher and Information Servers." That should produce a menu listing choices of other Gophers indexed by geographical region. There should be a selection called "Search Titles in Gopherspace Using Veronica." When you select that, you should have several selections to choose from. (Be sure to select the items that begin with "Search gopherspace at"). In the Wiretap example, Veronica can be found via this path: Worldwide Gopher and WAIS Servers/Veronica.

Veronica is a very popular tool, and during peak times you may get a "busy signal" from the Veronica servers. If this happens, just try again later, perhaps in the evening or early in the morning. Rush hours on the Internet are usually during work hours. Since people are always working somewhere in the world, that doesn't help much. But remember, even though you may be playing around on the Internet during your lunch break, you may be accessing a Veronica server in some part of the world when it's 3 a.m.! Also, a Veronica search may return a menu of 213 items, 50 of which are exactly the same. That's because many sites "mirror" Gopher menus. Veronica doesn't care--it dutifully tells you about each one. There's also no indication (on the menu) if they're all the same or, if not, which is more up-to-date. So you'll just have to gut it out and either check them all or act on faith.

For More Information. For general searches, using Veronica is pretty straightforward. If you want to learn more about the inner workings or how to compose more involved search queries, read the Veronica Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) document and "How to Compose Veronica Queries" selections available on the Veronica menu.

Jughead

Veronica is great when you want to do a survey of all of Gopherspace, but Veronica servers are frequently too busy to help you. Here's where Jughead comes in. Jughead, or "Jonzy's Universal Gopher Hierarchy Excavation and Display" (isn't that amazing!), searches only a local part of Gopherspace, rather than all of it. Many organizations provide Jughead menu items for their own Gopher servers, so if you want to confine your searching to a local area, use Jughead (if it exists on that Gopher). Jughead can be found and used in the same way as Veronica on a Gopher menu. There's no standard place or name for a Jughead menu item, but you can spot most of them because they contain the word "Jughead". Here's a sample Jughead menu item for the University of Texas at Austin Gopherspace:

Jughead: Search menus in University of Texas at Austin gopherspace

Selecting this item will allow you to search for a keyword from the menu items of the University of Texas at Austin gopherspace.

Archie

Archie (derived from the word, archive) is an online file-finding utility originally developed at the McGill University School of Computer Science in Montreal. If you've ever looked high and low for a file on your microcomputer's hard disk, you'll understand the usefulness of this tool. About 1,500 (and growing) known public sites are providing access to files via anonymous FTP. Trying to figure out where a particular document or archive is located on the Internet is like looking for the proverbial needle in a digital haystack.

The archie system maintains a database of all the names of files stored at known public archive sites. A user can search this database by using a client program, by remotely logging in to an archie server computer using Telnet, or by sending email (with commands) to the server. Quite a few server computers are scattered throughout the world; you are requested to pick the closest one. If you don't have an archie client program, you can login to a public archie server. Be aware that, as with Gopher, this is not the recommended way to use archie.

Here's an example using a Unix client archie. Suppose that you're giving a big speech, and you're looking for a good opening joke to break the ice. A great starting point is to search archie for any files with the word "jokes" in their titles. All you have to do is type archie -s jokes. (The -s option tells archie to return filenames that contain the substring you've specified--in this case, "jokes.") Your client will search a default server and return the results to you. If you want to specify another server, you can do that with the -h option (server host). For example, to switch to the Canadian server, type archie -h archie.uqam.ca -s jokes.

If your Internet access is limited and you can't telnet to an archie server, you can access archie via email. Basically, you send commands in an email message to an archie server, and the results are emailed back to you. To test this out, send a message to archie@{nearest-archie-server} (see accompanying table for a list of archie servers), with the command help in the body of the message. A description of the basic commands will be sent to you. You can then use the "FTP-by-Email Servers" described earlier to obtain the files you want.

Backward Forward Copyright © 1994 by Tracy LaQuey and Editorial Inc.


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