Veronica was a search engine used to locate documents accessible over the Internet using the Gopher communication protocol.
The Gopher protocol was an alternative to the World Wide Web that was popular in the 1990s, and Veronica was the primary search system for the Gopher protocol. The name Veronica, and tagline “the grandmother of all search engines”, was chosen to complement a popular FTP search service known as Archie, “the grandfather of all search engines”. Both names are a reference to the popular Archie Comics series. Veronica has also been assigned meaning as a backronym standing for “Very Easy Rodent-Oriented Net-wide Index to Computer Archives”.
Veronica was developed in 1992 by Steven Foster and Fred Barrie of the University of Nevada, Reno, and served as the primary search mechanism for locating menu items on thousands of Gopher servers. The original Veronica database no longer exists, however, there are a few local installations and a complete rewrite, known as Veronica-2, still in operation.
At its peak, Veronica had catalogued over 5,500 servers containing more than 10 million documents. The way Veronica worked was as follows:
- Users would enter query terms which would be compared to catalogued Gopher document titles.
- Veronica would flag relevant results and compile the results on a temporary server.
- The results would be displayed to the user who could browse the results on the temporary server and select documents to view in full text.
While Veronica proved to be both useful and popular, the search engine was plagued with a few noteworthy issues:
- Veronica could only be used to search the titles of documents and not the contents of documents. This meant that you could not search for keywords within the contents of a document making it difficult to locate the content you were seeking.
- It was not unusual for Veronica to become overloaded and produce error messages.
- At times Veronica would fail to produce search result, but subsequent searches for the same terms would turn up results that weren’t found by the initial query.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is Veronica still available?
The original Veronica database is no longer available. However, there are a few local installations of the database (which by now contain many defunct Gopher servers and documents). In addition, Veronica-2 is a current Gopher service that is a rewrite of the original Veronica search engine and indexes currently available Gopher servers and documents.
As of the most-recent count in November 2014, there were about 144 gopher servers, on which Veronica-2 had indexed 3 million unique selectors.
Why did Veronica and Gopher go from thousands of servers to less than 200?
Gopher was launched in 1991 while the World Wide Web was still in its infancy and grew rapidly. However, by the late 1990s Gopher has ceased expanding and the World Wide Web had been established as the technology that would take its place. There are three primary reasons why the growth of Gopher and Veronica stalled out:
- Cost: While the Web was released by CERN as an open-source technology stack from the very beginning, the University of Minnesota attempted to launch Gopher as a licensed product, and users responded by leaving Gopher and flocking to the Web.
- Duplication: The functionality of the Gopher client was duplicated by early web browsers, meaning that Gopher did not deliver a unique benefit.
- Rigid structure: The web was built with HTML, a flexible and easy-to-use language. Gopher has a much more rigid structure. Learning how to publish a web page was an easier undertaking than learning how to publish a gopher document.
In retrospect it’s easy to see how the open-source technology that the web was built with, coupled with an easier markup language, and the lack of a compelling reason to stick with Gopher, meant that Gopher was all but doomed from the early 1990s.