The Gemini Protocol: What’s It All About?

The Gemini Protocol - the web, without the noise?
26 July 2022

It is a feature of systems that they grow and mutate, creating elements far beyond the imaginations – and certainly beyond the intentions – of those who originated them. If you explained to the Wright brothers the catastrophic environmental effect of vast networks of international air travel, they would probably be appalled. If you told Richard and Maurice McDonald of the original McDonalds restaurant that an empire in their name would reach every corner of the Earth, and cut down unfathomable areas of trees in the rainforest to raise the beef to feed that empire, they would probably turn pale and weep. And while some of the original creators of the internet are still with us, the idea that the net today is what they had in mind seems unfathomable.

Gemini is a project, mostly created by extremely tech-savvy people, to get back to the basics of the web, before it exploded into Wikipedia, cat memes, influencers, and porno.

To do that, the Gemini Protocol has been designed within the Internet Protocol Suite (commonly known by the acronym TCP/IP). At its heart, it’s a simple request-response protocol in the client-server model. And what it does is allow the user on one computer to read documents on another computer, just in the way the web as we know it does. In a sense, that makes the Gemini Protocol almost analogous to HTTP, but it’s altogether more stripped-back and simplistic than that.


Gemini, Son of Gopher

It’s often characterized as being Gemini, son of Gopher – Gopher being an even simpler protocol for doing much the same thing, which in the early days of the worldwide web was a potential rival to HTTP, but eventually fell out of favor as the HTTP model grew in complexity and popularity, offering more and more connected content and, in a sense, began to gatekeep its connections by virtue of its protocols.

But it’s important to understand that Gopher, Gemini, and the HTTP protocol of the modern, sprawling internet are three entirely separate things, and that there’s – at least technically – room for them all to co-exist in a modern, cohesive vision of people accessing remote content.

Gemini is not, as it’s often been called, Gopher 2.0. If anything, it’s Gopher 1.5 – an advancement on the original, but deliberately being kept simple, while modernizing the way the original worked, such as by allowing encryption and non-ASCII characters. The original creator of Gemini, the as-yet-enigmatic “Solderpunk,” has described Gemini as “the modern web, stripped right back, or Gopher, souped-up and modernized just a little.”

While there has been significant criticism of Gemini, “Geminispace” – the worldwide web, but in an alternative dimension, built on the Gemini protocol, rather than HTTP – and the “Gemtext” markup language for building sites as being a space and a protocol mostly for a cabal of sneaky geeks who don’t want to show the world what they’re up to, it would be a mistake to write Gemini off as just a pet project for the technologically adept – at least while it’s growing.

A Growing Phenomenon

And it is growing. In the space of a year, take-up of modules in Geminispace has trebled, with more and more people setting up what it feels inevitable to call “websites” in the space, rather than in the now more traditional HTTP-based web.

It’s true that Gemini-users don’t do themselves any favors in terms of not being seen as a cabal of sneaky geeks. The protocol is deliberately difficult to extend – more or less expressly to stop it growing wild like the web with which we’re all familiar. The notion that the whole thing is the creation of a user with an enigmatic handle rather than a name has cultish connotations, and there’s a permanent whiff of persecution and paranoia about most of the material put out by those who were early adopters in the Geminispace.

But its growth remains a fact, and more and more software makers are developing programs that can be used within the Geminispace to help it grow and build – but always in a considered way.

A New Market?

So what should the tech industry make of Gemini?

The short answer is “money.” There are people willing to pay for software to service their stripped-back version of the internet as we know it. That’s a market, and where there’s a market, it would be churlish and foolish of the tech industry to abstain from servicing that market and making money.

Yes, the Geminispace feels like an uncertain environment in which to thrive for businesses used to the rapid, rampant expansion and connectivity of the internet as we know it. And yes, absolutely, the most vocal Gemini converts have an unfortunate tendency towards sounding like wide-eyed zealots. But – at least for the moment – it’s probably best to think of the Gemini Protocol and its users as akin to the Internet Amish, where it’s not modern technology that they disdain, but modern overstimulation, noise, and rampant connectivity.

The Gemini Protocol allows for the essential stripped-back functions of Web 1.5 (Basic, but modern), without all the randomness and noise that comes with the modern HTTP-based internet. Each voice that’s on it is comparatively raised, because the background noise of other voices is as yet, by design, a murmur, rather than a colossal worldwide roar. It’s unlikely to conquer the world, but it’s also relatively unlikely to threaten it, either. Solderpunk has said that both the original Gopher, the modern internet, and the Geminispace should be able to co-exist quite peacefully alongside one another.

There’s currently little reason to disbelieve them, and that being so, the Geminispace could be a lucrative market for the tech industry to service.