I'm Thinking About the Gemini Protocol a Lot

In the past couple of months, I’ve been thinking about the Gemini Protocol on and off. As a protocol, it’s a SSL/TLS-enabled text transfer protocol. The stuff it’s supposed to transfer is text files sorta similar to Markdown. And the client is supposed to render the result.

It sits somewhere between Gopher and HTTP.

If HTML is the language of the web we know via HTTP, Gemini’s text/gemini plain text result is the language of the Gemini protocol.

Unlike Markdown, which was designed to translate to HTML nicely and be human-readable at the same time, text/gemini doesn’t translate to HTML and is only made to be read the way it’s written; plus it’s made to be simpler to write parsers for.

I’m not thinking about the protocol implementation. I’m thinking about this plain text part.

I’m a huge fan of Markdown to write everything – my notes and my website content and my book manuscripts alike. But the text/gemini specs are captivating, too: they decide to not allow inline links at all. If you want to write a link, it must be written on one line per link. The whole plain text format is line-oriented. Here’s an example of a few links:

=> gemini://example.org/
=> gemini://example.org/ An example link
=> gemini://example.org/foo	Another example link at the same host
=> foo/bar/baz.txt	A relative link
=> 	gopher://example.org:70/1 A gopher link.

Clients typically seem to render this as a list of links where “An example link” is the click-able anchor text, and the target URL is not shown on screen. You know, just like HTML links, but more restrictive.

DistroTube.com in a HTTP browser to mimick the Gemini rendering

If you’re curious how that scales, check out Derek Taylor’s DistroTube.com page that is nowadays a rendered HTML output of his “Gemini Capsule”. (It was one of Derek’s videos that brought the topic to my attention.)

I am drawn to “Gemini” the topic, and text/gemini the format, because its promise of simplicity is still appealing. Just text; that’s nice. And the one-link-per-line policy resembles how I write my notes. Inline links are too noisy for my taste when I’m writing and consuming the plain text notes as they are. Rendering text to e.g. HTML is a different thing; but for notes, I often prefer to have an annotated reference per line.

The whole Gemini topic is some form of escapism, I think. And that’s not bad. Escaping the web of 2021 that is ridden with ads, full of cookie consent banners, and where … ‘weird’ platforms dominate the web traffic, it’s perfectly understandable that folks want to go someplace else. A Gemini Capsule might be just that thing.

It’s a nerdy past-time activtiy. You’ll find cool people in Gemini Space, for sure. But some say this is the future of the web – but the plain text world never appealed to the main stream users once GUIs game along. So don’t plan to transfer all your traffic over to gemini:// anytime soon, anticipating that the HTTP web is going to go away.

See also (in a list of links, one per line):