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2020/05/27 Re: Mercury Protocol


Being a reply to dear BDFN Solderpunk regarding the terrifying missile he just fired named the Mercury Protocol.  As sketched at:

Corned Beef - The Mercury Protocol


Ahhhhhhhh! Run away, run away...


No, oh no, please resist this urge toward ascetic minimalism! I am a “naïve user” so beg some indulgence for misapprehension or lack of exactitude. But I shall list the ways the Mercury protocol proposal makes my heart skip a beat. These are less cooked critiques than angstful impressions. The tone indicated herein is “comically apoplectic” and not irate. Nonetheless, please take the meat of these points to heart.


“Privacy respecting” should trump simplicity. Please keep TLS or somesuch equal to the task!

Not everyone has a VPN. Certainly many of us do not have a way to ssh, never mind a Pubnix account. I still haven’t the foggiest how to do Tor publishing over mobile. And when I do go on Tor by client, it’s often mind numbingly buggy.


One of the rough analogies which attracts some of us (hi!) to Gemini is this idea of “gopher plus TLS”. Hard baking some kind of privacy figleaf into the protocol does good work, and in fullness of time may become absolutely essential for some of us to discuss things with less fear. The question of how to implement privacy in a way which makes it both simple for users to implement and for not-smart machines to handle is a /good question/ to have open at this juncture. All sorts of services can be carried on the back of TLS which become either impossible or suspect without it. By mandating TLS, Gemini has implicitly critiqued Gopher community’s lackadaisical attitude toward both privacy and signed services.


Under Mercury, something like TLS would need to be implemented anyway for the protocol in such use cases. Why demand that of users in the name of spec aesthetics?


Formatting is good, really.

People like UTF-8 / ASCII art. It’s a feature, not a bug, no matter the few curmudgeons who demure. It’s always been a part of gopher culture and always will be. Some way to preformat text is handy for that and other uses. Contact info, headers...


What attracts me to Gemini in this respect is the simplified markdown style set of easily typeable formatting features. It increases clarity for the reader and organizational order for the author. As someone who primarily mobiles into geminispace, I do not find most use of triple-tick to be onerous. What is nice is having some leeway to play in either direction, with a few easily memorable tools. I stopped being able to write html off the top of my head somewhere around the introduction of css. Anything shy of that keeps Gemini inbetwixt gopher and web, which is a niche with due appeal.


Reinventing wheels.

We already have a pared down plaintext protocol. It’s Gopher. And it has a vibrant, if often stubborn, user ecosystem. The future forward deficits are obvious at this point. But those too appeal to us who endure them, like the character quirks of a grandparent who we love for their agéd wisdom. No compleat protocol can evade the tests of time completely. Not even Mercury. By paring down to plain text, it will likely just become another “also ran” like gopher++++, as it will be a wheel of size and ilk like Gopher. So the text wraps. Alright. And no item types. That’s elegant. But that is hardly “in between gopher and web”. Why would people switch to that when gopher is so widely supported? Maybe indeed some prioritize these reforms. These aren’t high on my list, personally.


Lang.

I do quite fancy the mandatory UTF-8 idea. There’s too much slovenly ambiguity around charset on the client side especially. For those of us who might fancy anything but brusque TTY ENGLISH TYPED THUSLY BECAUSE OLDSCHOOL TTY HAS NO CASES NOT BECAUSE I’M YELLING I TOTALLY SWEARS, then Unicode has been a dear boon. I remember the dark days of CJK Usenet, with the guesswork at which charset was being overlaid on ASCII and lemme tell you, it was no fun. My sentimentality for HZ or BIG5 encoding is one best left to memory and I am unanimous in that. So by all means, ditch our proposals for Lang= and just let it be. That should be good for a little while as an encoding standard, I wager, no matter its own defects for CJKZV at least.


Summary


A short and sweet spec sheet is Cool and the Gang. It is a worthy goal to keep that tied down. But if that priority trumps other considerations, it becomes merely an academic exercise, a hacker toy. The “in between” is what matters most for Gemini, and privacy via TLS (or its equal) is the absolute pillar of that for me. It may sprout many new blossoms we can’t see yet.


Do you wonder why after years of procrastinating it is only with Gemini that I bothered to make a public gopherhole? I’m enjoying the minimal internet as never before. It’s because Gemini is onto something. It’s on to something which heaps of people are itching for, I warrant. There’s a buzz worth exploring, and the open questions are part of that. We already have gopher to be stodgy and minimalist about. I at least am enjoying playing with this slightly-gopher-side median.


Thanks for the Mercury challenge! Quite thought provoking. And heart stopping, haha.


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