Information -- The Commodity of the Future

By Merit/NSFNET Information Services
The Link Letter

September/October 1992.

Names such as Gopher, World Wide Web, Archie, Prospero, and WAIS, which once-upon-a-time may have evoked images of small furry animals and comic strip characters are rapidly gaining "household word" status among users of the Internet. These tools to help users find information on the network have spread from embryonic testing to widespread implementation in little more than a year.

To keep up with the demand for better access to information, Merit/NSFNET Information Services has upgraded its on-line information service by moving to an AIX-UNIX based server and implementing WAIS and Gopher to help users navigate files about NSFNET, NREN, and the Internet. File directories have also been reorganized to make it easier for Anonymous FTP users to locate specific information while maintaining e-mail access to documents as in the past.

Collaboration with other groups

In addition to these services, Merit is working with other groups to provide new network information services, including the TopNode project with the Coalition of Networked Information (CNI) and Indiana University, with EDUCOM on an X.500 directory  of K-12 individuals interested in network applications for teaching and with the IETF user-doc working group to implement a directory on introductory documentation. Merit is also exploring a cooperative project with the University of Michigan to build on the U-M software archives and improve access to these application programs which are widely copied by users throughout the world.

The new services being offered by Merit build on the earlier on-line systems which were based on an IBM 4381 mainframe running the CMS operating system implemented early in the NSFNET backbone project in 1988 ( This system  made it possible to get information about NSFNET through Anonymous FTP and e-mail.

Types of information expanded

The new services, now implemented on an IBM RS/6000 running AIX and provided by IBM, continue the existing services while also making it possible to use Gopher and WAIS to search the archives. In addition to running these new tools, the types of information have been expanded to include new directories aimed at providing information for new users. Directories for internet-drafts, and meeting minutes of the IESG and Working Groups of the IETF are shadowed. Merit's server makes it easy to do "one-stop shopping" for information about networking  when accessing

Directories and abstracts

Abstracts for each directory and a brief description of files in each sub-directory are found in INDEX files included at each level. The README file outlines Anonymous FTP and electronic mail query access and presents an overview of the directory structure. Merit/NSFNET Information Services also provides resources on the host via electronic mail query. Details for connecting to, as well  as an overview of the directories, follow in this issue.

WAIS at Merit

WAIS (Wide Area Information Servers) allows users to search quickly through terabytes of data from the government, educational institutions, libraries, and other information providers. It is based on the Z39.50 standard for information exchange. Because the protocol is non-proprietary, it is anticipated that many vendors will become involved in providing WAIS services. (See the March/April 1992 issue of the Link Letter for more details on WAIS.)

Obtaining WAIS clients

Users may install and run WAIS client software on any desktop computer which is connected to the Internet by TCP/IP. The WAIS software for Macintosh and UNIX machines is available for anonymous ftp from in the pub/wais directory. WAIS software for VMS, DOS, and MS-Windows is at the same ftp site in the pub/wais/UNC directory.

Six databases have been made available on the Merit WAIS server and there are plans for adding more. A WAIS client identifies where servers are and what databases are offered from "source" files.

The usual way to obtain these source files is from the "Directory of Servers" on the WAIS server at (Thinking Machines Corporation is a prime mover in WAIS development). Every WAIS client comes with a source file that can connect to the Directory of Servers. Users can find the Merit sources, as well as hundreds of others, in the Directory of Servers.

Further WAIS information

A mailing list features weekly postings on WAIS progress and new releases; to subscribe, send an e-mail note to

Gopher at Merit

The Merit Gopher server allows for Anonymous FTP access to the wide array of network information on

Recent information resources to help the network novice become familiar with the Internet, including its associated networks, resources, and protocols, may be selected from the "Recommended New-User Reading List." "National Science Foundation Information" includes the NSFNET Backbone Services Acceptable Use Policy and current NSF proposals for the Interim Interagency NREN. Connections to other information servers will also be possible.

Individuals can obtain Gopher client software for Mac, DOS, UNIX, VAX/VMS, VM/CMS and other common operating systems via Anonymous FTP to This client software enables one to access any of the hundreds of Gopher servers on the Internet, including Merit's server on

Taken from The Link Letter, Vol. 5 No. 2, September/October 1992.