France: Death of the last Minitel, precursor of Internet

Obsolete system and web competition, suppressed from July

26 June, 11:44

(ANSAmed) - PARIS, JUNE 26 - The forerunner of the World Wide Web is passing away. France is overseeing the end of the era for Minitel, the famous data and message circulation system, which was created 30 years ago and widely used in French homes long before computers and the Internet. On Saturday, the system will be suppressed once and for all. Minitel was originally a small brown terminal provided free of charge by France Telecom and was designed to be connected to telephone landlines in order to view the list of subscribers. The supply of services was soon extended to businesses, including the country's leading newspapers. With a telephone connection and an interface similar to televideo, it allowed users to check the weather forecast, the stock market, the main news and even carry out "online" purchases, such as clothes or train tickets. Universities began to use the service for student sign-ups and to release exam results and timetables. Especially popular, though, was the instant messaging service, the "messagerie", a forerunner of today's chat system, the anonymity of which encouraged a host of erotic services.

The role of public authorities was crucial in Minitel's success.

The state supported the project, giving out terminals free of charge and encouraging widespread use of the service to launch the computer services market, which was unprecedented at the time. Similar instruments began to appear in the rest of the world, with Italy's SIP Videotel following in a similar vein, but failed to live up to Minitel's huge success. At its height, in 1996, Minitel had over 10,000 content suppliers and 26,000 services. Its turnover reached a billion euros (which fell to 30 million euros in 2010). At the end of last year only 700,000 terminals remained in use, according to France Telecom Orange, against 9 million in French families and businesses ten years ago. The interruption of the service, say France Telecom Orange, is not only due to the "disaffection" of the wider public but also to technical reasons: the network used by Minitel is now "obsolete" and will be closed. All terminals handed back will be recycled. (ANSAmed).

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