Patrice Riemens on Sun, 1 Jul 2012 03:53:02 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> Adieu Minitel, Adieu!

Today is the last day in service of France's "bogus brother of the
Internet" (Le Monde), that strange square box called the Minitel, launched
in 1981/1982.

The Minitel has been object of much derision once Internet use became
(relatively) widespread outside of France, yet it did antedate the 'public
Internet' by at least 15 years, and, contrary to a commonly held belief,
the Minitel did not at all hamper the diffusion of the Internet in France
after it had really taken of (say, by the second half of the nineties).

The Minitel had a number of drawbacks, the most important for users being
the lack of graphic interface (and thus it spawned much ingenuity in
'ascii art'), but it had a lot of advantages for service providers, as
connection was charged and nearly every content priced (between FF 0,02
and FF 1,41 /minute) and directly billed to the user's phone subscription,
with the takings neatly shared between the (state) phone authority and the
providers, enabling the former to offer the whole appliance for free and
still make a robust profit in the process.

Another funny feature of the Minitel (and the one that made it so
profitable) was its accidental extension into the realm of (text-based)
pornography and sexual dating, known in French as "la messagerie rose"
(the pink messaging service) - that's how grandpa (or his grandchild)
raked those hefty telephone bills, not by checking out the SNCF timetable
(the state railways - still rather pricey at FF 0,34/minute).

On the technical side, the Minitel was the losing pawn in the end in the
'system battle' between the centralised Transpac/X.25 network and the
distributed TCP/IP based Internet (whose basic feature, packet switching,
is claimed by the French to be rather Louis Pouzin's than Vint Cerf's
invention ;-) Transpac also goes this evening, together with the Minitel.

Last but not least, the Minitel did make the large swathes of the French
population IT-savvy, or at least IT acquainted, ten years ahead of the
rest of the world. It's penetration (in 'la France profonde', deep France)
was astonishing, and has only recently been matched by Internet
connectivity, since it went together with the telephone, but a no extra
connection of subscription cost (phone customers were offered the option
between the paper directory or a Minitel box).

And as today's Le Monde article points out, the Minitel was the last of
France's technological 'Grands Projets'. So let's salute this evening this
swansong of the 'Colbertist State'.

Le Monde article's is here:
"Le Minitel, "faux frère" d'Internet, ferme définitivement"
see also:
"Minitel online terminals recycled after three decades of use in France"

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