28 June 2012

The End of An Era: The French Minitel

photo source
On Saturday 30 June, exactly 30 years after its launch, France's original online information and communication service known as the Minitel, then then innovative precursor to the World Wide Web, will quietly go off-line and exist no more.

Originally used as a way to make or check travel reservations or consult the telephone directory, the Minitel (the service and the now clunky computer terminal by today's standards) found its way into millions of homes and businesses. But its days were numbered, especially with the rapid growth of the Internet which quickly replaced most of the information-finding services the Minitel was created for in the first place.

The BBC website published an informative article yesterday about "the rise and fall of the France-wide web" here.

I first saw the Minitel in action during a trip to France in 1995. We were checking for some specific piece of information (train departure or movie starting time, I really don't remember which) and all I could think was, "this is so slow", watching the little blinking cursor move across the black screen at a caterpillar's pace, forgetting that just a decade before I would have been thrilled to have this little computer box on my desk to consult the great wide world of information whenever I wanted.

What was even more surprising was to see the fierce attachment and pride the Minitel brought out in some people. When I moved to France in 1999, I quickly went about setting up a personal email account and Internet access with one of the many service providers at the time. One day I was speaking to an acquaintance about searching for information and was completely baffled when he suggested I use the Minitel, but that I connect to it through the Internet. When I realized he wasn't joking, I just dropped it. But I never saw the point, like wearing a pair of slippers underneath my running shoes.

But the thing is, it worked. It just took a while for some to realize it was time to embrace a newer technology.

I don't know how much longer the Minitel website will be up and running after Saturday, so if you want to go have a look at the different services offered, you can see it here.

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