France is switching off its groundbreaking Minitel service which brought online banking, travel reservations, and porn to millions of users in the 1980s. …
But then came the worldwide web. Minitel has been dying slowly and the plug will be pulled on Saturday.
Many years ago, long before the birth of the web, there was a time when France was the happening-est place in the digital universe.
What the TGV was to train travel, the Pompidou Centre to art, and the Ariane project to rocketry, in the early 1980s the Minitel was to the world of telecommunications.
Thanks to this wondrous beige monitor attached to the telephone, while the rest of us were being put on hold by the bank manager or queueing for tickets at the station, the French were already shopping and travelling “online”.
Other countries looked on in awe and admiration, and the French were proud.
As President Jacques Chirac boasted: “Today a baker in Aubervilliers knows perfectly how to check his bank account on the Minitel. Can the same be said of the baker in New York?”
Chirac was speaking in 1997, exactly half way through the life-cycle of France’s greatest telecoms innovation.
At the time, he could be forgiven thinking it would last forever. This was the high point, with nine million Minitel sets installed in households around the country, an estimated 25 million users, and 26,000 services on offer.
But of course, the story was already written. The internet was moving in.
Today bakers from Timbuktu to Tallahassee are not just consulting their bank statements online, but doing just about everything else as well.
The rise and fall of the France-wide web
BBC NEWS | JUNE 28, 2012