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France Ending Minitel Service

Soulskill posted about 2 years ago | from the bits-of-history-of-bits dept.

Network 137

New submitter pays-vert writes "On Saturday, France will turn off the Minitel service. A forerunner of the world wide web, Minitel provided news, online banking and, yes, porn via a chic plug'n'play terminal. The service remained massively popular for a while even after the rise of the Internet, but ultimately has lost out to technological innovation. 'About 400,000 of the machines are still in use across the country, but perhaps most affected will be Brittany, where the devices were developed, and where many farmers still depend on them. ... Internet service spread much more slowly in France than it did elsewhere in Europe or in the United States, largely because of the popularity of the Minitel, historians say. Only around the turn of the century did the Internet come to much of this soggy western region, an expanse of green that bulges out into the Atlantic Ocean. The Minitel was hugely useful to farmers. Realizing that the devices could save time and money, local agricultural organizations developed programs for farmers to, say, track pork prices, inform the authorities of animal births and deaths, or consult the results of chemical tests on milk.'"

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137 comments

The dead past (5, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40477749)

Internet service spread much more slowly in France than it did elsewhere in Europe or in the United States, largely because of the popularity of the Minitel, historians say

Now we consult historians to find out about the spread of the internet? That makes me feel old :(

Re:The dead past (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40477797)

hey minitel was a radical advance for french agriculture - it almost meant they were no longer medieval nearly industrial revolution.

Re:The dead past (1)

DickBreath (207180) | about 2 years ago | (#40478381)

The French should keep Minitel.

They should limit their Three Strikes and other crazy copyright laws to Minitel and leave the Internet alone.

Re:The dead past (5, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40478695)

It's completely misleading. The Minitel was popular because there was no Internet. Then the internet was available, and it was not successful because you had to pay every minute of connection to France Telecom (monopoly, high prices) on top of the fee given to your provider.

When I heard that local communications were free in the US, I couldn't believe it. It was really expensive in France up to the years 2000.

Re:The dead past (1, Insightful)

C_amiga_fan (1960858) | about 2 years ago | (#40478879)

So basically government interference & protectionism of (1) their old 70s technology Minitel monopoly and then (2) the 90s/2000s-era Telecom monopoly hindered innovation and slowed the growth of web usage in France. Sounds like a prime example of whyt government should not interfere with the free market's natural processes (except basic workers' rights protections).

Yes, obviously Minitel was a monopolistic mistake` (4, Insightful)

Viol8 (599362) | about 2 years ago | (#40479165)

The French government should have realised in the 1970s that the beacon of the Free World (tm) the Good Old U S of A was soon to give us grateful peasents the internet and shouldn't have bothered trying to provide an extremely useful data service 15 years ahead of its time for its citizens. Because no competition means is a Bad Thing. Unless of course its the US govn. or company then its a different matter.

You know what, just fuck off you yankee prick.

Re:Yes, obviously Minitel was a monopolistic mista (0)

C_amiga_fan (1960858) | about 2 years ago | (#40479511)

shouldn't have bothered trying to provide an extremely useful data service

Correct. Private BBSes were already on the rise in the 70s. There was no need for government action when the free market was already acting to meet customer demands.

Re:Yes, obviously Minitel was a monopolistic mista (1, Interesting)

Viol8 (599362) | about 2 years ago | (#40479545)

Unless those BBS's were willing to provide their users with a terminal or computer for FREE to access their systems then your argument doesn't have a leg to stand on. The percent of the population of france in the late 70s who had a computer barely registered.

Re:Yes, obviously Minitel was a monopolistic mista (2)

NeutronCowboy (896098) | about 2 years ago | (#40481357)

You have absolutely no idea what Minitel was offering. You know how now, everyone has a www., and ads are frequently just attempts to get you to a website? Right around 1990, that's what the 3615 in the ads were - merely a way to get you to use their Minitel service.

BBS my ass. I know what those looked like, and there was absolutely nothing in them that could compete with the Minitel services.

Re:The dead past (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40479201)

You're right. The Internet was for rich people who could afford to wait 30 seconds for a picture to download. The Minitel was for everyone else (almost as you still had to pay the connection) but you didn't need to buy a computer (the Minitel was almost given for free).

Re:The dead past (4, Insightful)

gallondr00nk (868673) | about 2 years ago | (#40479327)

Sounds like a prime example of whyt government should not interfere with the free market's natural processes (except basic workers' rights protections).

Because one overreaching umbrella way of doing things obviously works for practically everything. Sigh.

I've got karma to burn, so here's a postscript. Fuck the free market. Enjoy cheering and waving the banner for the ideology which is hammering away at your living standards.

Unleashed capitalism is just as gross and obscene as any other ideology that is mistakenly viewed as gospel.

Re:The dead past (2)

A nonymous Coward (7548) | about 2 years ago | (#40479601)

Unleashed capitalism is just as gross and obscene as any other ideology that is mistakenly viewed as gospel.

There has never been unleashed capitalism. It has always been crony capitalism, fat cats running both government and the corporations.

If government didn't reserve the prosecution arena to itself, if ordinary citizens could bring charges against the fat cats in both governments and corporations, then you might have real capitalism.

The problem with people who think we have ever had, or still have, laissez-faire or unleashed capitalism is that the only alternative they can imagine is more and more government. Socialists and corporatists have in common a complete mistrust of individuals thinking for themselves, the idea that only an elite, of which they are a part, can guide the masses. This idea scares them so much that they would rather have a government run by their ideological opponents than have little state at all.

My big disappointment with the Occupy movement is that they think government might want to rescue them from Wall Street, that they are so naive as to not recognize the two sects represent the iron fist and velvet glove, cycling back and forth so often that ir is impossible to tell which role the fat cats are playing at any given moment. The Tea Party, for all its other stupidities ("Keep your government hands off my Medicare"), at least recognized they had to change government and did get a bunch of politicians elected who did make some changes. But they too are naive to think they can have any permanent effect.

Re:The dead past (4, Informative)

NeutronCowboy (896098) | about 2 years ago | (#40481311)

No, web usage was slower to pick up in France because a lot of the services that the Internet offered were already on Minitel, and, at least in the early betters, much better on Minitel. Want to find movie or theater times? Minitel had it, Internet didn't. Wanted to have some hot times with some 18-year old who really was a 45 year old man out in the middle of nowhere? Minitel had it, Internet didn't. Wanted to play games that were actually better than what Farmville offers now? Minitel had it.

The Internet had a hard time in France because the existing system was actually better. Starting mid- to late-nineties, all of that changed, of course. But to argue that government interference prevented the better technology from taking off is ass-backwards: government interference created the better technology. Minitel only was overtaken once the network effect, technological advances and yes, the free market, provided better alternatives.

RIP Minitel, it was awesome. And it's games were still beyond a lot of the cruft that passes as games on Facebook.

forerunner to web, but not internet (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40477763)

Minitel predates the web, but that is misleading. The internet/arpaneta was around long before the web, and long before freenet, so it is a forefunner to minitel.

Re:forerunner to web, but not internet (3, Informative)

Lord Lode (1290856) | about 2 years ago | (#40477821)

Yes, that's what the summary said: "... A forerunner of the world wide web, Minitel ..."

Re:forerunner to web, but not internet (2)

Bigby (659157) | about 2 years ago | (#40477917)

... The service remained massively popular for a while even after the rise of the Internet. ...

The rest of the summary showed different.

Re:forerunner to web, but not internet (2)

k(wi)r(kipedia) (2648849) | about 2 years ago | (#40478043)

The Minitel looks more like a wide-area BBS [wikipedia.org] system and not like the horrendous Flash-infested "web" sites we have today. Like a BBS, Minitel was a closed network with a text-based interface. Of course the first incarnation of the Web wasn't that much different, and there are still text-mode browsers around.

Re:forerunner to web, but not internet (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40478299)

Modern websites are also text-based but styled with CSS and maybe a bit of javascript for some dynamic features.

However, if coded properly, it should still be 100% usable without CSS and javascript.

Re:forerunner to web, but not internet (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40479243)

"If coded properly"

Hah, you aren't from the internet I know..

Re:forerunner to web, but not internet (1)

Chrisq (894406) | about 2 years ago | (#40478039)

Minitel predates the web, but that is misleading. The internet/arpaneta was around long before the web, and long before freenet, so it is a forefunner to minitel.

How is that misleading? Is it misleading to say logi-baird's mechanical TV pre-dates the electronic EMI system because radio was used before both?

Re:forerunner to web, but not internet (2)

Coeurderoy (717228) | about 2 years ago | (#40478253)

Arpanet predates the minitel in some ways, but the minitel started commercial services in 80/81, and in 84 there where thousend of services and millions of users.
the "Internet" had almost no services except email and ftp before the 90s.

In practice it represents an "alternative reality" to the Internet and cannot really be seen as a fore or post runner, but a similar tool that created a large industry.
And most french "Internet Successes" where started by Minitel entrepreuneurs, only now after about 15 years of "Internet" do we start to have people who create Internet businesses without having first dabbled in the Minitel.
It didn't replace the silicon valley, but it definitivelly gave a "leg up" to france in comparision to other "competitors"

[...], historians say (2, Funny)

rbrausse (1319883) | about 2 years ago | (#40477777)

we need historians to get informations about an only 30 year old technology?

not a good sign for human knowledge, 30 years are within this generation, not some long forgotten aeon...

Re:[...], historians say (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40477803)

We need historians to keep track of certain causes and effects of that 30 year old technology. It's really not something that your average network engineer is good at.

Re:[...], historians say (4, Insightful)

ColdWetDog (752185) | about 2 years ago | (#40477839)

What would you call them? Journalists? Perhaps - there certainly are journalists that write about things several decades ago. But that sort of time frame IS history. It is long enough ago that one has time to gather information about it from many times and try to synthesize something resembling 'the truth'. It is a long enough time that many people forget both the event and the lesson.

How many people on Slashdot were around during Minitel's heyday? Perhaps half of us? How many people on Slashdot are hearing about Minitel for the first time in this article?

Yeah it's history and now please, off my lawn.

Re:[...], historians say (1)

rbrausse (1319883) | about 2 years ago | (#40478061)

What would you call them? Journalists?

maybe you're right, it's mostly resentment on my part.

"historians say" is such a hollow phrase, in an Ideal World(tm) the media would be a little bit more accurate...

Re:[...], historians say (1)

ColdWetDog (752185) | about 2 years ago | (#40478911)

in an Ideal World(tm) the media would be a little bit more accurate...

Yep. Although these days, the words 'accuracy' and 'media' should be in the same sentence only if discussing computer hardware.

Re:[...], historians say (1)

tadas (34825) | about 2 years ago | (#40479037)

..."historians say" is such a hollow phrase ...

It reminds me of Weekly World News' "stunned scientists say" (and the scientists were always stunned).

Re:[...], historians say (1)

Darfeld (1147131) | about 2 years ago | (#40478089)

I knew the minitel when it was still mainstream! (gosh, what am I now? some kind of reverse hipster? )

It used to be fun to type random stuff on the black screen with the keyboard while offline, but it kind of gets old pretty quickly, I tell you. Other than that it a handy to find postal address and phone numbers... I wasn't old enough for the hotter stuff. The biggest downer was it was pay per minute. Then internet came, like fifteen years ago, with the fancy html and stuff, plus you could do the same thing and more with it. I'm surprise the service still exist until this week end, but I figure old people are difficult to move to newer technology.

Re:[...], historians say (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40478501)

How many people on Slashdot are hearing about Minitel for the first time in this article?

It was my first time hearing about this service. There are probably a lot of things that I'm not aware of in France. Not sure that makes them old - I just don't live in France.

Re:[...], historians say (2)

Cimexus (1355033) | about 2 years ago | (#40479177)

I'm Australian, and never stepped foot in France but I'd definitely heard of Minitel. Hell, as I recall, there were parts of my high school French text book that discussed it. It was something the French were very proud of back in the 80s and 90s, and rightly so, as it was massively popular before the WWW was just a twinkle in someone's eye...

Me! Me! I was there! (3, Informative)

spaceyhackerlady (462530) | about 2 years ago | (#40479597)

How many people on Slashdot were around during Minitel's heyday? Perhaps half of us? How many people on Slashdot are hearing about Minitel for the first time in this article?

I was very much around, and followed Minitel's development with interest. I've used Minitel on visits to France. It filled a need. It worked.

Lots of people at the time thought teletext was the way to go. In a sense it was, in the days when 1200 baud was considered a fast modem. Remember Prestel [wikipedia.org] (U.K.)? Remember all the hype about Telidon [wikipedia.org] (Canada)? And how little we have to show for it?

At one time all the ads in French magazines and stuff quoted Minitel codes, almost invariably 3615. Now they all have URLs.

...laura

Re:[...], historians say (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40478177)

we need historians to get informations about an only 30 year old technology?

not a good sign for human knowledge, 30 years are within this generation, not some long forgotten aeon...

When I studied history in school in the 1980s, World War 2 was part of the history ciriculum. At that point in time it was only 40 years earlier, and very much considered a topic for historians.

Re:[...], historians say (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40478305)

Of course. The posts you made yesterday are now history and fair game for historians. There is no cut off point for what is history.

Re:[...], historians say (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40478625)

"There is no cut off point for what is history."

Not true. The cutoff is "now".

Anything before, is "then", in the past, and therefore, history

Re:[...], historians say (1)

wcb4 (75520) | about 2 years ago | (#40480725)

At what point do we delineate the difference between historian and sociologist. Historians (not just history teachers who teach by rote) discuss the facts and trends of the society in the past, the sociologist the facts and trends of the present society, but from the time something happens, is digested and dissected and correlated, it is the past.

Re:[...], historians say (1)

crazyjj (2598719) | about 2 years ago | (#40478925)

Journalists tend to toss the word "historian" around rather loosely. It can mean anything from "Some local-yokel kook who calls himself a historian" to a university-affiliated Ph.D. in history with serious academic credentials.

Re:[...], historians say (1)

evilandi (2800) | about 2 years ago | (#40479171)

>Journalists tend to toss the word "historian" around rather
>loosely. It can mean anything from "Some local-yokel
>kook who calls himself a historian" to a university-
>affiliated Ph.D. in history with serious academic credentials. ...but rarely ever anyone with an actual proper job.

Re:[...], historians say (2)

mcgrew (92797) | about 2 years ago | (#40479371)

we need historians to get informations about an only 30 year old technology?

It's nothing new. From the introduction to Only Yesterday: An Informal History of the 1920's [virginia.edu] by historian Frederick Lewis Allen

Obviously the writing of a history so soon after the event has involved breaking much new ground...

Further research will undoubtedly disclose errors and deficiencies in the book, and the passage of time will reveal the shortsightedness of many of my judgments and interpretations. A contemporary history is bound to be anything but definitive. Yet half the enjoyment of writing it has lain in the effort to reduce to some sort of logical and coherent order a mass of material untouched by any previous historian; and I have wondered whether some readers might not be interested and perhaps amused to find events and circumstances which they remember well which seem to have happened only yesterday-woven into a pattern which at least masquerades as history. One advantage the book will have over most histories: hardly anyone old enough to read it can fail to remember the entire period with which it deals.

The linked book (posted in full at the link) was required reading in an undergrad general studies history class I took in the late 1970s. It was published in 1933 and concerned the 1920s.

Going down kicking and screaming (3, Insightful)

retroworks (652802) | about 2 years ago | (#40477863)

What's most interesting about Minitel is not the "historical" origins 30 years ago, but the way the French Government kept subsidizing it up until 2012. It was already presque obsolete when AOL was on the rise, but the tax dollars just kept it going. Government isn't that bad at developing something new (NASA, nuclear power), but it does a pretty bad job of management if it decides to stay "in the business".

Re:Going down kicking and screaming (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40477901)

The fact that it was working just fine and the population liked and used it will be ignored for the brief moment that your comment is read.

Re:Going down kicking and screaming (5, Interesting)

hey_popey (1285712) | about 2 years ago | (#40478051)

The fact that it was working just fine and the population liked and used it will be ignored for the brief moment that your comment is read.

In that case, the fact that it was a horribly ugly and slow even compared to 56k Internet (compare it to an old black-and-white teletext) should also be ignored. I forgot to mention the outrageous charges, even to connect to public administration services; I remember myself waiting for some nation-wide exam results to display, the connection timer was the real source of stress, not the results!

Re:Going down kicking and screaming (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40478789)

In that case, the fact that it was a horribly ugly and slow even compared to 56k Internet (compare it to an old black-and-white teletext) should also be ignored.

Minitel long predates 56kbps dialup internet. In fact, Minitel predates 1200 bps dialup internet.

Minitel was designed to provide useful information using the best technology available at the time It did so very well and at a reasonable cost.

However, technology has progressed to the point where Minitel is no longer relevant.

Re:Going down kicking and screaming (2)

C_amiga_fan (1960858) | about 2 years ago | (#40478989)

Yes Minitel was liked. Just as I like my ancient Commodore 64. And my amish neighbors like horse-drawn carriages. That doesn't mean the government should be wasting taxpayer dollars building obsolete C64s and carriages. Turn-over the job to the free market to make the carriages.

of course (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40477919)

because it's political. Minitel lost out not because of technology but because of the world we live in. No government could handle that unless it was the most powerful country i.e. US i.e. world wide web.

Re:of course (5, Insightful)

magic maverick (2615475) | about 2 years ago | (#40477989)

Except the WWW was created by an Englishman while at CERN (on the border of France and Switzerland). The domain system may well be controlled by the US Govt. (Dept. Commerce, -> ICANN) by the WWW is not. If that makes sense.

And it was hardly political either. Minitel lost out because they stopped innovating, because they were not truly global, and most importantly, because they were not open. To get a service on Minitel required approval, it was just another walled garden, like the various USA options which also died (though earlier). Minitel lost to openness, and the ability for anyone to join without approval from a monopoly corporation.

Re:of course (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40478807)

just another walled garden

Which appears to be what most people want - hence Facebook.

Re:of course (1)

Coeurderoy (717228) | about 2 years ago | (#40478361)

No it lost out because the operator insisted on keeping a large part of the revenue stream, and did not go on investing the the technology.
It was a great cheap alphanumeric terminal, but never made the transition to "bitmaped graphical interaction"...

Re:Going down kicking and screaming (2)

del_diablo (1747634) | about 2 years ago | (#40478047)

But there is nothing wrong with keeping a good service up and running. The fact the article also attributes Minitel to be a working techology allowing a more free marked, means that its the kind of thing a goverment should subsidize. The second issue that there is no reason to lay down a service just because it got more modern competitors, because information fetching via one dedicated portal is effective now as back in 1990s. If it works, nothing is wrong with it.
Also, why did AOL and the Internet make it obsolote? What if there was no satisfactionary good webpages to replace the service?

Re:Going down kicking and screaming (5, Insightful)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | about 2 years ago | (#40478057)

While it isn't a terribly big surprise that, in France, the subsidization happened to be a directly state matter, one should really keep in mind the broader context:

Minitel was, to no small degree, integrated into the telco infrastructure of the day(not just 'placed on top of it, because it has to be on top of something', like the ad-hoc BBSes or the eventual internet. And, unfortunately, telco(especially, but not exclusively, wireline telco) is one of the worst industries in the contemporary world when it comes to severely dubious state support. Whether it be the overtly state-owned and schlerotic monopoly telco companies, or the 'regulated'(ha, ha, ha) oligopoly-with-regionally-monopolistic-characteristics that passes for a 'free market' in telecommunications services, telcos worldwide historically(and frequently to the present day) are up to their bloody eyeballs in the worst sorts of state tie-ins, whether honestly labelled as such or not.

Had some of the 'future of the telephone' stuff that Bell was always making videos about in the 60's ever actually been executed, it likely would have been in exactly the same place.

Really, that's the thing that makes the internet more interesting: Not because it developed in a situation of more enlightened telcom policy(it basically didn't); but because Ma Bell was too caught up in her own line-switched rentseeking circlejerk to notice it before it had grown substantially...

Re:Going down kicking and screaming (1)

C_amiga_fan (1960858) | about 2 years ago | (#40479055)

Ma Bell noticed the internet.
She tried to make me pay an extra fee for connecting a 1k modem to my line. I just pretended I wasn't using one. "Modem? What modem?" though I'm sure they noticed it was turned on 20+ hours a day (taking full advantage of that unlimited calling & downloading). I figured I was already paying ~$15 a month for the national service called GEOS... I'm not paying any more on top of that.

Re:Going down kicking and screaming (2)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | about 2 years ago | (#40479565)

Sorry, I should have been a touch more specific: US telcos have certainly done their level best to extract rents from everybody who touches their lines, even when that touching has already been paid for once at agreed rates(everything from your modem fee, to the period of trying to make home router connection-sharing an extra-cost option, to the persistent demands that internet companies should pay for access to "their consumers"); but they've never really had any luck, and frequently not much interest, in trying to actually develop walled-garden services of their own, rather than merely throwing up tollbooths on the same copper they were comfortable using to route voice calls.

The various BBSes and pre-internet service providers were largely unaffiliated with the telephone guys, and even the(much later) attempts by cell carriers to build captive marketplaces(despite controlling the handset, the software it ran, having an existing billing infrastructure, and controlling the customer's access to 3rd-party competitors) were pitiful failures.

Had Ma Bell snapped up Compuserve, or cloned it, we might have had a much more Minitel like situation well into the present...

Re:Going down kicking and screaming (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40478275)

I'm not sure keeping it going was costly. Most minitel services were costly (with part of the money going to the phone company and the rest to the service provider), it made a LOT of money at its peak, and even with few users left, I'm sure it was still making non-negligeable money.

Re:Going down kicking and screaming (5, Informative)

Coeurderoy (717228) | about 2 years ago | (#40478347)

What makes you think that the french government keeped subsidizing it, it was a cash cow for the government when france telecom was still a mostly "public" company, the high revenue of 3615 (mostly "hot stuff") was bringing billions to the government.

I'm sure that Bercy (the french Finance Ministery) are still having wet dreams about milking as much from the internet..

They are closing it because only the "cheapest" service are still around.
The way it worked is that you could (as a service provider) choose :
Service Operators pays all (only rare very specialized services worked that way) (nbr 3613)
Service Operators pays nothing, the user pay little (most "public services", and most of what survives till the end of this week) (nbr 3614)
Service Operators get a little, the user pays more (nbr 3615)
Service Operators get a lot, the user pays a lot (nbr 3617)
Most services where 3615, but now most services ar 3613, and with the number of terminals going from 20 Millions*Lots of hours to 400 K * few hours it probably only now starts to cost more maintaining the service than it generates revenues.

Ob (5, Funny)

Hognoxious (631665) | about 2 years ago | (#40477867)

Man outside castle: Hey, you there! Do you think your lord would like an internet?

Man on battlements: Ah don't think he'll be interested. See, he's already got one. [whispers] Ah told zem we got one already [sniggers]

MOC: Can we see it?

MOB: No. [whispers to man next to him] Fetchez la vache.

MOC: RUN AWAY!!!!!

Re:Ob (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40478343)

More like...

Man outside castle: Hey, you there! Do you think your lord would like an internet? It has porn!

Man on battlements: Oh, but of course!!! Baissez le pont-levis! Maintenant! Maintenant!!!

The one thing that Minitel had (4, Interesting)

obarthelemy (160321) | about 2 years ago | (#40477897)

was easy billing of services: depending on a service's call number, several billing levels were available (from free to more than $10/min), and the user was aware of how much each number cost. That's the micropayment thingy the Internet never got right. I remember having to beg to Minitel guys to subsidize me when I was doing Web stuff for a TV station ^^

Re:The one thing that Minitel had (1)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | about 2 years ago | (#40478083)

Not to worry, between the ITMS and your cell carrier, anything and everything should be packaged, sorted, and monetized once again...

Re:The one thing that Minitel had (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40478727)

And that was at the same time one of the major weak points. Almost everything on Minitel was crazy expensive; a problem exacerbated by the fact that it was very centralised. User-created content was rare and hence services could charge whatever they wanted. Even though France Télécom subsidised the terminals in order to get people hooked (much as printers and phones are subsidised nowadays) the service was extremely profitable. And it still is apparently, although its impending closure suggests maintenance costs could outgrow profits in the future; France Télécom has stated it doesn't want to maintain the infrastructure any longer.
Still, when I was in school, during a French lesson the Minitel was discussed and we all marvelled at it. Of course we had real computers and we were very much aware that what we had on our desk at home was much better at what they could do. But the Minitel was connected and we, in the early nineties, weren't. To us the system was utterly alien and the concept curiously enticing and we wondered if we'd ever know what it would be like to use it. If France Télécom had played its cards better, the Internet would have started blossoming in France, rather than in the US.

Re:The one thing that Minitel had (1)

C_amiga_fan (1960858) | about 2 years ago | (#40479123)

My internet is charged directly to the phone bill. If I "rent" a movie from my ISP it is also charged to my phone bill. That sounds just as simple as your Minitel description.

As for the wider web, amazon and other services charge me 49 cents per short story downloaded to my kindle/PC. Or I can subscribe for $12 to my favorite magazine. Or use paypal to pay the 1 cent game I just bought off ebay (plus ship/handling).

Re:The one thing that Minitel had (3, Informative)

obarthelemy (160321) | about 2 years ago | (#40479631)

Not quite the same. The minitel was.. wait for it... network neutral. Any provider (not just your ISP) could use it to deliver and bill for services. Plus billing was handled by the network operator (France Telecom at the time) which saved having to setup up credit-card/paypal/account billing, though you could still do that and go for free connection+login. It allowed micropayments (well, very low time rate), which are still an issue on the Web.

Minitel dating (1)

fonske (1224340) | about 2 years ago | (#40477971)

My French connections used Minitel primarily as a dating service. One of my dad's friends had three girlfriends through his Minitel dating "site". The profiles were rather dedicated since these girlfriends all shared same previous boyfriends. Enfin, I will not go into detail - yes, French tend to go into those details already at the apéritif.

Re:Minitel dating (2)

mekkab (133181) | about 2 years ago | (#40478743)

the 3615 stuff is absolutely fascinating; sort of like how p0rn blazed a trail for the home video systems of the 80's (VHS, et. al.).

Minitel lasted because it was useful (4, Informative)

ReallyEvilCanine (991886) | about 2 years ago | (#40478041)

Until some time around 1997, exploring simple travel plans, booking and paying for them was a fucking nightmare for the rest of the world; they'd been doing it for more than a decade already in France, via a system which was very fast (remember those shitty 33.6K & X2 modems?) and very convenient. Standardised. Without pop-ups.

Germany's Post monopoly prevented this and instead buit the BTX system, designed to make profits, primarily for the Post (fmr. Telekom parent), and because phone costs were so high. getting on-line was a terribly expensive proposition in Germany until the Post monopoly was broken up.

Re:Minitel lasted because it was useful (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40478657)

Posting anon because I've already modded...

Uh, no. Minitel was limited to a glacial 1200 downlink/75 baud uplink.

In terms of connection speeds it was obsolete almost the day it came out.

The only way to call the Minitel a success is if you forget the massive investment made in it. Yes some people made money off the Minitel Rose (I coded part of a minitel server waaaay back) but the money they made is peanuts compared to the money the government wrote off in tax credits & direct investment in obsolete infrastructure.

3515 ULLA (1)

bourdux (1609219) | about 2 years ago | (#40478125)

Nooooooooooo! What will happen of 3515 ULLA? Disclaimer: I'm drunk.

Re:3515 ULLA (5, Informative)

bourdux (1609219) | about 2 years ago | (#40478735)

OK, I've sobered up. Just for information, I was born in the 80's in France and am now a researcher computer science researcher at the other end of the world, in Japan. Minitel is what drove me into computer science as I would dream of any career that would let me touch a keyboard at that tine. ind you, secretaries were still using typewriters in France at that time. 3515 ULLA was the equivalent of adultfriendfinder at that time and had paper ads all over countryside roads, usually on electrical installations such as transformers. Minitel might not have been the best of models, but it was in line with the current French policy at that time, which tried to be independent of USA at any cost. We had even our own Micro-computer models made by Thompon (a.k.a Technicolor). Even if unpractical overall, Minitel prepared the French population for the use of the Internet afterwards, making France one of the most active population on the Internet afterwards. So, R.I.P Minitel, we value what you brought to our nation. You will always have a place in our hearts.

MiniTel was a Come-Lately, too late, too little (-1, Flamebait)

pubwvj (1045960) | about 2 years ago | (#40478145)

Minitel was not a forerunner to the World Wide Web. Rather it was a come-lately to the Internet that had existed long before Minitel. The French Minitel (founded 1982) was more like the early version of CompuServe (founded 1969). Minitel never did make it to CompuServe's level. It was quaint and French, meaning the French government hamstrung it.

Re:MiniTel was a Come-Lately, too late, too little (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40478269)

you really don't know what you're talking about

Re:MiniTel was a Come-Lately, too late, too little (4, Interesting)

Coeurderoy (717228) | about 2 years ago | (#40478449)

I believe you where not around in 82, or didn't go to france in the 80s.
What France Telecom invented (probably by accident) is that under some circumstances you can "let go".

So they acctually accepted that other companies would make money on their network, they provided the terminal, the infrastructure and the billing but allmost all the rest where in the hand of a lot of various private company.

When the first "book shop on the internet" came out in the early 90s there where about 40 000 Minitel services and at least 5 active book shops.

Re:MiniTel was a Come-Lately, too late, too little (2)

YodaSensei (1486541) | about 2 years ago | (#40479397)

Interesting.

I always saw the minitel as a technological leap forwards (the first data network targeted at the general public), and a terrible anchor that weighted us down and prevented most of us French people from moving to the Internet : that's the usual consensus about the impact of the Internet on the human beings that used/could have used it.

But I never looked at it from the interactions between the technological service provider and the business models relying on such new media.

Re:MiniTel was a Come-Lately, too late, too little (2)

Coeurderoy (717228) | about 2 years ago | (#40480217)

In practice it is the relative efficiency of the business model that slowed down the move to internet.
I remember very well when I was offering internet on-line service development to french customers, many told me that they would wait until "The Internet" would come to its sense and offer a revenue share similar to the minitel...
(At least with them you could speak, the ones who believed that anyway Microsoft would offer a "better" solution never buyed anything :-))...

But is was a fun time :-)

There's you're problem. (1)

interval1066 (668936) | about 2 years ago | (#40478287)

So the effort hrere will be convincing farmers that an antiquated yet fairly reliable system that runs on proprietary hardware should be replaced by a totally reliable system that runs on open software and any hardware and will be continually upgraded for the forseeable future. Yeah, good luck with that.

Re:There's you're problem. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40478433)

Brittany's farmers are also know for poisoning rivers: http://www.geo.fr/environnement/actualite-durable/algues-vertes-bretagne-pollution-sante-48002

We had it (briefly) here in the US. (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40478513)

US Videotel, based in Texas, tried it out in Houston and DFW. I worked for them for a while and it was actually pretty useful to get people who couldn't afford a computer "online". It was just a dumb b/w terminal with ANSI graphics and text services, but for many of us it was pretty nifty. The main competition at the time were Delphi and CompuServe which required a (>$100's) computer. The Mini-tel could be had for a nominal monthly fee.

flag whole article flame bait (3, Interesting)

CharmElCheikh (1140197) | about 2 years ago | (#40478765)

"many farmers still depend on them. ... Internet service spread much more slowly in France than it did elsewhere in Europe or in the United States, largely because of the popularity of the Minitel, historians say. Only around the turn of the century did the Internet come to much of this soggy western region"

Seriously? Farmers depend on Minitel? I never saw that in my "soggy wester region", Normandy. Also, care to give citations for what I bolded out? Hell in the US there are still vast portions of the country very, very badly covered by high speed internet access or not at all which isn't true in France. Who are these "historians"?

Was this article written by a Texan rancher who still strikes out "French fries" on restaurant menus to write "Liberty fries"?

Re:flag whole article flame bait (3, Funny)

bourdux (1609219) | about 2 years ago | (#40478829)

Am from Normandy too and would have modded you up if I didn't contribute to the topic myself. P'tet ben que les fermiers y zen avaient ren a fout des minitels.

Re:flag whole article flame bait (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40480989)

What makes you think it isn't a German farmer? English? I could go on, there's plenty of countries in Europe.

Looks like you're the biased one.

Off to the bitbucket with my other friends (2)

water-and-sewer (612923) | about 2 years ago | (#40478767)

Sorry Minitel - I never knew you. But say hello to some friends of mine: BBS, Gopher, Usenet, and Telnet. All cool things at the time, all superceded by bigger and better. But at the time they were like magic.

Modems killed Internet (2)

bourdux (1609219) | about 2 years ago | (#40478813)

I was born in Western France and I remember that Minitels started to die when modems became more common in France. Many people bought modems to have access to fax functions, as buying a fax machine was damn expensive at that time. In France, modems usually came bundled with minitel emulators, inciting buyers to not buy extra monthly cost for minitel rent to France Telecom. I remember making my scholarship applications for university on the Minitel for a couple of years until they had a decent Internet website. Everybody gave up on the Minitel already but terminals were still available around campuses just for this purpose. Then they saw less and less students queuing for the few number of terminals and flocking to the computer room, at a time where personal Internet access was not common yet. Web browser usability beats minitels phone-like menus a hundred folds. They then discarded the minitels. RIP minitel, you were part of my life and I will never forget you.

Minitel said (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40478915)

Je me rends!

Re:Minitel said (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40481573)

For those that can't read French: the "surrending Frog bashing thread" is there...

Minitel created the french ISPs of today (4, Interesting)

Herve5 (879674) | about 2 years ago | (#40479013)

One forgotten thing in these comments (or did I skip?) is, in an era just without internet, spending lots of time on semiporn chatting on Minitels appears to have raised so much money than it turned these service owners into billionnaires.

The current owner of Free, which is I believe the largest french ISP after the ex-state monopoly France telecom, started as a minitel porn service supplier. Then he just used his millions to switch to ISP.

Many french themselves have forgotten this, and here Free has quite a good aura today...

So, while I seriously doubt Minitel service was costing much to the state, it definitely raised huge amounts of silly guys' money into sex chat providers pockets.

These, are our present internet landlords here.
And there are people around that still think theyr work will better the country.

Re:Minitel created the french ISPs of today (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40479477)

Damn, I wish Free could be imported to the US... paying even 60$/mo for com. is way too much...

Teletext (1)

aaarrrgggh (9205) | about 2 years ago | (#40479109)

For some reason, I was thinking Minitel was the same as Teletext [wikipedia.org]. It seems like the last vesteges of it are being phased out now, but it was an interesting service and quite common in some countries.

Good riddance. (0)

YodaSensei (1486541) | about 2 years ago | (#40479317)

As a French student, 10 ago, we were still spending time during our telecomunications class to study the X.25 protocol (the Minitel protocol covering the layers 3/4 in the OSI model) ...which was an aberration at the time when compared to the (much simpler, and much more useful) TCP/IP protocols that were used in the Internet. But it was the turn of the millenium, Internet was not that used in France (except maybe by the students, hardcore gamers and porn addicts) while the Minitel was the last remnant of French technology, even if it was losing ground in the main population in the battle against the

Anyway, I believe I still have nightmares, sometimes, waking only to scream "Noooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo, not the X.25". I guess that 's better than "Cauchy-Schwart theorem!", but only marginaly.

Breton farmers do NOT depend on Minitel. Grrrr. (5, Informative)

evilandi (2800) | about 2 years ago | (#40479335)

OP: "perhaps most affected will be Brittany, where the devices were developed, and where many farmers still depend on them."

Sorry, but that is what we Europeans call "bollocks". I was in Brittany two weeks ago, in a campsite in the middle of nowhere, and it was saturated in 3G/HSDPA mobile broadband. I drove all round the place, 3G everywhere. Decent stuff, too, was browsing BBC News at snappy speeds, even video worked fine.

Campsite I stayed in had Wifi on about a 4 meg connection, probably ADSL, middle of nowhere. Restaurants and cafes in villages and market towns, ditto. The "Domain de Kerlan" campsite I used last year even had wi-fi to *every* *single* *plot*. So stop this "farmers still depend on dumb terminals with 1.2 kilobit modems" bullshit.

France is not very big, only twice the size of the UK. It's not like the USA where there are thousands of miles of empty rural plains. It was dead easy to wire up the whole country for ADSL. That happened a decade ago. The furthest you'll ever get from a city of at least 50,000 people is about twenty-five miles, and I can't think of *any* part of France that is more than five miles from a village of at least 2,000 people.

What's more, French farmers are usually part of a local co-operative who bulk-buy engineering and technology gear at discounted rates (for example, they tend to club together to buy tractors or combine harvesters). I sincerely doubt there is any large farm that wants ADSL, or at least ISDN, that can't get it; French farmers are fscking *minted*.

"Many farmers still depend on Minitel". My arse.

Re:Breton farmers do NOT depend on Minitel. Grrrr. (1)

operagost (62405) | about 2 years ago | (#40480631)

Just because there's wireless broadband available doesn't mean everyone is using it. Did you actually ask any farmers, or just assume they all had smartphones?

Re:Breton farmers do NOT depend on Minitel. Grrrr. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40481225)

I'm not confirming or denying the article because of the decidedly small number of French farmers I talk to, but I don't agree with the logic of your post which seems to be that because technology is readily available that obviously all people are using it especially given that there was an seemingly incredibly popular alternate system in place that could have met many of their needs.

Not like Minitel but... (1)

fluffythedestroyer (2586259) | about 2 years ago | (#40479451)

I loved the time I spent on BBS's. One of the reasons is that BBS's that I visited had a message board which allowed you to communicate with other fellow geeks around you. Sure it wasn't as big and complete as Minitel but there was what I needed so that was fine (online games like L.O.R.D, message board with fidonet, files and more)

Old Minitel is companies vision of internet future (1)

ColdCat (2586245) | about 2 years ago | (#40480479)

Minitel was a success for many reasons

1) there was no alternative
2) the minitel terminal was free
3) lot of public services degree results, school inscriptions, white pages...
4) lot of company services where you pay by minute ( you pay on telephone bill )

Today's many companies would love to be able to have a minitel business model for their websites. Imagine an internet where you control what people do/read and you can make them pay for :you listen to music on somerandomglog.com you need to pay x.xx €-$-£

It was deployed in the US, too. (5, Interesting)

Animats (122034) | about 2 years ago | (#40480569)

It's not well known, but Minitel, the French system, was deployed in the US. Local dial-up ports were available in most US cities. The system was run by Telecom France, and gave access to both lightly used US services and the full network in France. I used to have an account on it. There was no extra charge for communicating across the Atlantic, so the service was useful to anyone who had people to talk to in France.

Minitel had a delightful culture in some ways. People wrote poetry on the dating services.

early internet, and Mintel were telephone lines (1)

peter303 (12292) | about 2 years ago | (#40481497)

Although a landline could go as high as 56 kbits, you usually got half of that. This was OK for text-rich pages. But totally inadequate for the graphics and video rich web of today.

The internet doesn't owe that much to minitel (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40482203)

One of the authors claims that the internet owes a lot to minitel. Not so much. There was a lot of user generated content before minitel. They were early on, true. But the internet got its start in 1969, not 1978. The world wide web (which sits on the internet) was proposed by Tim Berners Lee in a paper in March 1989. Before www, there was gopher, usenet, and a host of other online services (some of which have been killed, some abandoned, and some still around). Anyone innovating on the internet, without prior exposure to minitel were developing green field applications, and are in no way beholden to minitel for ideas or innovation. According to the article, that is anyone outside of France, Belgium or parts of Ireland. Having said all that, it was fledgling but better than anything else for a few years, better than the internet for a few years, matched the internet for a few years, slightly behind the internet for a few years, and has looked old and antiquated for a few years. Nothing annoys me more than going to a museum where some lunk head looks at an old mainframe computer, chuckles, and mutters something about his watch having more power than blah blah. Its all I can do to mutter that a modern (built this year) mainframe computer can wipe the floor with the blah blah computer on his desk. They still make these old things? No, its a new thing. "Well my new blah blah has a new blah chip, can these old things beat that?" No, the new ones have 10,000 of the newer blah chip, each of which is better than that old piece of blah on your desk. What do they need all that for? Stuff the piece of blah on your desk can't do. Oh, I didn't know. I assumed that innovation on big computers stops while innovation on small ones catches up, then you don't need the big old ones anymore.

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