The End Of The France-Wide Web

June 28, 2012 in Daily Bulletin

In the 1980s, before the dawn of the internet, France looked set to conquer the world of telecommunications writes Hugh Schofield. Highlights of his report include:

  • In an attempt to establish its technological independence, France launched the Minitel system.
  • These were beige boxed screens with keyboards and number pads attached.
  • Users could punch in a few buttons and then connect to various services including banking, finance, weather prediction, and even sex phone lines.
  • At its high-point – just before the internet became widespread – Minitel was present in 9 million households with 25 million users and 26,000 services.
  • Part of the reason for its success is that it was given away for free by the telecom company to users.
  • To set up a service businesses had to go through the telecom company, and get their approval. This bureaucracy might have been what killed it.
  • In many ways the story of Minitel is the typical French story. Extraordinary innovation through government subsidized research which then slowly withers away due to the weight of bureaucracy.
  • While Minitel will be ending this Saturday after exactly thirty years of service, it utilized a lot of the technologies familiar on the internet now, years before they were available in the United States.

To read much more including what exactly Minitel Rose was, what President Jacques Chirac boasted about it, what happened when they tried out the system in Ireland, why it failed to conquer the English-speaking world, which French President oversaw its creation, how the design of the system evolved over the years, and current technologies which owe something to it, click here.

Source: BBC News