Adieu, Minitel: France's forerunner to the web to close

Adieu, Minitel: France's forerunner to the web to close

Summary: France's Minitel system, which provided online services for millions of people in pre-web days, is to be shut down on Saturday.France's Minitel system, which provided online services for millions of people in pre-web days, is to be shut down on Saturday.

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TOPICS: Telcos
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France's Minitel system, which provided online services for millions of people in pre-web days, is to be shut down on Saturday.

Minitel

France's Minitel system, which provided online services for millions of people in pre-web days, is to be shut down on Saturday. Image credit: ZDNet France

Set up in 1982 by the French postal service, Minitel allowed many e-commerce-style functions before the World Wide Web was invented, from ticket reservations to retail. The videotext platform also acted as a platform for message boards and even sex chat services.

On an FAQ page (in French), Orange France explained why the decision had been taken to close the service.

"The shutting-down of Minitel is a result of the decrease in its use and the closure of the Minitel support network," it said. "This support network is being used less and less, and given technological developments, it has been decided to end its operation."

Minitel was once used by almost half the French population — a level of uptake that was largely down to the postal service distributing the terminals for free. Even in 1999, in the midst of the dotcom boom, there were an estimated 17 million users.

According to the BBC, 600,000 of the terminals still remain in use. The Minitel network was originally going to be shut down last September, but was given a temporary reprieve so that the last remaining service providers could transfer their services to the web.

The nearest UK equivalent to Minitel was Prestel, which actually emerged earlier, in 1979. However, while both Minitel and Prestel involved running up significant phone bills, Prestel also required an expensive, specially modified TV set. It only ever amassed around 90,000 subscribers.

Topic: Telcos

David Meyer

About David Meyer

David Meyer is a freelance technology journalist. He fell into journalism when he realised his musical career wouldn't pay the bills. David's main focus is on communications, as well as internet technologies, regulation and mobile devices.

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  • > Prestel also required an expensive, specially modified TV set.

    Though in its prime, you could access Prestel using a computer and a cheap modem. Many Sinclair Spectrum and Acorn BBC owners did exactly that....
    Jack Schofield