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Summary:

It was the internet before the internet.

Now France’s Minitel, a pioneering Videotex information service used by 25 million people at its h…

Minitel terminal
photo: Tieum

It was the internet before the internet.

Now France’s Minitel, a pioneering Videotex information service used by 25 million people at its height, will be switched off after 30 years online.

France Telecom (NYSE: FTE), which operates the service, will discontinue it in June 2012.

Minitel was launched in 1982 to improve on paper-based telephone directories, requiring dedicated terminals to access mail services, train ticket bookings, news, weather information and more.

At its peak, some nine million terminals were connected and, in 2000, it became available via software on home PCs. In fact, for some years, the success of Minitel was one reason for slow internet adoption in France.

But, at the end of 2010, only 810,000 terminals and 950,000 users remained. Revenue had fallen from €1 billion in the 1990s to €30 million, Le Figaro says.

In the UK, DMGT recently retired Teletext, another popular Videotex service that operated over analogue terrestrial TVs.

  1. Minitel was not a videotext service but a proprietary online media similar to some extent to Compuserve or early AOL days: it was a bidirectional media that flourished with dating services and early electronic commerce sites. By many aspects it was a precursor of the consumer internet that we know today.

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