Long Before The World Wide Web French Citizens Enjoyed Online Banking And More Courtesy Of?
Long before the advent of the World Wide Web and the ease in which people could use it to look up phone numbers, send electronic mail, place online orders for products, participate in forum discussions, search databases, and purchase airline and train tickets, French citizens were enjoying such tech-forward experiences courtesy of Minitel.
Rolled out experimentally in the French region of Brittany in 1978 and then throughout France in 1982, Minitel (short for Médium interactif par numérisation d’information téléphonique, or, in English, Interactive medium by digitalizing telephone information), is regarded as one of the world’s most successful pre-World Wide Web online services.
The national network enjoyed extremely high penetration (with nearly a 42 percent adoption rate at its peak usage) thanks to the millions of Minitel terminals lent free of charge to French telecom subscribers. These terminals were initially all-in-one units comprised of a modem, small monochrome screen, and attached keyboard. Despite the rise of personal computers across the globe, the all-in-one design remained popular and even into the 1990s and 2000s Minitel terminals retained, despite shrinking in size and gaining color screens, the same utilitarian appliance-like appearance.
Although it might seem odd to a Western reader outside of France (or nearby European countries that, to a lesser degree, also adopted the Minitel model) that the simple Minitel network-appliance approach to online activities was enduringly popular, it was heavily used and well loved by French citizens. As late as 2009 (just a few years before the system was shuttered in 2012), there were still millions of active Minitel users.
Image courtesy of Jef Poskanzer.