Minitel terminal and Travel agency page (via Le Monde, L'Express, Minitel.com, Wiki)
It's truly the end of an era, and not the Mayan calendar. Before there was the internet, communicating digitally was something that seemed to be out science fiction to most people. In the early 80's, the internet was in its infancy, and the United States main source of communicating was through mail and the telephone. However, across the Atlantic, France was just beginning digitally interconnecting every household through a similar system as the internet, Minitel. Minitel worked through the phone lines and was the most successful online services before the world wide web came into play. Out of the total France population of 60 million, 25 million used it by the end of 1999. Depending on service the user would call in Minitel (phone directory, mail-order companies, airline or train tickets, info, data, or message services among others) the price would be around € 1 euro a minute of use. In 1998, the service pulled in € 832 million ($1,121 million). Even in 2010, Minitel brought in € 30 million euros.
One June 30 2012, France shut down Minitel. However, Minitel helped pave the road for many services the internet came to provide. At first, users were only given a telephone directory and not much else to work with. Soon following though, the French were able to make transactions, view news, book flights, check their bank account, and most importantly communicate.
In color! (via Le Monde, L'Express, Minitel.com, Wiki)
The Minitel today looks terribly old fashioned and outdated. Its basic components included a keyboard, text only monitor, and modem. Despite its appearance, the system was straightforward to use and effective. It was distributed free of charge to every household making even the poorest families interconnected. All the services available through Minitel had to be provided through registered newspapers. As it turned out, setting up a newspaper was quite painless. Additionally, Minitel also gave birth to one of the first digital pornographic services. Thousands of dollars were spent each month by men on anonymous online chat-lines.
As it turns out, France had a enormous technological lead in the digital world but failed to build upon it. The internet soon came to reign supreme in connecting the world digitally. Due to Minitel's early success, many features and services of the internet were already laid out and in use. Many applications of the internet were all tried out on Minitel and came to be integrated into the early internet. As the world bids farewell to Minitel, mainly France, we must not forget the internet was not the first of its kind and had a little brother to build from.
Minitel is a bit of culture few in the world will remember. A French band named itself after the device/system, calling themselves "Minitel Rose." Not bad to listen to, if you have the time.