France's Minitel, the world first Internet


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France's Minitel: 20 years young

But as far back as 1983, a band of pioneers started using electronic networks to communicate, share information and work more efficiently.

No, not Silicon Valley geeks, nor US military scientists - but ordinary French people, long derided as the worst of technophobic old Europe.

Minitel, France's precursor to the internet, is 20 years old, and rumours of its demise have repeatedly proved exaggerated.

Indeed, Minitel may be about to come of age.

At its peak, around 1997, there were more than six million terminals in use, and payments worth about $750m passed through the system - roughly equivalent in size to the entire US e-commerce market at the time.

Mr Grezes reckons Minitel's fairly simple technology is ideally suited to the next generation of web-enabled devices - Minitel was the explicit model, for example, for i-mode, Japan's internet-style mobile phone service.

By the end of this year, Minitel is launching a GPRS version in France, which will run on high-speed Orange mobiles.

Minitel is trusted not just because it is an integral part of French life, but because its closed network is guaranteed virus-free and hacker-proof.

French pharmacies use Minitel to bulk-order their drugs; mobile phone retailers register all new clients via the network

Interesting article for a French speaker like me who has never lived in France and therefore never used the Minitel.
I think there was a similar system in Germany called CompuServe. They started in the early 80s and were taken over by AOL in the late 90s.

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