It’s official: the plug is finally being pulled on France’s Minitel service on 30th June this year!

Way ahead of its time

Launched way back in 1982, the Minitel service was revolutionary, enabling at its height 25 million subscribers to communicate with each other safely and conveniently.

Viewed from today’s sophisticated internet-enabled perpective, Minitel was indeed slow and clunky, providing low-resolution screens with a download speed of 1200 bits per second. Everything was text-based although some envelope-pushing was accomplished with graphical characters. Minitel terminals were provided for free, which helped them achieve high penetration; hotel reservations and purchases could be made using credit cards.

An unintended consequence

Given this prodigious technical advantage, some are surprised that France was initially very slow to adopt the internet. On the contrary, Minitel’s existence was exactly why France held itself back in the slow lane when the internet arrived. It also explains why French web design skills were for so long so universally berated as being behind the loop.

Graphics at the expense of searchable text

When the internet was eventually seen as being the right bandwagon for France to follow, one immediate trend was to go over-board for graphics, something Minitel provided for poorly. In my experience, right until the mid to late 2010s, there was a discernible trend in French web design that stuffed everything into graphics, tucking readable text into pixels inside gifs and jpegs, just where search engines couldn’t access it.

So adieu Minitel indeed. It served its uses at the time.