Minitel, France's Videotex system, was introduced in 1981.
Minitel falls under an umbrella category of similar systems, which are rather elusive in terms of definition. There are numerous names for these types of technology that came into existence in the very early 1980's including Teletext, Videotex, or Viewdata. These terms are often used interchangeably and can often lead to confusion due to the fact that there were many different types of services offered as well as many different devices for information retrieval. The International Telegraph and Telephone Consultative Committee (CCITT) makes a more clear distinction. According to the CCITT, Videotex refers to two-way information services and Teletext refers to one-way services. Michael Tyler defined Teletext/Videotex as "Systems for the widespread dissemination of textual and graphic information by wholly electronic means, for display on low-cost terminals (often suitably equipped television receivers), under the selective control of the recipient, and using control procedures easily understood by untrained users." (Tyler) An analysis of this definition by Tyler's peers points out, "It is significant to note that with the exception of the term "electronic," the definition is medium free." (Tydeman 2) Research proves that indeed there were numerous mediums that all fell under this category. With world wide web as we know it today still in the works, these were attempts to create a network type of communication system. However in most cases, Videotex/Teletext were broadcast type systems. It was possible in some countries for broadcasting companies to create their own teletext networks. For example, in the United States the Corporation for Public Broadcasting even created a guidebook to help broadcasters start up their own transmissions. This clear distinction between message senders and message receivers (except for in chatrooms) is probably one of the main causes of this system's demise. Interestingly, in the guide Carey points out the ability of Teletext to target narrow audiences as a selling point. (Carey 33) In this way Teletext was able to bridge the gap between mass electronic media which had incredible circulation and print periodicals which could already focus their attention on specific audiences. -Types
There were many types of services offered by companies located in various countries. This is a comprehensive list of services we have found thus far.
-News Reports [BBC CEEFAX teletext news system PICTURED] (Sigel 24)
-Electronic Mail [for sending personally addressed messages, Courtesy British Post Office, PICTURED] (Sigel 79)
Hey guys, please find citations for the services you add, to keep this professional. thanks!
The Minitel Terminal
As has been mentioned before, there were a diverse selection of terminals available. There are some universal features that were required. All terminals need some type of display monitor, often monitors were built into the machines or the machines were meant to be used with separate televisions. All systems also require and interface for user input. Most systems featured a qwerty keyboard although some broadcast teletext systems used a more simple device resembling a television remote control. In most cases terminals were meant to be low-cost. Which is an interesting factor to consider considering the extremely high cost of personal computers.
There are definitly some interesting physical features of the Sematel model manufactured in France by LA Radiotechnique a sub-division of Philips Electronic Insturments, Inc.
num pad as opposed to laptop nums power button color aerodynamic modernity?
Minitel did not have what would be considered a graphic user interface. The look of the information displayed on the screen was simply a text interface. For Minitel, the font was standard thoroughout the machine, i.e. it was not an option to change the font style. The typeface was preset into Minitel to appear as the output. The input, e.g. when the user is conducting a search, is comparable to how the screen looks when entering commands into MS-DOS. Similar to other programs that run on the user's input, Minitel runs line by line instead of as a whole screen. The "graphics" that did exist were rough and primitive according to today's standards. In fact, they were essentially text manipulated to appear like images. The pixels of a graphic image were often clearly seen as little squares. The simple images were not detailed either. In addition, the color scheme was limited to 2 colors: black and white running on a grayscale.
-Broadcasting vs. chatrooms
According to Michel Landaret, the man responsible for Gretel, the service run by the Strasbourg newspaper: We were running an experiment with a very small number of users, to determine whether professional associations and institutions would use data banks. The DGT had not focused on Minitel’s communication functions. What happened with Gretel altered the users’ relationship to the service in a crucial way. What had only a few dozen users who called into service. For research purposes, we monitored their usage. We could see how people new to the system could get confused and enter a series of ineffective commands. So we designed a system to communicate with those users by sending a message directly to their screen, and receive messages back from them, to help them learn how to use the system. One of our users just cracked that part of the system and used it to talk with friends. As soon as we found out what was happening, we made improvements on the service and made it a legitimate part of the system. They loved it (as quoted in Rheingold 227-228). THIS IS HOW THEY REALIZED THE MINITEL COULD BE USED FOR MESSAGING AND CHATROOMS INSTEAD FOR JUST BROADCASTING INFORMATION
Marketing, Revenue, and Tariffs
The French Phenomenon
The Minitel was strictly a French innovation because it did not spread throughout the world, or even to the rest of Europe. The initial success was fueled by the French government's distribution of Minitel terminals for free.
Another imporatant aspect of Minitel is that "As a closed network it cannot be attacked by hackers or viruses" (Selignan). Minitel is viewed as a safe, secure medium to use.
"Like the inefficient QWERTY keyboard layout created in the nineteenth century that blocked more efficient key placements, Minitel locked users into a relatively inefficient technology that nonetheless still served an extremely valuable function" (Trumbull 61).
Withstanding the Internet
It is not uncommon for people to develop unforeseen and unexpected functions of a new medium as it develops and emerges into popular use. As seen in the case of the Minitel, that unforeseen use frequently becomes one of the primary functions of that new technology. As soon as the Minitel was established in 1982 as a means of computer mediated communication between individuals or groups of people, there was an almost immediate explosion of sex-chat services, or messagerie rose (pink messaging) as it was more commonly referred to. “Before long, it had become one of the main forces behind Minitel’s success, especially between about 1983 and 1987, by which year ‘pink sites were clocking up staggeringly high usage figures” (Jacobs 81).
But what’s so strange about the popularity of such sex-chats is the fact that it was widely known by participants that the majority of the supposedly young women engaging in lewd conversations with male Minitel users were, in actuality, male actors that were paid to keep users online for as long as possible.
In his book “The Virtual Community: Homesteading on the Electronic Fronteir,” Howard Rheingold recounts the story of one such man by the name of Denis, a French actor whose day job was to pretend to be several women at a time via Minitel. Thanks to his first hand experience with messagerie rose, Denis was able to offer some insight as to why users would continue to participate in sex-chats with people they could assume, with a large degree of certainty, were nothing close to who they claimed to be. Rheingold states that according to Denis, most people “…were in it for nothing but the fantasy. It was a chance to step out of their normal identity and be superman or a beautiful woman and say all the things that they only think about in their most secret fantasies” (232). In other words, the minitel rose provided a new avenue for people to create another ‘self’ – a different identity than the one they put forth in their day-to-day lives.
How Denis and the like used the Minitel demonstrates exactly the beliefs of sociologist Erving Goffman, whose theories long predated the age of the telematique. In his “Presentation of Self in Everyday Life,” Goffman described people as always being on stage, “always creating a persona that they project to one audience or another. Much of our lives, seen from Goffman’s perspective, consist of constructing responses in public that paint a certain public persona, and taking actions that live up to the image of the persona we present” (Rheingold 233). Therefore, people like Denis acted according to what they deemed appropriate for the part of a young woman in such a situation, while the person at the other end of the Minitel line was able to carry out a persona that he or she would never otherwise play out (at least not during face to face communication with a perfect stranger).
However, despite the fact that messagerie rose participants were somewhat aware of the false of their chat buddies, there were some people who did not treat the minitel rose as simply a fantasy world. When a Parisian call-girl was brutally murdered after a meeting arranged through a sex chatline, the public was outraged and “several members of the French Parliament made speeches calling for the closure of sites promoting debauchery, bestiality, paedophilia and prostitution” (Jacobs 81).
But even with the strong denunciation of the minitel rose and the development and dissemination of a code of conduct, only Minitel services causing particular offense were disconnected from the system. Other services deemed degrading were simply dealt higher charges, and as late as 1992-1993, sex-chats mixed with ‘personal services’, such as horoscopes and the like, still accounted for nearly a quarter of total Minitel connect time (Jacobs 82). Not surprisingly, the less than stellar success of the French government to restrict the minitel rose was a result of “conflicting pressures [from] public demand and the maintenance of revenue: France Telecom had certain powers to crack down on sex chatlines but chose not to use them to the full in the face of a lucrative source of income” (Jacobs 85).
Homosexuality and Expression
In 2000, France Telecom "launched "I-Minitel," a service that lets Internet subscribers visit Minitel sites" (Selignan). A year later, in 2001, "Yahoo began test-marketing services that enable Minitel users to go on the Internet and send and receive e-mail messages" (Tagliabue). Yahoo hopes to attract people to their services, so "Through 3615 Yahoo, a Minitel service launched in January for accessing and sending regular e-mail, Yahoo can get an idea of how many people are willing to pay for their e-mail. And thanks to the variable rates throughout the day, the company can theorize about how much customers are willing to pay as well" (Borzo). At roughly the same time, "Et Hop Minitel! (the name translates roughly as "And jump to Minitel"), was launched in early 2001 to provide connections in the opposite direction -- Minitel users can visit Web sites, with the material displayed on their terminals as simple text" (Selignan).
-that website -our experience trying to access it
- Benghozi, Pierre-Jean, and Christian Licoppe. "Technological National Learning: From Minitel to Internet." The Global Internet Economy". Ed. Bruce Kogut. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 153-190.
- Borzo, Jeanette. "Technology (A Special Report) --- Aging Gracefully: France's Minitel is hanging on, much to the surprise of its critics." Wall Street Journal. (Eastern edition). New York: Oct 15, 2001. R.22
- Carey, John. Teletext Guidebook: a Report for Office of Policy Development and Planning Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Greystone Communications, 1984.
- Cats-Baril, Willam, Tawfik Jelassi, and James Teboul. "Establishing a National Information Infrastructure: The Case of the French Videotex system, Minitel". Strategic Information Systems: A European Perspective. Eds. Ciborra, Claudio, and Tawfik Jelassi. New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 1994. 73-98.
- Duyves, Mattias. "The Minitel: The Glittering Future of a New Invention." Gay Studies from the French Cultures: Voices from France, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, and The Netherlands. Eds. Mendes-Leite, Rommel, and Pierre-Olivier de Busscher. New York: The Haworth Press, Inc., 1993. 193-203.
- Selignan, Maite. "France's Precursor to the Internet Lives On; '80s-Vintage Minitel Network Upgraded to 'Complement' the Web [FINAL Edition]." The Washington Post. Washington, D.C.: Sep 25, 2003. E.02
- Sigel, Efrem, ed. Videotext: the Coming Revolution in Home/Office Information Retrieval. White Plains, NY.: Knowledge Industry Publications, Inc., 1980.
- Tagliabue, John. "Online Cohabitation: Internet and Minitel; Videotex System In France Proves Unusually Resilient." New York Times. June 2, 2001.
- Thomas, Robert J. New Product Success Stories: Lessons from Leading Innovators. New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 1995.
- Trumbull, Gunnar. Silicon and the State: French Innovation Policy in the Internet Age. Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution Press, 2004.
- Tydeman, John, Hubert Lipinksi, Richard P. Adler, Michael Nyhan, and Laurence Zwimpfer. Teletext and VideoTex in the United States: Market Potential Technology Public Policy Issues. New York: McGraw-Hill Publications Company, 1982.
- Tyler, Michael: “Electronic Publishing: Sketch of the European Experience,” Teletext and Viewdata in the U.S.: A Workshop on Emerging Issues, Background Papers, Institute for the Future, Menlo Park, Calif., 1979.