At its height in the mid-1990s, French citizens owned about 9 million Minitel devices -- the first widely available screen-keyboard combination in any country. Minitel allowed some 25 million users to regularly connect to more than 23,000 services, including being able to make train reservations, check stock prices, monitor bank balances, and chat with other users.
First available in 1982, Minitel was initially little more than an electronic yellow pages, but other services quickly followed, with users being charged per minute on their phone bills. The service was ultimately overshadowed by the Internet, and Minitel was finally discontinued in 2012.
An online pioneer:
- Minitel was uniquely French. Although it was also used in Belgium, the idea was not exported anywhere else.
- France Telecom set up a pilot project for a similar service in Ireland in the 1990s, but there was little interest.
- Valérie Schafer, co-author of the book Minitel: France's Digital Childhood, said: "At the start in the ‘80s, there was a real sense of pride in Minitel as a success story of our national industry.”