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Dead medium: Canada's Telidon network; Australia's "Viatel" and "Discovery 40"
From: (Geoffrey Shea)


Dear Bruce,

For three years during the early 80's I was involved with an artists' collective exploring the potential of Telidon, the Canadian version of videotex (Minitel is France's version). Graphical, on-line, "interactive," just a decade ahead of its time, the whole thing didn't go very far. Several artists did create tentative works and some of these were included in an exhibition I curated with Paul Petro at A Space, and another one I prepared with Tom Sherman for some Venice Biennale, but which never got shown due to the ever-present "technical difficulties."

The whole medium was far too technology-dependent. Viewers had to use a dedicated decoder box and the hardware manufacturers were the only ones who really benefitted from these government-sponsored trials.

The artworks still exist on 8" floppies somewhere in a filing cabinet, but as far as I know there is not an existing operating decoder which can display them. (A friend of mine, Norman White, has an extensive computer museum of sorts with a couple of possibly salvagable ones). Sure, some of the art is on slides, etc., but the actual works in their crude "interactivity" cannot be seen. Dead as a doornail, that medium is.

I'd be pleased to try and dig up more about the artists' involvement with this short-lived medium if you are interested. Probably by consulting with Bill Perry, one of the main driving forces in the attempt to subvert this government/industry initiative. Good luck with the project.

Geoffrey Shea


From: (Andrew Pam)

The Australian Prestel system, licensed from Britain, was originally named "Viatel" but was renamed to "Discovery 40" (alluding to the 40 column text, as opposed to their newer 80-column ASCII service) last year.

Telecom Australia (now "Telstra") finally put the poor thing out of its misery a couple of months ago. I can refer you to some people who might be able to help you.

I used to work for a company called ProNet who were a Viatel service provider, and I created a Unix toolkit for developing Viatel applications. (It ran on a 386 under SCO and manipulated the Prestel database on the mainframe at the Telecom exchange over a 9600bps X.25 leased line). I believe this was in 1993. ProNet also had a permanent 9600bps connection to AARNET, then the Australian Internet. It was one of the last 9600bps connections left, as AARNET was no longer offering permanent connections at such a low speed.

Using this toolkit, I wrote software to telesoftware encode binary files from the unix filesystem. I also wrote an Internet email gateway and a service to post Usenet newsgroups on the Viatel pages. This included proper 40-column word wrapping, paragraph breaks at Viatel pages where possible, alternating paragraphs between yellow and white, and converting quoted portions of other messages from the indented "> " format to green text.

My employer was Lachlan Arnott and the job was brought to my attention by Craig Sanders who had worked for Telecom. I'm sure they could help you with more info.

Share and enjoy,

*** AVATAR ***

Andrew Pam