I know that this is not a discussion list, but, living in France for 16 years, I feel I need to reply to some of the innacurate propaganda in the article below.>
Nothing will change user perception of the Minitel - it is antiquated, and slow, and everyone knows that... But, since there are so many of them (see below), it is considered to be normal that it is so slow.>
While there are indeed 9 million terminals, many people have them in their closets. France Telecom initially gave them away for free (or on free rental) to users to provide a customer base for expensive services. At first, many people used them to chat and look for computer sex; after a while, that slowed down. However, they are still popular for, say, booking train tickets. The French railway, the SNCF, has a very expensive phone number if you want to reserve tickets on the phone (no 800 numbers here), so it is actually cheaper to use the Minitel. And the $1.8 billion in revenue cited above includes train tickets, which are not actually sold on-line, but only reserved. You have to pay at the station.>
I would have to disagree that it created a high level of online literacy - there is little relationship between a Minitel interface and an Internet interface - think of it as telnetting into a Unix box. It's about that exciting. With the added feature of text-based graphics to slow the display, so you pay more to use it. It also has a unique asynchronic modem, running at 1200 bauds coming in but only 75 bauds going out. (You pay varying rates by the minute - the most common is about $0.17 at today's exchange rate.)>
The per-minute fees are split between France Telecom and the service. This has created a market in France where you basically pay for everything over the phone. The French don't trust anyone, and the idea that the Internet is essentially free makes them wonder what the catch is... I must say, they certainly were suckers to accept to pay as much as they did for Minitel services.>
Well, there's no business model, other than "milk the users". Now, for the service provider, that might be a nice business model, but consumers don't really like it.
The one reason that Minitels still work is that people can use them on their lunch hours in their offices, with their employers paying the bill. I recall, several years ago, working for a major French energy company, that the Minitel was almost always used by several people every day at lunch.
Companies keep them because of the "free" access to the telephone directory. (Free for the first 3 minutes only.) There is no other reason for them to use Minitels. In a country with 95 "departments", each of which has their own directory, there is no other simple way to find a phone number for someone in a different part of France. Nevertheless, individuals do use them to play games and other things. The interface provides little content, although you can use it as a message handling system.
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Tom: Kit Galloway of Electronic Cafe (http://www.ecafe.com) had this to say about your Minitel memo. For those who don't know Kit's work, along with Sherrie Rabinowitz, he has been pioneering telepresence since the mid-seventies, including some interesting art projects involving Minitel. I thought it was worth passing on. It also made me think that "Dead Media" should be making way for the corpses of voting machines any day now.
Best Celia Pearce
I think it's good when adequate technologies survive being tainted as dead-tech by the cyber pundits and their overzealous characterization of a Victorian Internet. There is an ecology in extending and reaffirming the life of adequately acculturated technologies, rather than turning them into land-fill just to keep up with fashion, or function. What's the stigma in the advanced and the adequate co-existing. The problem is when only the poor communities are financially disenfranchised from more powerful social technologies that emerge -- like voting machines.
The new tech should underwrite the natural demise of old tech so that aging, but acculturated use of old tech could reach zero cost, and an alternative to always buying the latest stuff. The maintenance can continue through the cannibalization of retired machines until the old tech dies a natural death.
Minitels were almost given away as a replacement to using trees to print phone books, and became a networked market place and social place. Still it's metered a bit too high, so it's no very cheap to use. Certainly the cost has been earned back in the zillions -- so it should now cost 0.
Kit Galloway Electronic Cafe International
Celia Pearce Research Associate, Annenberg Center for Communication Interactive Track Head, Production, School of Cinema-Television University of Southern California 734 West Adams Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90089-7725 Office (Tues, Thurs): direct: 213 743-1945 cel: 310 390-8014 fax: 213 743-2962 email@example.com Annenberg Center Web Site: http://www.annenberg.edu Projects: http://www.annenberg.edu/convergence-divergence , http://www.annenberg.edu/salons Personal Web Site:http://www.cpandfriends.com ---