Thursday, December 8, 2016

The world did not begin with the World Wide Web

The world did not begin with the World Wide Web
                                                                                   by Bogdan Tirziu

     The Internet is the biggest and the most advanced technology of this century. Its basically a huge amount of information and knowledge that opens up unlimited possibilities and opportunities to the masses.

     Today it is the biggest source of information to mankind. Learning and getting knowledge on thousands of topics has become an easy task. It just requires typing a single word on a search engine and retrieves thousands of search results that are close enough to your query. Internet has made the information just a click away. While you read this, routers, servers, converters etc. work for you to receive and send data. For the younger generations this seems normal and it seems that the world was like this for a long time.

    "The History of the Internet is begins with the development of electronic computers in the 1950s. Initial concepts of packet networking originated in several computer science laboratories in the United States, United Kingdom, and France.[1] The US Department of Defense awarded contracts as early as the 1960s for packet network systems, including the development of the ARPANET. The first message was sent over the ARPANET from computer science Professor Leonard Kleinrock's laboratory at University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) to the second network node at Stanford Research Institute (SRI). Commercial Internet service providers (ISPs) began to emerge in the very late 1980s. The ARPANET was decommissioned in 1990. Limited private connections to parts of the Internet by officially commercial entities emerged in several American cities by late 1989 and 1990,[5] and the NSFNET was decommissioned in 1995, removing the last restrictions on the use of the Internet to carry commercial traffic."
                                                                                                                               source: Wikipedia

     So the Internet is about 30 years old and has been in a continuous change ever since. For example this is how the internet looked back in 1994. Information was growing, technology was growing, so this pages might seem primitive, back in 94` these were super sharp and fancy. You can compare with the 3rd image where you can see how the internet was introduced to people in the first place.

                           One of the first web pages

As stated in the title "The world did not begin with the World Wide Web", back in the late 60`s some Universities had a sort of communication between computers but that was not intended for the masses and it was more an experimental thing as the protocols of communication used were not yet a standard so everything was happening local.

Everything was about to change

Many years ago, long before the birth of the web, there was a time when France was the happening-est place in the digital universe.

"What the TGV means to train travel, the Pompidou Centre to art, and the Ariane project to rocketry, in the early 1980s the Minitel was to the world of telecommunications."

The Minitel was a Videotex online service accessible through telephone lines, and is considered one of the world's most successful pre-World Wide Web online services. Basically the French Telecommunication networks brought a FREE boxy thing to every home and presented the users the benefits. In 1982 almost every french person could access some awesome services for that time, users could make online purchases, make train reservations, check stock prices, search the telephone directory, have a mail box, and chat in a similar way to that now made possible by the Internet.
From 1982 to 2012 it was used by 25 million people (of a total population of 60 million). Developed by 10,000 companies, in 1996, almost 26,000 different services were available. Even with the expansion of the internet in France this service was available and used by 9 million until 2012!

The "boxy" thing

"Minitel used terminals consisting of a text-based screen, keyboard and modem. Simple graphics could be displayed using a set of predefined graphical characters. Aftermarket printers were available.[9]

When connecting, the Minitel integrated modem generally dialed a special number connecting to a PAVI (Point d'Accès VIdéotexte, "videotext access point"). The PAVI transmitted information to the servers of the appropriate company or administration using the Transpac X.25 network.
In February 2009, France Telecom indicated the Minitel network still had 10 million monthly connections. France Telecom retired the service on 30 June 2012."
source Wikipedia

Thanks to this weird monitor attached to the telephone, while the rest of us were queuing for tickets at the station, the French were already shopping and travelling "online". A small screen with a keyboard, the Minitel was a very basic computer that allowed users to access text-based data over phone lines. Other countries looked on this with admiration, and the French were proud. (proud nation anyway)...

As President Jacques Chirac said: "Today a baker in Aubervilliers knows perfectly how to check his bank account on the Minitel. Can the same be said of the baker in New York?"
Students were logging in to check exams and to subscribe to different activities, small business had all accounts linked with it and could see the balance real time. It was for sure a limited "Internet connection" but it was something mindblowing taht you could chat with your brother that is 3 county's away. The incomes of Minitel were tremendous, they were making more than 1 million $ per day as the most expensive service was 1 EURO in today's money. The most expensive and used service was... PORN. Yes... the french had dozens of notorious "pink" services. They usually employ a woman's name or baldly suggestive titles such as "Brutal Beach," "Perver" and "Cruella." Advertised on lurid posters and billboards all over France, the services offer a whole menu of options for the user, ranging from explicit sexual graphics to direct dialogue with another person.

Soon, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Italy, Germany, Finland, UK, Sweden, Spain etc. had tried to adopt the system, but the Internet was already available so the war was lost.

I know it looks terribly old-fashioned by today's standards, but it was simple to use, you pressed a button and it did something, just like on a tablet today.

"The failure of Minitel was not one of technology," says Benjamin Bayart, head of France's oldest internet provider, French Data Network.
A recent Minitel set
Image captionThe design of the Minitel changed over time
"It was the whole model that was doomed. Basically to set up a service on Minitel, you had to ask permission from France Telecom. You had to go to the old guys who ran the system, and who knew absolutely nothing about innovation.
"It meant that nothing new could ever happen. Basically, Minitel innovated from 1978 to 1982, and then it stopped," he says.

As an old hardware collector, I really want to get my hands on one of this terminal computers. I think of them as an important part of the History of the Internet. 


  1. Hi Bogdan,

    Did you manage to get a hold of Minitel terminal? If not, let me know - I might be able to help.

    Kind regards,


    1. Hi Bart,

      I got one from the flea market and now I am working on a Raspberry server to connect and simulate the "internet". Thank you for your kind support.

    2. Hi Bart,

      I got one from the flea market and now I am working on a Raspberry server to connect and simulate the "internet". Thank you for your kind support.

    3. No worries! I have learnt a lot from your blog, thought I'd repay the favour. All the best from Poland!