In Silicon Valley today, those who lived through the Minitel era tend to view it as the epitome of how not to build and operate an online system: They believe that letting the government design and run it just invited disaster.
In truth, Minitel was never fully controlled by the state.
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Minitel designers made the system fully plug and play: All you had to do was plug the terminal into the wall, dial the local gateway, , you were transported into cyberspace.
Meanwhile, would-be cybernauts in the United States who wanted to get online had to buy expensive computer equipment, install confusing software, pay hefty long-distance phone bills, and prepay a separate subscription to each service provider they wanted to use.
Whether from home, work, or at a public terminal on the street, by the end of the 1980s, every adult living in France had access to the network.
Sans y Penser: During the 1980s, Minitel terminals proliferated throughout France, where they became just another part of ordinary life.
And yet how could they convince entrepreneurs to create services unless the platform already had users?
Somehow, Minitel needed to attract both users and service providers at the same time.
At the start, though, Minitel advocates faced a chicken-and-egg problem.
Why would anyone adopt the system unless there were interesting things to do with it?
Later, the government began to require that people use Minitel for certain administrative tasks such as university registration.
These modest public services stimulated adoption of Minitel on France’s fast-expanding telephone network.
Once the user typed in the desired destination, the switch created a virtual circuit over a public data network known as Transpac, and data could begin to flow from the client’s terminal to the host server and back.