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The first scholarly book in English on Minitel, the pioneering French computer network, offers a history of a technical system and a cultural phenomenon. A decade before the Internet became a medium for the masses in the United States, tens of millions of users in France had access to a network for e-mail, e-commerce, chat, research, game playing, blogging, and even an earl The first scholarly book in English on Minitel, the pioneering French computer network, offers a history of a technical system and a cultural phenomenon. A decade before the Internet became a medium for the masses in the United States, tens of millions of users in France had access to a network for e-mail, e-commerce, chat, research, game playing, blogging, and even an early form of online porn. In 1983, the French government rolled out Minitel, a computer network that achieved widespread adoption in just a few years as the government distributed free terminals to every French telephone subscriber. With this volume, Julien Mailland and Kevin Driscoll offer the first scholarly book in English on Minitel, examining it as both a technical system and a cultural phenomenon. Mailland and Driscoll argue that Minitel was a technical marvel, a commercial success, and an ambitious social experiment. Other early networks may have introduced protocols and software standards that continue to be used today, but Minitel foretold the social effects of widespread telecomputing. They examine the unique balance of forces that enabled the growth of Minitel: public and private, open and closed, centralized and decentralized. Mailland and Driscoll describe Minitel's key technological components, novel online services, and thriving virtual communities. Despite the seemingly tight grip of the state, however, a lively Minitel culture emerged, characterized by spontaneity, imagination, and creativity. After three decades of continuous service, Minitel was shut down in 2012, but the history of Minitel should continue to inform our thinking about Internet policy, today and into the future.


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The first scholarly book in English on Minitel, the pioneering French computer network, offers a history of a technical system and a cultural phenomenon. A decade before the Internet became a medium for the masses in the United States, tens of millions of users in France had access to a network for e-mail, e-commerce, chat, research, game playing, blogging, and even an earl The first scholarly book in English on Minitel, the pioneering French computer network, offers a history of a technical system and a cultural phenomenon. A decade before the Internet became a medium for the masses in the United States, tens of millions of users in France had access to a network for e-mail, e-commerce, chat, research, game playing, blogging, and even an early form of online porn. In 1983, the French government rolled out Minitel, a computer network that achieved widespread adoption in just a few years as the government distributed free terminals to every French telephone subscriber. With this volume, Julien Mailland and Kevin Driscoll offer the first scholarly book in English on Minitel, examining it as both a technical system and a cultural phenomenon. Mailland and Driscoll argue that Minitel was a technical marvel, a commercial success, and an ambitious social experiment. Other early networks may have introduced protocols and software standards that continue to be used today, but Minitel foretold the social effects of widespread telecomputing. They examine the unique balance of forces that enabled the growth of Minitel: public and private, open and closed, centralized and decentralized. Mailland and Driscoll describe Minitel's key technological components, novel online services, and thriving virtual communities. Despite the seemingly tight grip of the state, however, a lively Minitel culture emerged, characterized by spontaneity, imagination, and creativity. After three decades of continuous service, Minitel was shut down in 2012, but the history of Minitel should continue to inform our thinking about Internet policy, today and into the future.

49 review for Minitel: Welcome to the Internet

  1. 5 out of 5

    Koen Crolla

    Minitel (or rather Télétel) was a Videotex-based internet in France that became significant mainly because every French household with a phone-line received a free terminal (a Minitel) to connect to it. It existed from the early '80s until France Télécom killed it in 2012. Mailland and Driscoll's history makes much of the bureaucracy involved (the target audience is American, and Americans love stories about European bureaucracies, I guess), regularly clearly contradicting themselves to exaggerat Minitel (or rather Télétel) was a Videotex-based internet in France that became significant mainly because every French household with a phone-line received a free terminal (a Minitel) to connect to it. It existed from the early '80s until France Télécom killed it in 2012. Mailland and Driscoll's history makes much of the bureaucracy involved (the target audience is American, and Americans love stories about European bureaucracies, I guess), regularly clearly contradicting themselves to exaggerate its onerousness (Was connecting a server to the Télétel network a stifling administrative and legal hassle, or was it something any user could easily do because of its decentralised nature? (Hint: the latter) Did the DGT act as a harsh autocratic censor, blocking and disconnecting users at will, which they could do because all of the traffic was routed through its central systems? Then how did Xavier Neil's reverse phone book exist, when it greatly angered the DGT because, by the authors' own account, they viewed the way in which Neil harvested his data from the DGT's own telephone book as theft?), but the centrepiece of the book's narrative is Minitel rose—that is, the porn. Pornography was present on the Minitel, of course—mostly in text form, since Videotex doesn't lend itself to high-quality images, and then almost exclusively in the messageries. Even by their most generous statistics, the vast majority of users never used them—only 21% of users visited them at least once in all of 1999, and all of the other numbers are much lower (and it goes without saying that, one quote to the contrary notwithstanding, far from all messageries were rose)—but Mailland and Driscoll keep circling back to them over and over again. This obsession comes at the expense of in-depth discussion of literally any other content, or of the many peripherals made for the Minitel that were obliquely mentioned a few times, which is a shame. In a more mainstream series I would consider this a cynical if quaint ploy to sell more books, but as it is it probably just reflects on the authors' own preoccupations. If you never heard of the Minitel, you'll certainly be aware of its existence after reading this book. You'll also be participating in a very American moral panic, and missing huge chunks of what it was actually like to use it (unless you were a poorly supervised French teenager at the time, like I'm guessing Mailland was), and what made it so important.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Michael Scott

    About: Jullien Mailland and Kevin Driscoll team up to present the story of Minitel: Welcome to the Internet. The book is ambitious and wants to show Minitel and the Teletel network was an early technical and social construct that anticipated the Internet. They also want to dispell various myths present in Silicon Valley, which sees the development, evolution, and demise of Minitel as cautionary of what happens when ths (French) government is in charge of large techno-social projects. Overall, th About: Jullien Mailland and Kevin Driscoll team up to present the story of Minitel: Welcome to the Internet. The book is ambitious and wants to show Minitel and the Teletel network was an early technical and social construct that anticipated the Internet. They also want to dispell various myths present in Silicon Valley, which sees the development, evolution, and demise of Minitel as cautionary of what happens when ths (French) government is in charge of large techno-social projects. Overall, the book brings across the main points, but is both repetitive and lacking detail about the key points. +++ Good history of the Minitel phenomeon. Very good understanding of the French system and its idiosyncrasies, which do inform understanding the technology. ++ Good basic explanations about the platform. Teletel, Transpac, Minitel, it's all there. ++ Good explanation and dispelling of the myth of Minitel as a closed platform doomed to fail. In short, the argument is: Minitel was closed as a platform only in its operating technology, but allowed diverse services, content, and even peripherals. The government was involved in curating the services, but had to do so by oublic and transparent decision, according to the law. In contrast, Apple did not, for many years, allow any uncontrolled services and peripherals, and even now Apple Store is closed and opaque. --- The book is particularly vague about the technologies, the businesses, and the communities formed around Minitel, with the exception of Minitel rose. This limits the exploration of the social construction of Minitel. In contrast, consider the equivalent analysis of PLATO, in Brian Dear's The Friendly Orange Glow. - The authors try to draw analogies with other techno-social systems, such as the telegraph, telephone, and modern Big Tech systems. This is in general valuable, but the examples are narrow and there are some forced comparisons due to thw primarily local understanding of the phenomenon. - The writing is rather repetitive and, despite the interesting subject, slow to read.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Alexander Smith

    An interesting history, technological, and cultural development of an alternative Internet "platform" that I would have never known about otherwise. As a downside, this book opens with a lot of technological assumptions that aren't clear for someone who doesn't already know about the Internet's development in the US. This is an "Internet"-like technology that existed in France that was more widely used than any similar set of protocols in the US at the same time. This book spends a lot of time d An interesting history, technological, and cultural development of an alternative Internet "platform" that I would have never known about otherwise. As a downside, this book opens with a lot of technological assumptions that aren't clear for someone who doesn't already know about the Internet's development in the US. This is an "Internet"-like technology that existed in France that was more widely used than any similar set of protocols in the US at the same time. This book spends a lot of time describing what it is culturally and historically, but only after an extensive discussion of the nitty-gritty bits of it's technological importance. There's bits of French that would prove useful (fortunately there's a guide at the back of the book) and bits of hardware and early IT introduction that would serve you well as good prerequisite knowledge. Otherwise, a lot of this book is going to be looking at Wikipedia and other technical pages in order to understand the references to AT&T, Bell, ARPANET, early routing systems, and so forth if you really want the full value of this book.

  4. 4 out of 5

    William Anderson

    I had no idea what the Minitel was. A fascinating part of computer history less well known in the U.S. Minitel was a network and terminals, and this books paints a beautiful and expansive picture of what now can be called an obscure platform. A fantastic read for fans of computer history and a glimpse not only into techo-futures past but also what is to come.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Elissa Hammoud

  6. 5 out of 5

    Razvan

  7. 5 out of 5

    Gerald P. Ardito

  8. 5 out of 5

    Curtis Vaughan

  9. 4 out of 5

    Sebastien Fage

  10. 5 out of 5

    Jesse

  11. 4 out of 5

    JOHN G STYLES

  12. 4 out of 5

    John Dimoia

  13. 5 out of 5

    Alexis

  14. 4 out of 5

    Simon

  15. 4 out of 5

    Blake Helms

  16. 4 out of 5

    Ghislain

    Vraiment génial de se replonger dans cette épopée du Minitel : produit d’une époque singulière dans un pays qui ne semble plus aujourd’hui avoir les mêmes ressorts!

  17. 4 out of 5

    Craig

  18. 4 out of 5

    Teirdes

  19. 4 out of 5

    Andrew Louis

  20. 5 out of 5

    Nick Toumpelis

  21. 4 out of 5

    TEELOCK Mithilesh

  22. 5 out of 5

    Andrew

  23. 4 out of 5

    Kevin

  24. 5 out of 5

    Hotgulab Jamun

  25. 4 out of 5

    Matt

  26. 5 out of 5

    Ian

  27. 5 out of 5

    Pravin

  28. 4 out of 5

    Pete

  29. 5 out of 5

    Sophie Smithburg

  30. 5 out of 5

    Stephen Shapiro

  31. 4 out of 5

    Kevin

  32. 5 out of 5

    amy

  33. 5 out of 5

    Tuukka Aaltonen

  34. 5 out of 5

    Michael

  35. 4 out of 5

    Publius

  36. 4 out of 5

    Mark

  37. 5 out of 5

    Daniel

  38. 4 out of 5

    sara

  39. 5 out of 5

    Morgane

  40. 4 out of 5

    Andrew

  41. 4 out of 5

    Lucas

  42. 4 out of 5

    Michael Mastrella

  43. 5 out of 5

    Erin Brown

  44. 4 out of 5

    Anita

  45. 5 out of 5

    George Perdicaris

  46. 4 out of 5

    Hugh Betcha

  47. 4 out of 5

    Erik

  48. 5 out of 5

    Gil Megidish

  49. 4 out of 5

    Jay

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