Death of an invention

It was France’s first glimpse of an online future. But now, 30 years after it was invented, the wired experiment that foreshadowed the World Wide Web is about to lose its connection once and for all.

Long before the coming of the World Wide Web, the Minitel provided a sort of Internet-in-one-country. Long before Facebook, Google or Twitter — millions of French people went online daily to search for information, to book their holidays, chat to strangers or seek cheap (or not so cheap) thrills.

The Minitel — a rather sinister, computer-like terminal attached to classic telephone landlines — was installed in one million French homes by 1985. At the end of the 1990s, nine million terminals were linked to some 25,000 Minitel services. So the French invented the Internet? No, not exactly.

At the end of this month, Minitel will finally go offline, ending a brave experiment in French exceptionalism. The surprise is that the network has lasted so long — via

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