3615 AltaVista- The First Search Engine on Minitel

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3615 AltaVista- The First Search Engine on Minitel

Minitel is a state-run French computer service popularized in the 1980s. Prior to the World Wide Web and laptops, Minitel as a computer terminal with a keyboard, screen, and modem, helped connect many French civilians to remote services. The French government freely distributed Minitels to every French telephone subscriber and adopted the Kiosk payment method, meaning that Minitel users simply had to pay once along with their usual phone services. While most of the world was unaware of the concept of the Internet, many French people could already connect to more than 25000 online services, where they could manage bank accounts, order groceries for delivery, play games, read news, and more by simply putting in a dial number and code (Mailland, 2017). As other forms of technology emerged and the Internet developed, Minitels’ modems became outdated and could no longer support the more advanced graphics and thus slowly became obsolete. 

One example of past Minitel services is 3615 AltaVista, launched in May, 2000 (Garcia, 2000).

As the name suggests, the service was released by the search engine company, AltaVista. Netfront, a French company founded in 1994, developed the Taxy technology that helped port sites created in the language of the Web (HTML) to the Minitel (Garcia, 2000).

AltaVista Search Engine History Lesson For Internet Nerds - Digital.com
AltaVista cr. Digital (Morville, 2020)

As Managing Director to AltaVista at the time Jean-Luc Benjamin claimed,

“We created our own browser for Minitel.”

Jean-Luc Benjamin

Taxy served as a gateway between the two worlds that helped interpret HTML documents so that the Minitel terminal could present them in text mode. 3615 AltaVista encompassed all the technology that a search engine should have, from carrying out simple to advanced queries with the display of all results in text mode. The service also allowed users to explore the Net through a directory by entering keywords, and incorporated the services of Babel Fish to translate the sites into different languages (Garcia, 2000). 

People using Minitel cr. 52 Insights (Mailland, 2017)

AltaVista publicly announced its Minitel service, the first search engine available on Minitel, on December 1, 2000, one week after Yahoo! France announced the telematic version of its email system. In the article “3615 Altavista ou le Web en mode texte sur Mini” published by 01net on December 1, 2000, Benjamin said that

According to France Telecom, there are 9 million Minitel terminals in service, a good third of which are actually computers with emulation. This represents 15 million users (Garcia, 2020).

Jean-Luc Benjamin

Benjamin also revealed in an interview on November 28th, 2000 with Philippe Guerrier from JournalDuNet that AltaVista wished to demonstrate its offer of multi-access and to

encourage people to go on the Internet, regardless of the medium (Guerrier, 2000).

Jean-Luc Benjamin

Positing itself in the grand vision of connecting the entire world through the Internet, AltaVista asserted in “AltaVista se branche sur le Minitel” by Emmanuel Paquette published on December 11, 2000 in Les Echos that the main objective was not to profit, but to encourage people to “take the step to the Web” when ready (Paquette, 2020). 

Despite such claims, the service was a smart and lucrative venture as it was billed at around 80 cents per minute and followed the same Kiosk system as other Minitel services, meaning every minute was invoiced to the telephone service provider. Unfortunately, the service only recorded 40,000 connections since its launch, potentially due to the poor display quality and the country’s transition to other technology (Garcia, 2000). Even so, other search engines like Google seemed to also be planning to launch their service on Minitel, perhaps also with the aim of helping most people be connected to the Internet faster (Garcia, 2000).

minitel
Search Engine on Minitel cr. Minitel (Minitel)
Minitel, the Open Network Before the Internet - The Atlantic
Person using Minitel cr. The Atlantic (Owen, 2017)

Minitel is certainly a pioneer in Internet technology and served as an intermediary that helped transition many people to the system of World Wide Web that we are more familiar with now. Just as how AltaVista used Taxy to bridge two different Internet systems together, Minitel did its job in providing millions of people the first taste of connection with people in different places and the convenience that an interconnected system could provide.

References

Discroll, Kevin, and Julien Mailland. 2017. Minitel: Welcome To The Internet. The MIT Press. (for general information)

Garcia, Augustin. 2000. “3615 Altavista Ou Le Web En Mode Texte Sur Minitel”. 01Net, , 2000. https://www.01net.com/actualites/3615-altavista-ou-le-web-en-mode-texte-sur-minitel-130321.html.

Guerrier, Philippe. 2000. “Jean-Luc Benjamin”. Journaldunet, , 2000. http://www.journaldunet.com/itws/it_benjamin.shtml.

Mailland, Julien. 2017. “Minitel, The Open Network Before The Internet”. The Atlantic, , 2017. https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2017/06/minitel/530646/.

Paquette, Emmanuel. 2000. “Altavista Se Branche Sur Le Minitel”. Lesechos, , 2000. https://www.lesechos.fr/2000/12/altavista-se-branche-sur-le-minitel-759007.

References (Images)

Mailland, Julien. 2017. “52 Insights | Before The Internet, There Was Minitel”. 52 Insights. https://www.52-insights.com/news/before-the-internet-there-was-minitel/.

Mailland, Julien. 2017. “Minitel, The Open Network Before The Internet”. The Atlantic, , 2017. https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2017/06/minitel/530646/.

“Minitel”. 2021. Sites.Google.Com. Accessed October 1. https://sites.google.com/site/minitelnetwork/.

MINITEL, 90. 2021. “90 MINITEL – Image Republic”. Image Republic. https://image-republic.com/en/le-duo/2904-90-minitel.html.

Morville, Peter. 2020. “Altavista Search Engine History Lesson For Internet Nerds – Digital.Com”. Digital.Com. https://digital.com/altavista/.

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