Before the Internet existed as we know it today, the Minitel served as a thriving predecessor for communication over a resilient, widespread network in France. Started in 1982 by France Telecom, the Minitel worked by using special terminals consisting of a small box with a keyboard that could connect to a home TV (Philips Minitel 2 – MCbx). These terminals took advantage of the telephone network Teletel by means of Videotexte to access and exchange information on a grid shared by fellow Minitel users. Free of charge and easy to use, the Minitel quickly spread amongst the French; and soon enough, almost every television unit was occupied by a Minitel terminal.
Seizing the opportunity for business, many companies transitioned to offering their services on the Minitel, granting them access to a larger consumer base than they could ever reach on their own. One such service would provide programs on diskettes by mail by simply dialing 3617 FLOPPY on the Minitel. This PC software sending service was started and managed by a young couple, Pierre and Gaëlle, as a profitable venture in the early days of Minitel (Camé). Produced on a single server, 3617 FLOPPY is described as an extremely easy business, to the point where two people could manage over a dozen servers. With a mediocre background in computers and a capital investment of a few hundred thousand Francs, the couple was able to achieve a net profit of over 1.3 million Francs (or about $200,000 USD) in the year 1994.
With a price of 1.27 Francs per minute and a history of good software efficiency, the service was definitely produced by the rich and for the rich (Camé). Pierre and Gaëlle describe investing the large capital casually, though it would be a very large sum by the French society’s standard, especially in the 1990s. Especially in that time period of early computer development, a service mailing computer programs would not be expected to succeed with the ordinary citizen in mind as the consumer. Though the Minitel was already widespread, only hobbyists or businesses would have a real need for PC disk programs. Compared to the present day, where computer programs are widely used and largely accessible, there was no real interest by the public in computer programs prior to the modern day Internet.
Though the Minitel had much potential for growth and evolution, it was ultimately shut down in 2012 once users were no longer allowed to register as new members (Philips Minitel 2 – MCbx). A major factor in the closing of the Minitel was the increased payments levied by France Telecom onto both the service providers and the users. Experiencing a price increase of over 400% in one fell swoop, it is no wonder that people decided to switch to the cheaper up-and-coming alternative known as the World Wide Web (TELECOMMUNICATIONS 1998). With the closing of the Minitel, 3617 FLOPPY also closed its servers to customers, marking the end to both a money-making startup as well as a chapter in the cultural history of the Internet.
Camé, François. n.d. “Minitel : Propos Derrière l’Écran : Acte I Avec 3617 Floppy.” Libération. Accessed October 1, 2021. https://www.liberation.fr/ecrans/1995/05/12/minitel-propos-derriere-l-ecran-acte-i-avec-3617-floppy_133642/.
“Minitel 1992.” n.d. Ordi-Spare.com. Accessed October 1, 2021. https://ordi-spare.com/fr/les-introuvables/1314-minitel-1-la-radiotechnique-2001314000005.html.
“Philips Minitel 2 – MCbx.” n.d. Oldcomputer.info. Accessed October 1, 2021. http://oldcomputer.info/terminal/minitel2/index.htm.
(November 16, 1998). TELECOMMUNICATIONS France Telecom provoque la colere des editeurs de service sur Minitel en annoncantde fortes hausses des abonnements a partir du 1er decembre. La hausse peut atteindre 400% pour les tarifs a la minute les plus eleves (de 3,48 F a 5,57 F). – France Telecom: hausse des tarifs des abonnements des editeurs sur le Minitel. Les Echos. https://advance.lexis.com/api/document?collection=news&id=urn:contentItem:40J0-BSR0-00VH-S18J-00000-00&context=1516831.