Cyberculture History: French Proto-Internet Minitel to Shutdown at the End of June

Minitel welcome screen

The French are pulling the plug on Minitel, their national BBS system:

Thirty years ago, France led the world into the 21st century, but the world hardly noticed. In 1981-82, two French inventions offered a glimpse of the future. One was the Train à Grande Vitesse (TGV) or high-speed train. The other was the Minitel. The what? […]

The Minitel was the world’s first large data base accessible to the public. The Minitel terminal – provided free to subscribers – was the first screen-and-keyboard combination widely available in any country. Minitel had chat lines where people could commentate on world events, or their own lives, long before the blogosphere. There was even an abbreviated Minitel language, rather like “text speak”, such as “slt, té ki?” (salut, qui es- tu; or hello, who are you?)

Full Story: The Independent: How France fell out of love with Minitel

I found this via Boing Boing and Bruce Sterling, who both linked to a weird abridged version of the above article that was missing a few paragraphs, including this bit:

Gerome Nox, a veteran male French pop musician, admitted this week to the newspaper Libération that he had in a previous life been “Julie”, an “animatrice” or hostess on one of the first Minitel text-sex lines. Few women wanted the work, he said, so most of the “hostesses”, paid the equivalent of £2.50 an hour, were men.

“(The clients) were like a shoal of starving piranha fish,” he said. “No hello. No polite openings. It was to the point and crude.” After a while he realised that “my Julie” had become “disagreeable, wicked and odious”. He announced online that he was a man “whose job is to inflate all your phone bills. So you’ve all been screwed, just like you wanted to be”. He was fired the next day.

See also:

Before the Web, AOL, and Prodigy, There was Minitel

Cyberculture History: Before the World Wide Web Did Anything, HyperCard Did Everything

Render Classic ANSI Art in JavaScript

For those who don’t remember ANSI art, here’s a brief news clip on an ANSI art show that gives an overview:

escapes.js is a JavaScript library for rendering ANSI art.

ansi.js is a Node.js module for rendering ANSI in the Node.js terminal.

(all links via CreativeJS)

Cyberculture History: First BBS Launched 33 Years Ago Today

Ward Christensen brought his Computerized Bulletin Board System online 33 years ago today. From Wikipedia:

In January 1978, Chicago was hit by the Great Blizzard of 1978, which dumped record amounts of snow throughout the midwest. Among those caught in it were Christensen and Randy Suess, who were members of CACHE, the Chicago Area Computer Hobbyists’ Exchange. They had met at that computer club in the mid 1970s and become friends.

Christensen had created a file transfer protocol for sending binary computer files through modem connections, which was called, simply, MODEM. Later improvements to the program motivated a name change into the now familiar XMODEM. The success of this project encouraged further experiments. Christensen and Suess became enamored of the idea of creating a computerized answering machine and message center, which would allow members to call in with their then-new modems and leave announcements for upcoming meetings.

However, they needed some quiet time to set aside for such a project, and the blizzard gave them that time. Christensen worked on the software and Suess cobbled together an S-100 computer to put the program on. They had a working version within two weeks, but claimed soon afterwards that it had taken four so that it wouldn’t seem like a “rushed” project. Time and tradition have settled that date to be February 16, 1978. Christensen and Suess described their innovation in an article entitled “Hobbyist Computerized Bulletin Board” in the November 1978 issue of Byte Magazine.

Wikipedia: CBBS

(Thanks Trevor!)

More info:

Christensen and Suess’s telling of the the history of CBBS.

CBBS memoris on the BBS: The Documentary site.

BBS: The Documentary A documentary on the history of the BBS.

The most important document about social software yet written

Clay Shirkey says The Lessons of Lucasfilm’s Habitat is the most important document on social software. Seems Habitat was a Commodore 64 game that was played on the QuantumLink network (which eventually became AOL).

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