Before there was the Internet, there were a lot of would-be Internets. Compuserve comes to mind, as do Prodigy, GEnie, Delphi, and the innumerable BBS systems that were once gateways to worlds beyond our CRT monitors and 300 baud Hayes Supermodems.
Service providers varied by region, of course. The French postal and telephone service rolled out their service, Médium interactif par numérisation d’information téléphonique, in 1978. Mercifully and memorably shortened to Minitel, the service was originally intended primarily as an online telephone directory, and later expanded to include other services. [Kevin Driscoll] and [Julien Mailland] recently resurrected a Minitel terminal, a Videotex terminal that was the gateway to the service. The terminal they used, a model 1B, is a stylish machine with a monochrome CRT display and compact “AZERTY” keyboard. [Kevin] and [Julien] built a Videotex server for it using an Uno and a logic-level converter to keep the two talking. Using the hardware, they’ve developed a Twitter client, a webcam display, and dumb Linux terminal.
[Julien] and [Kevin] previously authored a great history of Minitel that’s worth a read. And we’ve seen a few Minitel hacks before, including converting one to USB for use as a Raspberry Pi terminal.
We can’t say we ever really thought that the problem with the early 1980’s was too much information in the hands of the people. But this promotional video for the Sceptre Videotex Terminal claims that it is the solution to the information overload of the time. The entire video is embedded after the break.
You use your TV as a display, connecting the hardware to a phone line and using a keyboard for navigation. Perhaps our favorite bit is when the announcer informs us that the secret behind the system is its “vast sources of information”. These include the Miami Herald, the Associated Press, the Wall Street Journal, and Consumer Reports. Just remember that at the time you’d need to hit the local library to access all of those resources. Also, searching them wasn’t a possibility.
But wait, this wasn’t just conceived for news. The system — which was backed by Night-Ridder (a huge Newspaper conglomerate) and AT&T — boasted commerce and banking abilities as well as education services. It’s the vision of the Internet which Ma Bell would have preferred to be in place today.
Continue reading “Retrotechtacular: 1983’s Answer To Information Overload”