What was world’s most successful pre-World Wide Web online service?

Minitel is the name of a Videotex online service accessible through the telephone lines, and is considered one of the world’s most successful pre-World Wide Web online services. It was rolled out in 1978 in Brittany (France) on experiment basis and throughout France in 1982 by the PTT (Poste, Téléphone et Télécommunications; divided since 1991 between France Télécom and La Poste). Minitel was France’s home-grown precursor of the Internet which brought on-line banking, travel reservations and even sex chats to millions a decade before the World Wide Web.

The users could make online purchases, make train reservations, check stock prices, search the telephone directory, have a mail box, and chat in a similar way to that now made possible by the Internet. By its peak in the late 1990s, some 25 million people in France were using Minitel’s 26,000 services.

The Minitel, the box-like terminal with a keyboard and monochrome screen, was introduced on the market in 1982 by telecommunications operator France Telecom and used by the French to get information as a phone directory or to purchase train tickets.

Although there are between 600,000 – 700,000 of the units still in use, the French Telecom has now announced that the Minitel service has ended from June 30, 2012.