Platforms such as Amazon, Google, and Facebook dominate the internet today, providing private infrastructures for public culture. These systems are so massive that it’s easy to forget that the digital world was not always like this. More than two decades before widespread Internet access, millions of people in France were already online, chatting, gaming, buying, selling, searching, and flirting. This explosion of digital culture came via Minitel, a simple video terminal provided for free to anyone with a telephone line. After thirty years in service, Minitel offers a wealth of data for thinking about internet policy and an alternative model for the internet’s future: a public platform for private innovation.
Julien Mailland studies telecommunications networks design, law, and policy through the lens of history. He is an assistant professor of telecommunications at Indiana University’s Media School, a research associate with the Computer History Museum Internet History Program, and a lawyer with the fintech industry.
Kevin Driscoll studies popular culture and computing. His research builds alternative models for platform governance and online community from the internet of the 1980s and 1990s. Recent projects examine dial-up BBSs in the US and Minitel in France. Kevin is an assistant professor of media studies at the University of Virginia.