It was, as the BBC put it recently, the French Wide Web or more accurately, the Francenet that came before the Internet.
The BBC piece was very good in conveying how the project was both an extraordinary technical achievement - something France excelled at until quite recently- and a disastrous commercial endeavor.
They introduced an outstanding product which relied on the most advanced digital infrastructure of that era (this is from memory, but almost 80 percent of French phone lines were digital in 1979 and their closest rival, I think the US, had less than 20 percent).
And their finishing touch was to put it in a regulatory straight-jacket to prevent any innovation and entrepreneurial push.
But in its heyday, "Minitel connections were stable at 100 million a month plus 150 million online directory inquiries." More interestingly, "in 1986 French university students coordinated a national strike using Minitel, demonstrating an early use of digital communication devices for participatory technopolitical ends."
And today was the last day of Minitel.
I highly recommend the BBC piece if history of technology interests you. It is definitely not geeky and quite funny.
Besides all that, I found this line from Jacques Chirac ironic:
"Today a baker in Aubervilliers knows perfectly how to check his bank account on the Minitel. Can the same be said of the baker in New York?"You know why the line is ironic?
Today, if you have an account in a French bank your daily statement is two to three days behind schedule. ATM machines are known here as "Distributeur de Billets" which means the only transaction they allow is to withdraw money. You can't ask for your balance and the balance it shows at the end of a withdrawal is a couple of days old. No transfers between accounts, no deposits, no bill payments, nothing.