Over a period of time it mushroomed into a full fledge web like platform. Dialing the number 3615 connected you to today’s equivalent of the browser – an exclusive of the French Telecom. Through which you could access merchants, institutions, French Railroad and the post office and their respective products and services. Soon the porno peddlers jumped on the bandwagon with  a slew of erotic chat lines on which you can flirt with buxom and horny ladies – made up mainly of men and paid by the minutes for the amount of time spent on carousing. Those sites were collectively called Minitel Rose and the most popular of the Roses was Ulla.

Europe Telematique supposedly streamed more respectable sites. The proposal was to create a forum such as Playboy Advisor, which they felt would do well. It would also support the fledgling French edition. Of the time billed, French Telecom got to keep 50% of the revenue. Telematique would staff and create the content and manage the traffic. Of the 50% they got, they would share half of it with us, for allowing them to use the name Playboy. The danger obviously was that it could easily turn into a porn service. NO. Bruno guarantees me. There were already enough of them around. Playboy would be as classy as the magazine.

Though officially launched in 1982, the Minitel screens had beginning to pop up back in the late Seventies, almost twenty years before the World Wide Web made its debut. Unfortunately, the service never made it out of France and Belgium, and a trial run in Ireland before the Internet as we know today came thumping down the road. While I am in Lyon, not even understanding exactly how it all worked, I couldn’t help but feel that something incredible was happening within those little boxes with blinking screens.

After discussing the project back in Chicago, I return to Lyon several months later and visit the physical facilities of Europe Telematique. What I saw was little computers lined up on long rows of desks, occupied by very young men and women staring at the blue screens, the text in progress popping up on the terminal and like in call centers of today, one of the young Turks would get busy responding to them.  Soon there was Playboy chat line.

Now that I sit here and think of it, I feel like sort of a pioneer. Not that I can take credit for the idea or even the intimate knowledge of the process, but for trusting my instinct and the people and taking a chance on what would in not too far of a future become more common than  household phones. It didn’t generate vast amount of revenue for any of us, but there was enough coming in to justify its existence. The site must have been phased out on its own with the advent of Internet in the mid-Nineties. I wonder if anyone else other than me even remembers that there was such a thing as Playboy chatline on the French Minitel.

Minitel lived for more than thirty years until it no longer could compete with or justify its existence against now omnipresent World Wide Web. Yet, just the nostalgia of it had all of France feeling mixed emotions, simultaneously celebrating and mourning of its demise on June 30th 2012 – the day French Telecom pulled the plug and the remaining 800,000 terminals still in service went dark.

For me personally, agreeing to take that Paris-Lyon TGV ride of 400 kilometers (292 miles) to south east of Paris means – if not for Minitel, I would never have thought of going to Lyon. To call Lyon mini-Paris is to take something precious away from this most charming and exuberant of the French cities.

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