Videotex was one of the precursors to the web, invented in the early 1970’s. It’s a two-way communication standard that uses a standard television set and a modem, and was used for both commerce, leisure and art.
Viewdata is one form of videotex. In the USA it was mostly known as Viewtron, and reached some 15,000 users before it was cancelled. It was unsuccesful since most consumers simply do not have a need nor a desire to access vast computerized data-bases of general information (A. Michael Noll, 1985). But in France, there was apparently a need for exactly that. Minitel still had 10 million connections every month when it was shut down in 2009. (one reason is that the French government gave away plenty of terminals for free)
Videotex is slow and lacks graphical details. But on the other hand – it’s easy and direct. You plug it in, and you’re set to go. Wi-fi. In the comfort of your TV-couch, instead of your computer work chair. CRT-lifestyle! No annoying operating system, no maze of protocols that control your interaction.
It’s actually quite easy to get sucked into the magic of Videotex advertising. There’s something very appealing with it. No more overload! No www-addiction! Oddly enough, it was actually markated like this already in 1983 – described as an alternative to information overload. Check out this video, for example.
My own fascination might come from growing up in Northern Europe, where videotex’s sibling teletext has always been quite popular. In fact, it is really popular. About 25% of Sweden’s total population checks out teletext on TV – every day. In Denmark it’s almost half! And it’s just not just on TV. There are teletext apps for smartphones that are some of the most popular ones around here. Last year, the most popular iPad app was public service teletext. Yeah!
Scandinavia is extremely into both internet and news. So these are informed choices, or atleast not a choice made from a lack of options. But is teletext just something that old people are into? Or is teletext used by young people too, as an alternative to the spam freedom of the web?
It’s likely an old tradition in decline. But at the same time, I can definitely see a demand for a cheap, reliable, ad-free service with Twitter-like shortness in the future too. And if you want to go a bit more luxurious with a two-way communication, videotex is your lady!
Also, it’s worth mentioning that teletext and videotex doesn’t have to use text graphics and a low amount of colours. Take for example the amazing Telidon, developed in Canada around 1980. It is an alphageometric standard that works with changeable fonts and vector graphics instead. Telidon looks incredibly good in my eyes. It’s a shame that the UK won the standardization war, otherwise teletext might’ve been even more popular today.
Or maybe the text graphics are actually part of the winning concept. More reliable; more serious. That might be. But just look at these Telidon wonders! (and if you want more, check out text-mode.tumblr.com)