Saturday, August 04, 2007

My museum of content related artefacts (21)

1980: Executive videotex terminal

1980 was an exciting year. The first consumer and business online service went online on August 8, named Viditel. It was a videotex service in the European tradition. The service worked according to a presentation protocol. The screen contained 24 lines of 40 digits. There were capital and under cast letters as well as the numbers. The information was structured according to a menu of pages from the root 0 to combinations of 1 to 9. Dutch KLM had for example its information on the system behind the code 747. The letters could be coloured in 8 colours and words could flash.

At the launch of the service, I was managing a production studio, where pages were designed for VNU companies and third parties. One of the sites was a jobsite for VNU (photograph left) and the other one was for an agency of the Dutch ministry of Economic Affairs (photograph right).

The consumer service was intended to be presented on an adapted television set. For business there was a special terminal developed. Mind you, PCs were scarce and in 1980 there was not yet videotex presentation software developed for the PC. An executive terminal with manually soldered boards was produced in the UK. The terminal (see photograph) could receive television and the television text service teletext, while it could receive videotex, when connected to the telephone line.

The unit in my museum is one of the 1000 units which VNU ordered in their enthusiasm about the online service in 1979. VNU had established a new media lab within the company VNU Database Publishing International. This company, part of the business information division at that time, was set to start online videotex services for business. But the Dutch PTT, the present KPN, decided just before the launch that the incumbent telecom company and not the publisher VNU was going to service this market segment. So VNU was left with 1.000 executive videotex terminals. Lacking a good business service, an internal VNU service was set up between the company managers, so that they could use it for messages, make appointments and pick up internal information. The service never really left the drawing table; besides the acceptance of this type of service was not great for more than one reason. People were not used to pick up information from a terminal and the service did not have an added value. So the terminals started to catch dust. Soon PCs came around and the videotex terminals were ready for oblivion.

The Viditel service never was a success. The consumer service basically failed, while the public business services were not many. But the closed user group services and special application services proved to be a money maker for the PTT. VNU stepped out of videotex in 1988 after trying business and consumer services.

Blog Posting Number: 830


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