Deals on Wheels
September 16, 2013 9:02 AM   Subscribe

The first online shopping transaction took place from a Gateshead living-room in 1984, sixteen years before Tesco fully launched the web version of their stores. It didn't take place on a BBC Micro or an Acorn, but through Videotex, a service better known by the Francophone world as Minitel (previously).
posted by mippy (13 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
The inventor's site, discussing what he then called 'teleshopping'.
posted by mippy at 9:05 AM on September 16, 2013

To put in context: this was only seventeen years after the first cash dispensing ATM was introduced anywhere in the world.
posted by MuffinMan at 9:13 AM on September 16, 2013 [2 favorites]

Thanks for this. I remember a trip to France during which Minitel blew my five-year-old mind
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 9:14 AM on September 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

You may also know Videotex as "the weird computers on Archer with a phone attached."
posted by Sys Rq at 9:14 AM on September 16, 2013 [3 favorites]

I remember Videotex; they had versions of it in Australia. It was based on the Prestel standard (and the small plastic Tandata terminals with the chiclet keyboards and built-in 1200/75 modems were a British import, I believe), and seemed to use the same character generator as Teletext on TV (which we also had, though didn't use as widely as in Europe), and indeed the BBC Micro's Mode 7. The characters, for some reason, looked a lot smoother than the usual 8x8 bitmaps seen on 8-bit computers of the era.

For a while my mother worked at the Department of Agriculture Victoria, and some of her duties involved editorial work on a Videotex service for farmers named Agtex. On some school holidays I got to go in and play around with the terminals they used for editing the pages. The terminals were largish machines; I'm not sure whether they were general-purpose computers running a Videotex editor app, dumb terminals with the right character set and an editorial login to the Agtex mainframe, or something else. (I would have been 10 or so then, and could just about tell that they were more sophisticated than my VIC-20.) I did discover that they had as one of their features something named “alphagraphics”; i.e., macros which would replace the 6 or so character blocks near the cursor with a large, blocky letter made up of Videotex block-drawing characters when you pressed a key.
posted by acb at 9:15 AM on September 16, 2013

The bit about credit cards was interesting - in the UK, debit cards are a really really common way to pay for everything, in shops and online, but until really recently my mum would draw cash out of the 'speedbank' rather than use her card. I think there was a bit of a fear of plastic here for a long time. There's still the trope that the elderly keep their savings in mattresses and biscuit tins rather than in the bank, but even then, we're at a point now where not having access to a debit (or credit) card prevents you from accessing cheaper/more convenient goods.

I got my first debit card when I was a student at 18 in 2000, and I remember Switch and Solo being advertised in magazines, but I'm curious now as to when that switch happened.

The first thing I ever bought from eBay was the CD soundtrack to Grosse Pointe Blank, and I actually went to the bank to exchange sterling for dollars and posted it off in an envelope.
posted by mippy at 9:19 AM on September 16, 2013

They only switched off Minitel last year.
posted by MuffinMan at 9:20 AM on September 16, 2013 [2 favorites]

I remember Telidon which eventually gave way to NAPLPS/Prodigy, serving the news to Canadian subscribers of cable services (upper channels, naturally).

The 80s were interesting times, as the data transmission standards were shaking themselves out.
posted by seawallrunner at 9:23 AM on September 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

Minitel? Pshaw. I fob it off as risible and old-fashioned.
posted by Naberius at 10:27 AM on September 16, 2013

I had a similar experience to East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at a similar age. I don't even remember what mundane task of the future was being shown to me. It could even have been a telephone directory or simple infoscreen.
posted by Gnatcho at 10:32 AM on September 16, 2013

In the context of television-based information services of the time, textual graphics to go...
posted by Wordshore at 11:38 AM on September 16, 2013

Hmm, I saw Viewtron running in 1981 in Miami. NAPLPS-based videotex service. I seem to recall there was online shopping there. And The SOURCE surely had some online shopping as well.
posted by brianstorms at 11:18 PM on September 16, 2013

characters...looked a lot smoother than the usual 8x8 bitmaps seen on 8-bit computers of the era.

That's because they were 10x18 (with cheating)

posted by doiheartwentyone at 1:20 AM on September 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

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