France adopts La Toile (the Web)

This article captured an interesting moment in the history of the web.
It is also interesting to see how the web site mentioned in the article ( has been kept up-to-date.
The text is exact (I believe) but the italicization of French words, hyperlinks, and layout is mine.
This is originally from CNET (,4,20323,00.html? However, it is no longer online there.

I18nGuy Home Page

French say "oui" to Web

By Reuters
Special to CNET NEWS.COM
March 20, 1998, 5:50 p.m. PT

After eyeing the World Wide Web warily for years, France officially plunged into cyberspace today with a nationwide Internet Festival to demonstrate how enthusiastically it has embraced the global network.

From President Jacques Chirac's Elysee Palace to local schools, officials, businesses, and clubs flaunted their flashy new electronic look to anyone double-clicking on their sites or visiting the festival to learn how they might do so.

The Socialist-led government, which last August gave its official blessing to the network--amid protest from French traditionalists who see it as an invasion by American culture--proudly showed off new sites for its various ministries.

The two-day Internet Festival, a joint effort by the private sector and the government, marks a turnaround for the country that launched the first mass-market online service--the Minitel-- only to see it overtaken by the rival network from the United States, the Internet.

"We have to make 1998 into year one of the Internet for the public," France's culture and communications minister, Catherine Trautmann, said as she presented several new cultural sites on the web.

The festival's central web site--in French, bien sur--is at, with HTML links to most participants.

Only about 2 percent of French households now have a computer and modem to connect to the Web, which purists insist on calling "la toile"--the French word for "web." But the number is growing daily.

Most large French companies have a Web site, and so many small- and medium-sized firms have scrambled onto the Internet bandwagon since last fall that about one-quarter of them are now online.

"There's a greater realization now than when I was last here in November about the way the Internet works," Ira Magaziner, President Clinton's top Internet adviser, said yesterday after meeting a senior French cyberenthusiast, Finance Minister Dominique Strauss-Kahn.

Internet usage has surged in France only recently, because users preferred the Minitel screens attached to their telephones.

Introduced in the early 1980s, the Minitel churns out phone numbers, train schedules, weather reports, and other information in an awkward text display that belongs in a computer museum. But users can easily order train tickets or consult their bank accounts on the Minitel, something that still is not very simple on the Internet.

The French also have preferred the Minitel because, well, it's in French.

To most of the French, the Internet long seemed like an English- language jungle. The few Francophone sites were based in Canada, where the Quebecois peppered the language of Moliere with words like "le hot dog" and "le fun."

But a wave of French-language online services, Internet service providers, and search engines has changed all of that.

"We say it's time to change, to pass from the Minitel to the Internet stage," said Jean-Michel Billaut, Internet expert for Compagnie Bancaire, of the Paribas group. "That's what we're doing right now."

Apart from staging computer training sessions around the country, the Internet Festival also arranged a mock trial at the Paris Law Courts to air charges that the World Wide Web was a dangerous hotbed of pedophiles and neo-Nazis.

Trautmann's culture ministry presented a dazzling selection of Web sites for such French cultural treasures as the Louvre Museum, Versailles Palace, and the National Library of France.

At the Elysee Palace's site, surfers can download a video address by Chirac, who last year had to ask an aide in public what the word for a computer mouse was.