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New Ways to Communicate
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Communications through the Internet combine many of the kinds of communication we are already familiar with, such as mail and telephone. It also adds many new capabilities that were virtually impossible before, such as:

  • interactive communication with large groups of people simultaneously
  • combining different media, like words, sounds, pictures and video,all in a single message
  • storing and delaying messages so the receiver can address them when ready
  • reaching automated services or information libraries from your home or office
  • Perhaps most importantly, the Internet puts a new set of tools in the hands of individuals, so that anyone can become not just a consumer of information, but a producer, publisher, or broadcaster as well. When you create a page on the World Wide Web, for example, it can be seen by potentially millions of people around the world.

    Online Support Groups

    Communication is the heart of the Internet and explains why the Internet has grown so dramatically. For example, consider the way one woman whose husband suffers from Alzheimer's disease uses the online support group sponsored by the Case Western Reserve University Hospital. She said that she previously would not have dreamed of calling a family member or friend for help at 3:00 a.m. when her Alzheimer's-stricken husband would wander aimlessly around the house. But now with a PC in her living room linked to the Cleveland Free-Net she could sit down and type in a message to see if anyone else was awake. Chances were, some other spouse or caregiver also was up and could help her through the night.

    Electronic Mail and Discussion Groups

    Facilities such as electronic mail, usually called email, are the most used form of network communications. As the name implies, it means sending messages to other people, but in electronic form rather than through the post office. e-mail makes it easy to send a message not just to one person, but to several or even hundreds at the same time. This mass mailing capability has led to facilities such as discussion groups and mailing lists, where people who are interested in a particular subject can post topics for the whole group to read and discuss. Moderated discussion groups take this concept a step farther by having someone facilitate and consolidate the flow of communication as a service to group members.

    Electronic Newsgroups

    Consider how the Internet is changing the ways we distribute news. With thousands of new information sources, people are no longer locked into traditional communications channels such as newspapers or television, which require large capital investments. Electronic newsgroups are similar to reading your local newspaper, except you read them on-line and each newsgroup has a specific focus, such as politics or pets or almost any other subject you can imagine. Anyone can start a newsgroup, discussion group or a listserve (a kind of electronic mailing list which people subscribe to) based around communities of interest.

    These communities can become powerful. Intel's public relations fiasco over miscalculations with their Pentium chip some time ago was largely due to Internet communications that proliferated the issue before Intel's PR department or the traditional media knew anything about it. This incident is another example of how people and organizations must adapt to the new patterns and channels of communication in a networked world.

    Online Communities

    Online communities are sometimes referred to as virtual communities. They are emerging areas where people who share a common interest - the environment, for example - can meet online to share information and collaborate on projects. Real, geographical communities are also using the Internet to enhance community spirit and engagement through movements such as community networking and public access networking. Hundreds of communities across the globe, such as Alexandria, VA and Washington DC, have community networks which provide services ranging from employment referral services to community health information to providing Internet access for its citizens. One of the most complete listings of such networks is the Morino Institute's Directory of Public Access Networking. Several Public Access Networks are available in the Potomac region. You may also read a survey entitled "What are Communities Doing Online?"

    Online Information Retrieval

    Electronic communication also provides new ways to learn and educate by supporting easy access to vast sources of information and inexpensive channels for distributing it. Anything from accessing books and educational materials to applying for a home mortgage to using your library's online catalog can be done via the Internet. In fact, with the Internet, the resources of the Library of Congress are as close as those of your local library. Teachers in one state can hold interactive courses across the country. Individuals with marketable knowledge and expertise in research for example-can sell it to others with marginal overhead. Companies can distribute support materials or update information quickly and easily. Stock quotes, travel arrangements and tax forms are a moment away, anytime. Tools for using the Internet to use e-mail, discussion groups, newsgroups, information retrieval, and more are available.

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