Examining the Internet's Many Uses

The Internet is unlike all the other communications media anyone has ever encountered. People of all ages, colors, creeds, and countries freely share ideas, stories, data, opinions, and products. Increasingly, news gets out on the Internet before it's available on other media, and the cyber-deprived are losing ground in keeping current on the world's happenings.

Here are some of the ways the Internet is being used:

  • Finding people: If you've lost track of your childhood sweetheart, now's your chance to find him or her anywhere in the country. You can use one of the directory services to search the phone books of the entire United States.

  • Finding businesses, products, and services: New yellow page directory services enable you to search by the type of company you're looking for. You can indicate the area code or zip code to help specify the location. People are shopping for that hard-to-find, special gift item.

  • Research: Law firms are realizing that a great deal of information they formerly paid $600 an hour to find from commercial services can be found for almost nothing when they go directly to the Net. Real estate appraisers use demographic data available on the Net, including unemployment statistics, to help assess property values. Genetics researchers and other scientists download up-to-date research results from around the world. Businesses and potential businesses research their competition over the Internet.

  • Education: Schoolteachers coordinate projects with classrooms all over the globe. College students and their families exchange e-mail to facilitate letter writing and keep down the cost of phone calls. Students do research from their home computers. The latest encyclopedias are online.

  • Travel: Cities, towns, states, and countries are using the Web to put up (post) tourist and event information. Travelers find weather information, maps, transportation schedules and tickets, and museum hours online.

  • Marketing and sales: Software companies are selling software and providing updates via the Net. (The folks making money from the manufacture of floppy disks are looking for new products. Aside from the large pile of AOL disks we now use as coasters, most software distribution is migrating to the Net.) Companies are selling products over the Net. Online bookstores and music stores enable people to browse online, choose titles, and pay for stuff over the Net.

  • Job searches: Not just for students, the Internet is an incredible tool for finding a job. It's especially good for students because it provides a powerful, economical way to conduct a real job search. You can publish your résumé online for prospective employers. You can check out the Monsterboard, an impressive compilation of job-related information that enables you to search by discipline (the area of study — all searches need the other kind) or geography or a host of other criteria. You can find the Monsterboard at Monster.com. If you're not just getting out of school, that is, if you're already employed, you might want to use caution when using monster.com. If you register and your employer uses monster.com, your résumé might show up where you least desire it.

  • Love: People are finding romance on the Net. Singles ads and matchmaking sites vie for users. Contrary to Internet lore, the Net community is no longer just a bunch of socially challenged male nerds under 25.

  • Healing: Patients and doctors keep up-to-date with the latest medical findings, share treatment experience, and give one another support around medical problems. Some practitioners exchange e-mail directly with their patients.

  • Investing: People do financial research, buy stock, and invest money. Some companies are online and trade their own shares. Investors are finding new ventures, and new ventures are finding capital.

  • Organizing events: Conference and trade-show organizers are finding that the best way to disseminate information, call for papers, and do registration is to do it on the Web. Information can be updated regularly, and paper and shipping costs are dramatically reduced. Registering online saves the cost of on-site registration staff and the hassle of on-site registration lines.

  • Nonprofits: Churches, synagogues, and other community organizations put up pages telling about themselves and inviting new people. The on-line church newsletter always comes before Sunday.

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