Business applicationsSocial networks connect people at low cost; this can be beneficial for entrepreneurs and small businesses looking to expand their contact base. These networks often act as a customer relationship management tool for companies selling products and services. Companies can also use social networks for advertising in the form of banners and text ads. Since businesses operate globally, social networks can make it easier to keep in touch with contacts around the world.
Medical applicationsSocial networks are beginning to be adopted by healthcare professionals as a means to manage institutional knowledge, disseminate peer to peer knowledge and to highlight individual physicians and institutions. The advantage of using a dedicated medical social networking site is that all the members are screened against the state licensing board list of practitioners. The role of social networks is especially of interest to pharmaceutical companies who spend approximately "32 percent of their marketing dollars" attempting to influence the opinion leaders of social networks.
Languages, nationalities and academiaVarious social networking sites have sprung up catering to different languages and countries. The popular site Facebook has been cloned for various countries and languages and some specializing in connecting students and faculty.
Social networks for social goodSeveral websites are beginning to tap into the power of the social networking model for social good. Such models may be highly successful for connecting otherwise fragmented industries and small organizations without the resources to reach a broader audience with interested and passionate users. Users benefit by interacting with a like-minded community and finding a channel for their energy and giving.
Business modelFew social networks currently charge money for membership. In part, this may be because social networking is a relatively new service, and the value of using them has not been firmly established in customers' minds. Companies such as MySpace and Facebook sell online advertising on their site. Hence, they are seeking large memberships, and charging for membership would be counter productive. Some believe that the deeper information that the sites have on each user will allow much better targeted advertising than any other site can currently provide. Sites are also seeking other ways to make money, such as by creating an online marketplace or by selling professional information and social connections to businesses.
Privacy issuesOn large social networking services, there have been growing concerns about users giving out too much personal information and the threat of sexual predators. Users of these services need to be aware of data theft or viruses. However, large services, such as MySpace, often work with law enforcement to try to prevent such incidents. In addition, there is a perceived privacy threat in relation to placing too much personal information in the hands of large corporations or governmental bodies, allowing a profile to be produced on an individual's behavior on which decisions, detrimental to an individual, may be taken.
InvestigationsSocial network services are increasingly being used in legal and criminal investigations. Information posted on sites such as MySpace and Facebook, has been used by police, probation, and university officials to prosecute users of said sites. In some situations, content posted on MySpace has been used in court.
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Holiday on Ice
At 7pm on a dark, cold November evening, thousands of people are making their way across a vast car park. They're not here to see a film, or the ballet, or even the circus. They are all here for what is, bizarrely, a global phenomenon: they are here to see Holiday on Ice. Given that most people don't seem to be acquainted with anyone who's ever been, the show's statistics are extraordinary: nearly 300 million people have seen Holiday on Ice since it began in 1943; it is the most popular live entertainment in the world.
But what does the production involve? And why are so many people prepared to spend their lives travelling round Europe in caravans in order to appear in it? It can't be glamorous, and it's undoubtedly hard work. The backstage atmosphere is an odd mix of gym class and workplace. A curtained-off section at the back of the arena is laughably referred to as the girls' dressing room, but is more accurately described as a corridor, with beige, cracked walls and cheap temporary tables set up along the length of it. Each girl has a small area littered with pots of orange make-up, tubes of mascara and long false eyelashes.
As a place to work, it must rank pretty low down the scale: the area round the ice-rink is grey and mucky with rows of dirty blue and brown plastic seating and red carpet tiles. It's an unimpressive picture, but the show itself is an unquestionably vast, polished global enterprise: the lights come from a firm in Texas, the people who make the audio system are in California, but Montreal supplies the smoke effects; former British Olympic skater Robin Cousins is now creative director for the company and conducts a vast master class to make sure they're ready for the show's next performance.
The next day, as the music blares out from the sound system, the cast start to go through their routines under Cousins' direction. Cousins says, 'The aim is to make sure they're all still getting to exactly the right place on the ice at the right time – largely because the banks of lights in the ceiling are set to those places, and if the skaters are all half a metre out they'll be illuminating empty ice. Our challenge,' he continues, 'is to produce something they can sell in a number of countries at the same time. My theory is that you take those things that people want to see and you give it to them, but not in the way they expect to see it. You try to twist it. And you have to find music that is challenging to the skaters, because they have to do it every night.'
It may be a job which he took to pay the rent, but you can't doubt his enthusiasm. 'The only place you'll see certain skating moves is an ice show,' he says, 'because you're not allowed to do them in competition. It's not in the rules. So the ice show world has things to offer which the competitive world just doesn't.' Cousins knows what he's talking about because he skated for the show himself when he stopped competing – he was financially unable to retire. He learnt the hard way that you can't put on an Olympic performance every night. 'I'd be thinking, these people have paid their money, now do your stuff, and I suddenly thought, "I really can't cope. I'm not enjoying it".' The solution, he realised, was to give 75 per cent every night, rather than striving for the sort of twice-a-year excellence which won him medals.
To be honest, for those of us whose only experience of ice-skating is watching top-class Olympic skaters, some of the movements can look a bit amateurish, but then, who are we to judge? Equally, it's impossible not to be swept up in the whole thing; wel, you'd have to try pretty hard not to enjoy it.
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Extract from a novel
I shifted uncomfortably inside my best suit and eased a finger inside the tight white collar. It was hot in the little bus and I had taken a seat on the wrong side where the summer sun beat on the windows. It was a strange outfit for the weather, but a few miles ahead my future employer might be waiting for me and I had to make a good impression.
There was a lot depending on this interview. Many friends who had qualified with me were unemployed or working in shops or as labourers in the shipyards. So many that I had almost given up hope of any future for myself as a veterinary surgeon.
There were usually two or three jobs advertised in the Veterinary Record each week and an average of eighty applicants for each one. It hadn’t seemed possible when the letter came from Darrowby in Yorkshire. Mr S. Farnon would like to see me on the Friday afternoon; I was to come to tea and, if we were suited to each other, I could stay on as his assistant. Most young people emerging from the colleges after five years of hard work were faced by a world unimpressed by their enthusiasm and bursting knowledge. So I had grabbed the lifeline unbelievingly.
The driver crashed his gears again as we went into another steep bend. We had been climbing steadily now for the last fifteen miles or so, moving closer to the distant blue of the Pennine Hills. I had never been in Yorkshire before, but the name had always raised a picture of a region as heavy and unromantic as the pudding of the same name; I was prepared for solid respectability, dullness and a total lack of charm. But as the bus made its way higher, I began to wonder. There were high grassy hills and wide valleys. In the valley bottoms, rivers twisted among the trees and solid grey stone farmhouses lay among islands of cultivated land which pushed up the wild, dark hillsides.
Suddenly, I realised the bus was clattering along a narrow street which opened onto a square where we stopped. Above the window of a small grocer’s shop I read ‘Darrowby Co-operative Society’. We had arrived. I got out and stood beside my battered suitcase, looking about me. There was something unusual and I didn’t know what it was at first. Then it came to me. The other passengers had dispersed, the driver had switched off the engine and there was not a sound or a movement anywhere. The only visible sign of life was a group of old men sitting round the clock tower in the centre of the square, but they might have been carved of stone.
Darrowby didn’t get much space in the guidebooks, but where it was mentioned it was described as a grey little town on the River Arrow with a market place and little of interest except its two ancient bridges. But when you looked at it, its setting was beautiful. Everywhere from the windows of houses in Darrowby you could see the hills. There was a clearness in the air, a sense of space and airiness that made me feel I had left something behind. The pressure of the city, the noise, the smoke – already they seemed to be falling away from me.
Trengate Street was a quiet road leading off the square and from there I had my first sight of Skeldale House. I knew it was the right place before I was near enough to read S. Farnon, Veterinary Surgeon on the old-fashioned brass nameplate. I knew by the ivy which grew untidily over the red brick, climbing up to the topmost windows. It was what the letter had said – the only house with ivy; and this could be where I would work for the first time as a veterinary surgeon. I rang the doorbell.
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Holiday on Ice
Extract from a novel