Finding a mentor via online social communities
"Lavenderblu" was a young girl when she got her first taste of domestic violence.
After suffering at the hands of her father and witnessing repeated attacks on her mother, she ended up in a violent relationship of her own before finally managing to leave and find refuge with a women's support group.
Now, at age 40, she is one of many mentors on the new social network Horsesmouth which has been set up to connect mentors with those who are looking for advice.
Launched only about a month ago, the site already has over 20,000 users and offers mentors to discuss a wide variety of topics, from how to set up a business to how it feels to wear the Muslim hijab for the first time.
In launching the service, the site's creator, MT Rainey, set out to bring a sense of public purpose to the whole Web 2.0 phenomenon, which allows users to contribute their own content to the Internet.
"No one was creating a social network for a public benefit or for the public good," she told Reuters in an interview. "I wanted to create somewhere that was safe and somewhere that was fit for purpose, for meaningful interchanges online.
"If you've accomplished something, if you've been through something and if you've got over something, then you have wisdom," added Rainey, who previously worked in advertising.
She said that people going through a difficult process need to talk, often to someone familiar with the situation, who has been in their shoes before.
"I found that people wanted to give something back," Rainey said. "You don't have to be middle-aged or retired to feel that way."
The Horsesmouth is one of many mentoring sites to spring up recently and the phenomenon could become more important as once-powerful traditional bodies such as the church or unions start to lose their sway in certain countries.
"Physical geographic communities are breaking down and people through the Web are creating communities of interest," Rainey said.
A HELPING HAND
In the creative industries such as music, advertising, media and the arts, many are turning to the new social network set up by The Hospital Club group.
The private club opened in 2003 in a former London hospital and was based on the vision of musician Dave Stewart, who wanted a "creative melting pot" in the center of the British capital where members could give something back to the industry.
Five years on, it has also launched a social network at thehospitalclub.com, where users from those industries can post ideas, blogs and their work to communicate with others on the site.
"The key was to create a low pressure environment where people could interact with one another based on their own expertise ... and where it is acceptable to approach people to ask for assistance," said David Marrinan-Hayes, the club's online manager.
He said the site would allow those entering the industry to post profiles and examples of their work online, meaning the potential mentor would be able to make a qualified decision on whether to provide advice or not.
"Also, we often find that people ... need different pieces of advice from a number of different people," he said.
"For a musician, they could need production advice or legal advice or marketing advice, and that very often doesn't come from the same person. So three or four people could work together and we're trying to create a space to manage that whole process."
There is no charge for using Horsesmouth and TheHospitalClub, but some other mentoring sites like Imantri offer a choice as to whether you pay for the mentor or not.
Other sites offering mentors or advice include American-based score.org, micromentor.org and the business network linkedin.com.