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Google+: A Primer for the HIV/AIDS Community

August 9, 2011

Google+: A Primer for the HIV/AIDS Community

Google+ was released to a limited audience (in beta) on June 28, 2011 and has received a lot of attention since then. Within the first month, over 10 million people signed up to try it out. You may have seen the Google +1 button which is similar to the "like" on Facebook, but what's it really about?

We've spent a few weeks playing around with Google+ and wanted to share some of the details about what it is, what makes it different from other social networking sites, and some potential applications for the HIV/AIDS community.

Google+ is literally changing everyday (check out "What's new in Google+"), as Google responds to user feedback and makes updates. A community-driven document listing features, tips, and tricks is also updated regularly.

There are four main elements to Google+: Circles, Hangouts, Sparks, and the Stream. Here is a bit more on each:

  • Circles -- Creating a circle is as easy as dragging and dropping, and you can put someone (or multiple people at once) in as many circles as you like. Removing them is just as easy (just drag them out). What's different here from Facebook, and more like Twitter, is the ability to form both synchronous (I follow you, you follow me), and asynchronous (I follow you, you don't follow me) connections. So if there are people you know working in HIV/AIDS that you see on Google+ and want to keep up with what they are talking about, you simply add them to one of your lists. They may or may not add you back. You can name groups whatever you like without others seeing where you have placed them, which is handy. So, you could have a group called "People I wouldn't talk to except that we work together" or "people I have met at conferences" and they wouldn't know it.
  • Hangouts -- Conference calling/video chat. Up to 10 people (or screens, as multiple people can be in one space) at a time can connect, for free, via audio, video, and text. If you are in a hangout, people can drop in and out as they please, making it feel more like a traditional community experience. The term "hangout" is collegial, but it's easy to see how this can be adapted for work conference calls.
  • Sparks -- This feature brings news on any topic to you. You can easily create custom searches to stay abreast of topics that are of interest.
  • Stream -- Similar to Facebook, the stream shows updates from connections. However, a nice feature is that the stream is easily filtered by the Circles you create, making it easy to see what your family is talking about, or friends, or work, etc. Similar to mentioning someone on Twitter with "@" or tagging on Facebook, you can "+" and enter a name to tag and alert that person.

Of course, any social network is only as good as the people that use it. For now, Google+ is officially only open to individuals, although businesses and organizations eager to join have already started testing it out (The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria, for example, has a profile). Google is currently working on a Google+ experience for businesses and organizations (learn more about their plans in this video).

Are you on Google+? If not, we recommend you jump in to learn! We'd love to hear how you're using it personally and your ideas about how it can be used in the HIV/AIDS community. Professional hangouts? Sparks specifically about HIV? Circles for your clients and constituents?

Michelle Samplin-Salgado is a new media strategist at Jodi Sperber is a consultant with John Snow Inc.

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