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July 22, 2008


Perspectives on Blogging about HIV/AIDS (Part 3 on Blogging)

This week we continue our series on blogs.

Blogging can be an effective way to communicate HIV messages and engage people in a dialogue about important issues and topics. Today, we’ll highlight two HIV/AIDS-focused blogs that bring distinct perspectives to the topic--blogs by an HIV/AIDS service provider, and a college professor and his students.

HIV/AIDS blogs in the classroom

Photo of Dr. David Wessner

Dr. David Wessner, a biology professor at Davidson College

We spoke with Dr. David Wessner Exit Disclaimer, a biology professor at Davidson College Exit Disclaimer, and the author of The AIDS Pandemic Exit Disclaimer blog, through which he and his students “explore the biology of HIV/AIDS, its history, and review the latest scientific advances related to this pandemic.” David and his students also offer their blog posts as podcasts Exit Disclaimer. For him and his students, blogging is a way to engage in a conversation on HIV and to reach others with HIV messages.

David started The AIDS Pandemic blog as a course assignment. “Students in my course on HIV/AIDS must write and record installments for the blog/podcast,” he told us. “I hoped this assignment would serve two purposes. First, it would require the students to discuss, in a very concise way, a scientific topic of interest to them that relates to the pandemic. Second, because of the public nature of the blog/podcast, I hoped the students would remain engaged with their topic after the assignment was completed. I thought friends and family members might listen to the podcast and ask them questions, and readers might post comments to which the students could respond.”

When we asked David how he measures the success of his blog, he told us, “For me, success depends more on the outcomes for my students. I measure their satisfaction with the assignment through surveys, and I track the number of times that students respond to comments from readers.” He says, “As long as the blog or podcast is fulfilling your personal goals, it should be considered a success!”

A community AIDS blog

Photo of Paul Twitchell

Paul Twitchell, Communications and Marketing Director of AIDS Action Committee (AAC)

Next we spoke with Paul Twitchell, Communications and Marketing Director of AIDS Action Committee Exit Disclaimer (AAC). Paul told us the AAC blog Exit Disclaimer is one part of AAC’s long-term, online strategy. “We are always looking for new ways to reach out and to interact with our vast and diverse community. Since [the blog’s] launch, AIDS Action has established a foothold in the social networking world ...with sites such as Facebook Exit Disclaimer, MySpace Exit Disclaimer, Flickr Exit Disclaimer, and YouTube Exit Disclaimer.”

AAC’s perspective is that blog comments open up the dialogue between clients and providers, and among bloggers and their readers. To encourage this, AAC strives to develop topical and “comment-worthy” content. Paul told us, “We try to create posts on hot news stories related to HIV/AIDS. Sometimes the posts are commentaries on the news and other times we provide context and clarification on news stories that may have been misleading, and, in some cases, wrong. We will encourage one or more people from our staff or board to weigh in with their own take and let the comments come in.”

AAC has several metrics and tools to measures the success of their blog. They use Google’s free analytical software, Google Analytics Exit Disclaimer, to measure traffic to their blog. “We look at how many sites are linking to ours as one measurement that is particularly interesting to follow,” said Paul. “We have seen a nice increase in the number of sites linking to us over time and I think that is a good indicator that we are content worthy.” Another indicator of success for AAC is the number of comments on the blog. As Paul told us, comments help them understand “when [we] have hit upon a topic that is generating ‘buzz’.”

Thinking of starting your own blog? Paul says, “Stop coming up with excuses about not having the time or knowing how to do it! ” He continued (and we couldn’t agree with him more!), “The people, especially the young people you used to reach with a hotline number or paper pamphlets and brochures, are now online all the time. You need to be where they are. ” He advised, “Don ’t be intimidated by the technology...or ask a 20-something volunteer or staffer to help you. Most of them already have their own blogs. ”

Next week we’ll continue this conversation with David and Paul, with a focus on blog marketing. We’ll also hear from James Daugherty from the HIV and AIDS News Exit Disclaimer blog.

Know about an HIV/AIDS blog that we haven’t mentioned? Please let us know!


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I think it's great that more people discussing AID/HIV more openly. Education is the key to control. I lived in a community where lots of young people died to AIDs and mostly because they were not very knowledgable of the subject.

Social networks are not new. Humans have probably organized into social networks around the time we began walking upright, or sometime soon thereafter. Scholarship and analysis on social networks are not new either. A quick search for social-networks on Google Scholar reveals about 97,000 listings going back decades.

What is new and novel in the world of social networks, however, are "social network services," made possible by the internet and the countless applications and sites that connect people with each other electronically. Online social network services like Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn, are wildly popular and used daily by millions of people to share information within networks of friends and acquaintances. CDC believes social networks offer great potential to protect health when accurate and relevant information is shared between trusted peers to support positive and healthy decision making. For this reason, CDC has its own MySpace page and maintains a dialogue with health-oriented sites like Sermo, Daily Strength, and Patients Like Me.

AIDS Action Committee of Massachusetts blog http://blog.aac.org should encourage people with different points of view to participate instead the censoring that has been done on comments. The idea is to encourage participation rather than sidelining.

First of all I must congratulate all of you for such wonderful innovative work. It's very good that David's student discuss on AIDS and write about it on the blog. But I think the parameters on which David measure the success is inappropiate. He says "As long as the blog or podcast is fulfilling your personal goals, it should be considered a success" , and I presume his personal goal is to educate his students. But with such brilliant work, he should push it a bit harder so that people who generally avoid speaking on the matter are also motivated to ask questions and clarify their doubts. AIDS is not only the subject of biological research, but studying about AIDS patient and society's approach towards them is of immense interest because only by understanding human behavior in a better way,we can control the disease until a proper drug is developed.

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