Austin is a town with a distinct vibe. Where cowboy boots would be expected, nose rings are present instead. We saw more mohawks than crew cuts, more ironic t-shirts then suit coat jackets. It’s a town that thrives on individuality, and in this setting, the interactive community convenes for their flagship gathering, the South by Southwest (SXSW) Interactive festival .
Last year, we heard from our Federal colleague Andrew Wilson that leaders in the field are using new media to connect, collaborate, and engage in creative ways. Extracting a theme from this year’s conference isn’t easy for us. The web is continuing to expand exponentially. There are apps for phones, book publishers pushing content to Kindle, enhanced interactivity with HTML5 and CSS3 , more browsers, thousands of social networking communities, and hundreds of ways to actually deliver content to a targeted audience.
With that in mind, we believe there are three pervasive trends: iterative process , soft launch, and location. We will go into more detail on what each of these means, but above all, we want to talk about how they relate back to the HIV/AIDS community.
Iterative process: The acceleration of real-time data and information means that content and web applications can grow old quickly. Early feedback and response is critical — there must be an open dialogue between users in the community and the content creators. We are no longer the sole distributors of information, and we must take into account what is being said and what needs are not met.
Soft launch: More products are being released each day, and not all of them are perfect. The truth is that you don’t really know what you have created until real people begin to interact with your content or web application. At SXSW we heard that it can be valuable to release something online that is not yet perfect in the eyes of its creators, but is valuable enough to allow the public to interact with it and provide feedback.
Location: We want information that is relevant to us where we are now. The combination of mobile applications and publicly available data sets allow us to find relevant information about our surroundings in real-time. We can now easily search for what we want based on our location, and find it.
In looking at these three elements, we at AIDS.gov have released a soft launch of the AIDS.gov locator service, a feature that allows users to find HIV/AIDS services for Testing, Housing Assistance, Treatment, and Mental Health related to HIV/AIDS.
We have already received feedback from some of the service stakeholders and there are features we plan to add and enhance, including a mobile interface, texting capability, more HIV/AIDS services provided by the Federal Government and printable directions. But by doing a soft launch, and through an iterative process, we have the opportunity to engage the HIV/AIDS community to find out what else we can be doing to improve these services.
For us at AIDS.gov, SXSW 2010, with all of the cool advancing technology, was about something more basic: the opportunity to provide a service to the community and find out what we can do to make it better. Call it customer/citizen service in the context of 2010.