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Geosocial Connections: Where we’ve been and where we’re going

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A recent Pew Internet & American Life Project Exit Disclaimer study Exit Disclaimer [PDF-843KB] found that 28% of American adults use mobile and social location-based or “geosocial” services and 55% of smartphone owners use global positioning systems (GPS) for directions and recommendations of places to visit.

Geosocial networking uses location-based software or “geolocation” and GPS to identify an individual’s location and connect them with other local people, places, and events that match their interests. An example of a geosocial service is AIDS.gov’s own Foursquare Exit Disclaimer page.

Kathryn Zickuhr, a Pew Internet Project research specialist and co-author of the study, finds that, “Americans are not currently all that eager to share explicitly their location on social media sites, but they are taking advantage of their phones’ geolocation capabilities in other ways.”

While the numbers for direct check-ins via geosocial services, such as Foursquare Exit Disclaimer or Gowalla Exit Disclaimer , are not as high as general use of GPS or geolocation services (5% of cell phone owners, about 4% of all adults), the number of individuals who share their location on these services is still growing (9% of internet users or 7% of all adults in September).

The study also examines who is using geosocial and geolocation services. Twelve percent of smartphone owners were found to use geosocial services like Foursquare and Gowalla, with up to 55% of smartphone owners using some form of location-based service. For those adults between the ages of 18-49, around 62% reported using either location-based or geosocial services. This dropped to 45% for those older than 50 years old.  Pew Internet also found that “geosocial services and automatic location-tagging are most popular with minorities”, with 25% of Latino smartphone owners using geosocial services and almost a third of Latino social media users enabling automatic location-tagging when they post or respond on social network sites.

At AIDS.gov, we began using Foursquare to explore how geolocation could expand the reach of our messages. We developed a plan with the following goals:

  • To model transparency and to help extend the reach of AIDS.gov (and when appropriate Federal partners’) information and activities.
  • To raise visibility of AIDS.gov at relevant conferences/events/locations to other Foursquare users and location-based users.
  • To use “tips” and “check-ins” to raise awareness of events, meetings and conferences on the subject of HIV/AIDS and the National HIV/AIDS Strategy.
  • To promote the website, blog, Facebook, etc. to other visitors (current visitors at conferences/events and future visitors at influential locations such as HHS).
  • To upload photos at conferences/events/locations that will appear on our AIDS.gov Foursquare account.

Since developing this plan, we have used Foursquare to check into HIV/AIDS related Federal meetings, conferences, and events. This allows others who are in attendance at these same events to meet us in person if they choose. We upload a photo and provide a tip (a brief description of why we are at the location) with every check-in. Since we started using Foursquare in June 2011, we have grown to nearly 1800 followers, with more than 20 check-ins.  In that spirit, early this year we checked-in at NAPWA’s Exit Disclaimer Red Flash Mob Balloon Release to recognize National Gay Men’s HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, surrounded by our friends and communities members in Washington DC’s Dupont Circle.

How is your community using geolocation and geosocial services in the response to HIV/AIDS?  Are you using it for information about services (i.e. the HIV/AIDS Locator)?  Following Federal and community action?  We’d love to hear your thoughts.  Also, you can view video taken from the NAPWA Red Balloon Release event here:

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