Social Web site for persons with HIV launched in March

Site hopes to attract medical professionals

Often when people learn they are infected with HIV, they have little access to social support among others living with the disease.

Ray Velazquez, an attorney and former elected official, hopes to solve that problem with the recent launch of his Web site: Thinkpoz.com.

"I thought MySpace was a great thing, and I wished there was something like that to bring people with HIV together," Velazquez says. "HIV is so stigmatized, and people are afraid to put [their HIV status] out there on MySpace."

When Velazquez first learned he was HIV infected, he visited various Web sites and found that these could be divided between dating Web sites, which charged a monthly fee and medical information Web sites.

"But there wasn't anything that dealt with bringing people together for socializing and networking and building relationships and friendships," he says. "And that's what I wanted to do for myself."

From experience, Velazquez knows that the first few months after someone learns of his or her HIV infection are very difficult.

"At some point you start trying to get your life back together and build a normal routine," he notes. "And part of that routine is meeting people and starting relationships, and that's hard to do."

So Velazquez funded and built the social Web site, first as a hobby, and now he hopes it will eventually pay for itself through Web advertising.

Within a few weeks of its opening, about 300 people registered on Thinkpoz.com, he says.

"We're getting about 25 to 30 people per day looking at it," Velazquez says. "They're coming from Africa and other places around the world too."

To maintain the site's users' privacy, each person visiting the site must register and create a user profile. Registrants can include a variety of personal information in their profiles, including blogs, lists and photos of themselves, their friends, their pets, their favorite music—available for listening, and home videos, he says.

Thinkpoz users can create their own groups and subgroups, and there's a chat room available that can feature audio and video.

"If you have a Webcam you can talk to people and have them see you," Velazquez explains. "There are instant messages throughout the site."

Some people will play their own music in the background as they talk with someone through the Web site.

One of the registration questions is whether a person is HIV positive. Those who are HIV negative are allowed to register, and Velazquez is encouraging health care professionals to create profiles, so if a Thinkpoz member is looking for a doctor in his or her area, there will be some health care professionals who can make suggestions through Thinkpoz, Velazquez says.

The site mainly is for socializing, however, he notes.

"I'm hoping some people will develop relationships," Velazquez says. "Part of the struggle of living with HIV is getting back to your normal life, so if people come here and see someone they like, and they know this person is in the same boat they are in, it helps them with that."

Velazquez says the site already has helped him meet people.

"I didn't know anybody who was HIV positive besides myself," he says. "Our chat room is kind of like group therapy: if someone is having a bad day, they come in and talk about it."

Thinkpoz members include people who have lived with HIV for 20 years and others who learned they were infected a month earlier, he says.

Thinkpoz registration is free, and Velazquez is working to spread the word about the site. "I want people to know about it because it's been good for people who are HIV positive and want to meet people and share their experiences," he says.

"It's my hope that people will take advantage of this site," Velazquez adds.

[For more information, visit Thinkpoz.com or email Ray Velazquez at rayvjr@yahoo.com.]