Innovation

Brazilian company NeoA adapts support groups into a social network

NeoA is a new app that aims to turn support groups into online social networks.

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Image: NeoA

People turn to the internet for their needs — whether it's shopping, seeking information, or connecting with friends, family, or business associates.

Brazil-based app NeoA hopes to be yet another online resource for people, specifically ones battling mental health issues.

"We are not a medical organization nor are we pretending to heal or recover a person, but we aim to provide an important tool so that they can have access to information and find other members with similar goals," NeoA explains in its fact sheet.

The app works like this: Users join "clubs" specific to certain topics like depression, eating disorders, or overcoming cancer. There are 12 in all so far, with plans to add more clubs covering areas like bullying or "couples in crisis."

NeoA users meet together via video chat. One person can talk at a time and a main presenter in the group activates microphones when people want to talk. They can indicate that by "raising their hands" in a window inside the club meeting. There's also a text chat function available. The platform accommodates different file types like PowerPoint presentations, PDFs and the like that can be shown to all the members, and each club has a wiki portal to store those files.

Individual users also have a drive to store articles, books, testimonials, videos, or whatever other materials they may need.

Another function NeoA offers is the ability to create goals individually or within the clubs.

Apart from that, users also have a news feed where they can add friends, post pictures, comment, create events, and share.

"It's like in real life, it's always easier to get through your problems when you have someone to lean on," said co-founder Pablo Cruz through a translator.

While people who are struggling with issues like depression or eating disorders, and are looking for a place to find community could turn elsewhere on the Internet, NeoA says that they differ as a social network because they keep the network clear of ads or algorithms that tweak what specific users see.

Cruz also said security is important for NeoA and the anonymous users' data is encrypted to protect privacy.

The NeoA team put about three years of research into learning about support groups in an effort to make the virtual environment of NeoA similar to what exists in the physical world. They're running on the theory that what makes these groups helpful is anonymity, the open flow on information, and, of course, the people themselves.

The added advantage to bringing support groups into the digital world, NeoA says, is the idea that users could reach out quickly and easily, particularly in difficult moments.

"Let's say that a person who participates in a NeoA Alcoholics closed club is going through trouble and is near having a relapse. Sometimes he needs to share that moment to overcome it," Cruz said.

NeoA is available in English, Spanish, and Portuguese, and is free of charge. Users can access it via desktop. The company has plans to launch mobile apps for Android and iOS at the end of September.

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About Erin Carson

Erin Carson is a Staff Reporter for CNET and a former Multimedia Editor for TechRepublic.

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