Information behaviors in an online smoking cessation forum
Smoking is a major contributor to morbidity and mortality today, and a focus of attention by primary care practitioners and public health. Few studies take into account the role of community-based information transactions, nor have they examined the information needs of quitting smokers beyond generic patient education pamphlets. A pilot study examines the function and value of information communicated in an online forum dedicated to smoking cessation. Firstly, a Web-based survey was sent to fourteen forum participants known by the author. Twenty questions about medications, decision support sources, the evaluation of those sources, and basic demographic information were asked and the resulting responses were analyzed. Secondly, 371 selected posts from the Web forum were collected to better understand the importance and frequency of specific types of cessation-related information. Several models are discussed in a preliminary attempt to characterize the forum's community-based information behaviors. Survey respondents view the existence of online community-based information resources (in the persons of their community peers) as a major factor in their cessation efforts. Although no attempt was made to generalize findings beyond this initial pilot, gaps were tentatively identified between the support provided by more traditional healthcare practitioners and the information needs experienced by this population. In their provision of a milieu for the exchange of information, online fora may enable support at a depth and quantity unavailable through more immediate channels. Further studies are needed to develop a better understanding of information-related behaviors of this large population.