This came by e-mail to the forum e-mail address today, and it appears to be a valuable research project, if you are willing to participate.
We are researchers from the University of Exeter interested in the effects of online social support. Our research team is led by Professor Tom Postmes, an internationally renowned expert in social effects of online interaction.

Although an increasing number of people participate in online forums that provide medical information and help along with social support, a recent article in the British Medical Journal concluded that our understanding of the effects among users is currently very limited. We are trying to assess what kinds of support people seek and benefit from within these online forums. This is an important issue (see below).

Our study, unlike previous research, focuses on the social benefits of online communities. But in order for this research to succeed, we rely on the willingness of site users to participate.

We therefore ask you to put a link to our online questionnaire somewhere on your site, or to post this link in your chats or message boards, or even to email this link to your members. The questionnaire is completely anonymous, complies with BPS ethics guidelines, and has been passed by the University ethics committee. The questionnaire is short and designed to be as non-intrusive as possible.

Please click on the Link or go to the Address below to access the Questionnaire:

Why this research is important, not just for us, but also for you and your users. The results are important for a number of reasons. In healthcare, there is a growing awareness of these forums, but no clear idea of how they can supplement existing facilities of care and support. Although they regularly refer patients to knowledge bases (e.g., in this country) GPs do not typically advise their patients to seek support online, these results may show this as an oversight. From the perspective of web design, our results may enable design of better support systems (due to the fact that they help us understand what users like and benefit from). To this end, we will share our key findings with you, emphasising what those results say about site design. And from the perspective of social psychology there are interesting questions about social support in online contexts? How does the web transform how we relate to others? How are online communities sustained?

The questionnaire is completely voluntary and people can stop at any time. We invite them to participate a second time for us to assess changes such as improved health. Once again, this is entirely voluntary. I also reiterate the aspect that the questionnaire is completely anonymous. If you have any questions please feel free to email us on [email protected] or [email protected]. You can also contact Professor Tom Postmes on [email protected].

Thank you very much for your time, we look forward to hearing from you soon.

Diccon Thornely and Guy Hudson