BACKGROUND: Online health forums provide peer support for a range of medical conditions including life-threatening and terminal illnesses. Trust is an important component of peer-to-peer support, although relatively little is known about how trust forms within online health forums.
OBJECTIVE: The aim of this paper is to examine how trust develops and influences sharing among users of an online breast cancer forum.
METHODS: An interpretive qualitative approach was adopted. Data were collected from forum posts from 135 threads on 9 boards on the UK charity, Breast Cancer Care (BCC). Semistructured interviews were conducted with 14 BCC forum users. Both datasets were analyzed thematically using Braun and Clarke's approach and combined to triangulate analysis.
RESULTS: Trust operates in 3 dimensions, structural, relational, and temporal, and these intersect with each other and do not operate in isolation. The structural dimension relates to how the affordances and formal rules of the site affected trust. The relational dimension refers to how trust was necessarily experienced in interactions with other forum users: it emerged within relationships and was a social phenomenon. The temporal dimension relates to how trust changed over time and was influenced by the length of time users spent on the forum.
CONCLUSIONS: Trust is a process that changes over time and which is influenced by structural features of the forum, as well as informal but collectively understood relational interactions among forum users. The study provides a better understanding of how the intersecting structural, relational, and temporal aspects that support the development of trust facilitate sharing in online environments. These findings will help organizations developing online health forums.