Social relevance assessments for virtual worlds: Interpersonal source selection in the context of chronic illness

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9 Scopus citations


Purpose: The purpose of this paper is to introduce the concept of social relevance assessments, which are judgments made by individuals when they seek out information within virtual social worlds such as online support groups (OSGs). Design/methodology/approach: Constructivist grounded theory was employed to examine the phenomenon of information exchange in OSGs for chronic kidney disease. In-depth interviews were conducted with 12 participants, and their posts in three OSGs were also harvested. Data were analyzed using inductive content analysis and the constant comparative method. Theoretical sampling was conducted until saturation was reached. Member checking, peer debriefing, and triangulation were used to verify results. Findings: There are two levels of relevance assessment that occur when people seek out information in OSGs. First, participants evaluate the OSG to determine whether or not the group is an appropriate place for information exchange about kidney disease. Second, participants evaluate individual users on the OSG to see if they are appropriate people with whom to exchange information. This often takes the form of similarity assessment, whereby people try to determine whether or not they are similar to specific individuals on the forums. They use a variety of heuristics to assess similarity as part of this process. Originality/value: This paper extends the author’s understanding of relevance in information science in two fundamental ways. Within the context of social information exchange, relevance is socially constructed and is based on social characteristics, such as age, shared beliefs, and experience. Moreover, relevance is assessed both when participants seek out information and when they disclose information, suggesting that the conception of relevance as a process that occurs primarily during information seeking is limited.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1209-1227
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of Documentation
Issue number6
StatePublished - Oct 12 2017

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Information Systems
  • Library and Information Sciences


  • Behaviour
  • Health
  • Information science
  • Internet
  • Theory
  • World Wide Web


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