Focus groups are widely used in qualitative research. Recently, focus groups that are held online have become increasingly popular despite the objection by some researchers that the Internet is a poor medium for focus group research. The present study was conducted to reveal differences in the characteristics of focus group discussions in the online and face-to-face formats. Participants in 4 online focus groups and 4 face-to-face focus groups discussed their opinions about several health-related Web sites. Statistical analysis of the transcripts suggested that online participants tended to contribute shorter comments and were more likely to say just a few words of agreement. In the online focus groups, participation levels tended to be more uniform; in the face-to-face groups, some participants tended to contribute a disproportionately large number of words, whereas other participants were relatively silent. The results suggest different roles for online and face-to-face focus groups in qualitative research.
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