Background: Despite the growing penetration of the Internet, little is known about the usage and browsing patterns of those in poverty. We report on a randomized controlled trial that sheds light on the Internet use and browsing patterns among the urban poor.
Methods: The data come from 312 participants in Boston, Massachusetts, from Click to Connect, a study that examined the impact of an intervention that provided computers, Internet, and training to people from lower socioeconomic position (SEP). Data were gathered through pre- and posttest surveys and Internet use tracking software that generated approximately 13 million network activity files and more than 5.5 million records.
Results: Internet use increased among intervention participants, with most of their time spent on social and participatory media sites or Internet portals. Differential patterns of use by gender and race/ethnicity were observed. Purposive searching for health information was low among all participants. Most of the visits to health-related sites were to local hospitals' sites suggesting the influence of possible preexisting relationships and trust. Social networking sites were frequently visited, with three sites enjoying similar popularity among all groups.
Conclusions: Our data show that the availability of Internet can lead to significant increase in its use among low SEP groups. Low SEP members used the Internet for participation and engagement, but the sites visited differed by group. Harnessing the power of social networking sites and shareware sites may be a way to increase access to health information.