Date of Award

Summer 2004

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Information Systems - (Ph.D.)

Department

Information Systems

First Advisor

Starr Roxanne Hiltz

Second Advisor

Marilyn M. Tremaine

Third Advisor

Il Im

Fourth Advisor

Yi-Fang Brook Wu

Fifth Advisor

Loren Terveen

Abstract

Although online communities have been thought of as a new way for collaboration across geographic boundaries in the scientific world, they have a problem attracting people to keep visiting. The main purpose of this study is to understand how people behave in such communities, and to build and evaluate tools to stimulate engagement in a research community. These tools were designed based on a research framework of factors that influence online participation and relationship development.

There are two main objectives for people to join an online community, information sharing and interpersonal relationship development, such as friends or colleagues. The tools designed in this study are to serve both information sharing and interpersonal relationship development needs. The awareness tool is designed to increase the sense of a community and increase the degree of social presence of members in the community. The recommender system is designed to help provide higher quality and personalized information to community members. It also helps to match community members into subgroups based on their interests.

The designed tools were implemented in a field site - the Asynchronous Learning Networks (ALN) Research community. A longitudinal field study was used to evaluate the effectiveness of the designed tools. This research explored people's behavior inside a research community by analyzing web server logs. The results show that although there are not many interactions in the community space, the WebCenter has been visited extensively by its members. There are over 2,000 hits per day on average and over 5,000 article accesses during the observation period. This research also provided a framework to identify factors that affect people's engagement in an online community.

The research framework was tested using the PLS modeling method with online survey responses. The results show that perceived usefulness performs a very significant role in members' intention to continue using the system and their perceived preliminary networking. The results also show that the quality of the content of the system is a strong indicator for both perceived usefulness of the community space and perceived ease of use of the community system. Perceived ease of use did not show a strong correlation with intention to continue use which was consistent with other studies of Technology Acceptance Model (TAM). For the ALN research community, this online community helps its members to broaden their contacts, improve the quality and quantity of their research, and increase the dissemination of knowledge among community members.

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