IT Design for Sustaining Virtual Communities: an Identity-based Approach

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A variety of information technology (IT) artifacts, such as those supporting reputation management and digital archives of past interactions, are commonly deployed to support virtual communities. Despite the ubiquity of these artifacts, research on the impact of various IT-based features on virtual community communication is still limited. Without such research, the mechanisms through which information technologies influence community success are not well understood, limiting the design of community infrastructures that can enhance interaction in the community and minimize dysfunction. This dissertation proposes that identity management is a critical imperative in virtual communities and concerns related to communication of identity serve to shape an individual's interactions and perceptions in the community. Sensitivity to this perspective can help in drawing design guidelines for the IT infrastructure supporting the community. Drawing upon the social psychology literature, I propose an identity-based view to understand how the use of IT-based features in virtual communities can improve community sustainability. Specifically, identity consonance, defined as the perceived fit between a focal person's belief of his or her identity and the recognition and verification of this identity by other community members, is proposed as a core construct that mediates the relationship between the use of community IT artifacts and member satisfaction and knowledge contribution. To test the theoretical model, I surveyed two online communities: and The former is an online community for people who wish to quit smoking, and the latter is a site for Lexus IS300 sport sedan enthusiasts. The results from surveys support the positive effects of community IT artifacts on identity consonance. The empirical study also finds that a high level of identity consonance is linked to member satisfaction and knowledge contribution. This dissertation offers a fresh perspective on virtual communities and suggests important implications for the design of the supporting IT infrastructure.