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The success of a virtual community depends chiefly on the community members' utilization of the community system that supports it. It is therefore essential that the functions of the system meet the members' requirements. The objective of this paper is to identify usage patterns in virtual community systems focused on learning and knowledge exchange in order to derive recommendations for the design of virtual community systems. We therefore analyze two specific professionally-oriented virtual communities focusing on learning and knowledge exchange by in-depth case studies. The first one is a learning network consisting of participants of a post-graduate study program. The second one is an expert network consisting of academic researchers and employees of several major European financial services companies. For each of these two communities, we describe the community's initial situation, its special characteristics, its objectives, its members and different application areas regarding a supporting community system. Thereafter, we identify the requirements that the community system needs to fulfil to satisfy the members' needs. Based on these requirements, the different functions of the system that should meet these requirements, are presented. For each community, we measured the utilization of the functions implemented in the community systems using a Web log analysis tool. Reflecting the measurement results on the case descriptions and the members' requirements, we drew conclusions on how members use a virtual community system: Most importantly, functions that support structured user processes with clear user requirements are preferably used. Moreover, personal information on community members is frequently viewed. On the other hand, most synchronous and asynchronous communication functions are rarely used and community users make few own contributions to discussions. Finally, functions that implement potentially redundant functions, for example group calendars or link collections, are rarely used.
Date of Conference: 5-8 Jan. 2004