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Abstract

There is a general need to understand better how context can affect evaluation, usage, and productivity of IT in research and practical settings. This paper investigates how perceived effectiveness of e-mail-style computer-mediated communication (CMC) differs between work and non-work contexts of use, and contrasts these differences with perceived effectiveness of face-to-face communication (FtFC). From the prior literature, we identified seven major activity domains that are prominent in CMC research. We developed a set of activity scales and corresponding measures of normative cognitive effort (NCE) for these domains and conducted an initial study to evaluate the overall instrument. In a second study, we measured perceived effectiveness of the communication mode within each activity domain among subjects who had communicated via e-mail and FtFC over a 15-week period. Some subjects communicated to support team-based software development (work context), and others communicated for personal interest (non-work context). We find communication technologies, activities, and contexts of use jointly determine perceived effectiveness; context influences perceived effectiveness primarily through interactions; and NCE successfully predicts perceived effectiveness based upon normative differences among activities. Our findings extend prior research in the area of task-technology fit to incorporate context effects, suggest that context is an important consideration in designing research, and introduce NCE as a method for predicting fit that can be applied even prior to system design. We conclude that the differential effects of work vs. non-work contexts are too large to be ignored, and we recommend an increased focus on context effects in CMC research and practice.

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