Overall Objectives
Research Program
New Software and Platforms
New Results
Bilateral Contracts and Grants with Industry
Partnerships and Cooperations
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Section: New Results

Experimental user studies for collaborative editing

Participants : Mehdi Ahmed-Nacer, François Charoy, Claudia-Lavinia Ignat, Gérald Oster, Pascal Urso.

With several tools to support collaborative editing such as Google Drive and Etherpad, the practice of colaborative editing is increasingly common, e.g., group note taking during meetings and conferences, and brainstorming activities. While collaborative editing tools meet technical goals, the requirements for group performance are unclear. One system property of general interest is delay between a modification of a user is performed and this modification is visible to the other users. This delay can be caused by different reasons such as network delay due to physical communication technology, the complexity of various algorithms for ensuring consistency and the type of underlying architectures. No prior work questioned the maximum acceptable delay for real-time collaboration or the efficacy of compensatory strategies.

In [14] we studied the effect of delay on group performance on an artificial collaborative editing task where a group of four participants located the release dates for an alphabetized list of movies and re-sorted the list in chronological order. The experiment was performed with eighty users. We measured sorting accuracy based on the insertion sort algorithm, average time per entry, strategies (tightly coupled or loosely coupled task decomposition of the task) and chat behavior between users. We found out that delay slows down participants which decrements the outcome metric of sorting accuracy. Tightly coupled task decomposition enhances outcome at minimal delay, but participants slow down with higher delays. A loosely coupled task decomposition at the beginning leaves a poorly coordinated tightly coupled sorting at the end, requiring more coordination as delay increases.

In asynchronous collaborative editing, such as version control, the main feature to allow collaboration is the merge feature. However, software merging is a time-consuming and error-prone activity, and if a merge feature return results with too many conflicts and errors, this activity becomes even more difficult. To help developers, several algorithms have been proposed to improve the automation of merge tools. These algorithms aim at minimising conflict situations and therefore improving the productivity of the development team, however no general framework is proposed to evaluated and compare their result.

In [9] we propose a methodology to measure the effort required to use the result of a given merge tool. We employ the large number of publicly available open-source development histories to automatically compute this measure and evaluate the quality of the merging tools results. We use the simple idea that these histories contains both the concurrent modifications and their merge results as approved by the developers. Through a study of six open-source repositories totalling more than 2.5 millions lines of code, we show meaningful comparison results between merge algorithms and how to use the results to improve them.