Supporting awareness through collaborative brushing and linking of tabular data

Hajizadeh, A.H., Tory, M., and Leung, R. (2013). Supporting awareness through collaborative brushing and linking of tabular data. Proc. of IEEE Visual Analytics Science and Technology (VAST) 2013.


Maintaining an awareness of collaborators’ actions is critical during collaborative work, including during collaborative visualization activities. Particularly when collaborators are located at a distance, it is important to know what everyone is working on in order to avoid duplication of effort, share relevant results in a timely manner and build upon each other’s results. Can a person’s brushing actions provide an indication of their queries and interests in a data set? Can these actions be revealed to a collaborator without substantially disrupting their own independent work?

We designed a study to answer these questions in the context of distributed collaborative visualization of tabular data. Participants in our study worked independently to answer questions about a tabular data set, while simultaneously viewing brushing actions of a fictitious collaborator, shown directly within a shared workspace. We compared three methods of presenting the collaborator’s actions: brushing & linking (i.e. highlighting exactly what the collaborator would see), selection (i.e. showing only a selected item), and persistent selection (i.e. showing only selected items but having them persist for some time).

Our results demonstrated that persistent selection enabled some awareness of the collaborator’s activities while causing minimal interference with independent work. Other techniques were less effective at providing awareness, and brushing & linking caused substantial interference. These findings suggest promise for the idea of exploiting natural brushing actions to provide awareness in collaborative work.

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