Collaborative Sensemaking

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At CHI 2009 this year, Sharoda Paul presented a paper she co-wrote with Merrie Morris that explores how sensemaking can be managed in a collaborative search environment. They created CoSense, an interface that augments SearchTogether with several tools that facilitate awareness and information sharing among collaborators. Tools include interactive query timelines, statistics on individual queries and term use, chat history, and a workspace for annotating search results.

The paper describes a study that assessed how people use CoSense in simultaneously and in time-separated sessions.  Results suggest that the search strategies view was most frequently used by people working together at the same time, whereas the workspace view and timeline view were used frequently to make sense of prior searchers’ activities.

CoSense is another good example of a system that supports explicit collaboration with interface-level mediation and synchronized data. It explores some interesting techniques to coordinate multiple users’ searching strategies, showing good incremental progress over SearchTogether.

A major remaining challenge for research in this space is to create objective metrics of performance that meaningfully capture the effect of collaboration as compared to individual use. We need to have a robust suite of methods and metrics to assess the impact of collaboration not just in behavioral ways but also in some more grounded fashion that takes into account the tasks that motivated the search in the first place.