CPSC 689/602--Spring 1997
Computer-Supported Cooperative Work

Paper Report

Title: Twinkling lights and nested loops: distributed problem solving and spreadsheet development
Authors: Bonnie A. Nardi and James R. Miller
Citation: Int. J. Man-Machine Studies (1991) 34, 161-184
Reprinted in: Baecker, R.M., Readings in Groupware and Computer-Supported Cooperative Work, pp. 260-271

The authors of this paper began their study of spreadsheets, "single user" applications, as computation devices. However, they were surprised that spreadsheet offered a strong support for cooperation development. Their ethnographic research results showed that (1) spreadsheets co-development is the rule, not the exception and (2) spreadsheets support the sharing of both programming and domain expertise. Spreadsheet users are drawn by the "twinkling lights"--the automatically updating cell values.

The authors described how spreadsheets' users: share programming expertise; transfer domain knowledge; debug cooperatively; use spreadsheets for cooperative work in meetings and other group settings; and train each other in new techniques. One of the major drawbacks of spreadsheets is formula errors. Cooperative debugging and "reasonable checks" were some of the debugging methods discussed.

The two characteristics of spreadsheets that enable collaboration--visual clarity of spreadsheet table, and the two distinct programming layers--were also presented. What the authors learned from their research on spreadsheets are:

The author concluded by looking at the implications of cognitive artifacts--spreadsheets--on computer-supported cooperative work.

Report prepared by: Yew Kuan Choo Email: ykchoo@cs.tamu.edu
Discussion date: 02/12/97           Report date: 02/14/97