How Data Scientists Use Computational Notebooks for Real-Time Collaboration

CSCW 2019

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Effective collaboration in data science can leverage domain expertise from each team member and thus improve the quality and efficiency of the work. Computational notebooks give data scientists a convenient interactive solution for sharing and keeping track of the data exploration process through a combination of code, narrative text, visualizations, and other rich media. In this paper, we report how synchronous editing in computational notebooks changes the way data scientists work together compared to working on individual notebooks. We first conducted a formative survey with 195 data scientists to understand their past experience with collaboration in the context of data science. Next, we carried out an observational study of 24 data scientists working in pairs remotely to solve a typical data science predictive modeling problem, working on either notebooks supported by synchronous groupware or individual notebooks in a collaborative setting. The study showed that working on the synchronous notebooks improves collaboration by creating a shared context, encouraging more exploration, and reducing communication costs. However, the current synchronous editing features may lead to unbalanced participation and activity interference without strategic coordination.The synchronous notebooks may also amplify the tension between quick exploration and clear explanations.Building on these findings, we propose several design implications aimed at better supporting collaborativeediting in computational notebooks, and thus improving efficiency in teamwork among data scientists.