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Twinkling lights and nested loops: distributed problem solving and spreadsheet development

Authors
Journal
International Journal of Man-Machine Studies
0020-7373
Publisher
Elsevier
Publication Date
Volume
34
Issue
2
Identifiers
DOI: 10.1016/0020-7373(91)90040-e
Disciplines
  • Computer Science

Abstract

Abstract In contrast to the common view of spreadsheets as “single-user” programs, we have found that spreadsheets offer surprisingly strong support for cooperative development of a wide variety of applications. Ethnographic interviews with spreadsheet users showed that nearly all of the spreadsheets used in the work environments studied were the result of collaborative work by people with different levels of programming and domain expertise. We describe how spreadsheet users cooperate in developing, debugging and using spreadsheets. We examine the properties of spreadsheet software that enable cooperation, arguing that: (1) the division of the spreadsheet into two distinct programming layers permits effective distribution of computational tasks across users with different levels of programming skill; and (2) the spreadsheet's strong visual format for structuring and presenting data supports sharing of domain knowledge among co-workers.

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