Representing Real-Time Multi-User Collaboration in Visualizations

IEEE Visualization Conference (VIS), 2020

Example gallery of user representations on collaborative visualizations. Inset views show the result of the peeking hover interaction for each example. A) Generic cursors overlay each visualization, indicating remote interaction. B) Specific cursors provide more visualization-specific information about remote user interaction. C) Cursor legends provide an external, minimal representation of remote users. D) Thumbnail legends visually communicate a specific overview of the remote interaction state.


Establishing common ground and maintaining shared awareness amongst participants is a key challenge in collaborative visualization. For real-time collaboration, existing work has primarily focused on synchronizing constituent visualizations — an approach that makes it difficult for users to work independently, or selectively attend to their collaborators’ activity. To address this gap, we introduce a design space for representing synchronous multi-user collaboration in visualizations defined by two orthogonal axes: situatedness, or whether collaborators’ interactions are overlaid on or shown outside of a user’s view, and specificity, or whether collaborators are depicted through abstract, generic representations or through specific means customized for the given visualization. We populate this design space with a variety of examples including generic and custom synchronized cursors, and user legends that collect these cursors together or reproduce collaborators’ views as thumbnails. To build common ground, users can interact with these representations by peeking to take a quick look at a collaborator’s view, tracking to follow along with a collaborator in real-time, and forking to independently explore the visualization based on a collaborator’s work. We present a reference implementation of a wrapper library that converts interactive Vega-Lite charts into collaborative visualizations. We find that our approach affords synchronous collaboration across an expressive range of visual designs and interaction techniques.