Collaborative Writing at Scale: A Case Study of Two Open-Text Projects Done on GitHub

Download PDF here.

Abstract: Collaborative Work of all kinds is increasingly done in a networked digital environment comprised of multiple Internet-connected platforms offering varying affordances and serving communities with specific norms and values. Such an environment invites inclusive participation in collaborative production but, at the same time, challenges the roles and design of platforms traditionally used for specific kinds of work. Despite the earlier prevalence of shared editors, collaborative writing is now moving to online platforms with social networking functionality such as Wikipedia and GitHub. This study examines the evolution of digital text artifacts in a networked digital environment as revealed through a case study of two open text projects on – a popular social coding/software development platform. Our findings suggest that working collaboratively in a networked digital environment enables production to occur across multiple platforms as the need for this is perceived. In particular, GitHub’s pull-based model effectively manages collaborative writing at scale through sophisticated version control and lightweight review as participation and visibility of the project increases. In this pull-based model, contributors either converge at a single project to perfect its artifacts, or adopt and tailor the original project to their needs. In sum, this study highlights a new mode of collaborative writing in which GitHub and other platforms are used, conventions are adopted, and roles are established.

Recommended citation: Pe-Than, E.P.P, Dabbish, L., and Herbsleb, J.D. (2019). Collaborative Writing at Scale: A Case Study of Two Open-Text Projects Done on GitHub. Paper presented at The Future of Work, Human Computer Interaction Consortium (HCIC’19) Workshop