Marius Ioan Podean, Raluca Arba
Faculty of Economics and Business Administration
Babes Bolyai University of Cluj Napoca, Teodor Mihali 58-60, Cluj Napoca, Romania
Loredana Muresan
Faculty of Economics and Business Administration
Babes Bolyai University of Cluj Napoca, Teodor Mihali 58-60, Cluj Napoca, Romania
Keywords: Collaborative document editing, document management, workflow, virtual teams, XML.
Abstract: An important aspect in distributed teams and organization is their ability to manage documents. A
collaborative document editing system that integrates functionalities from document management systems,
workflow, collaborative editing with support for virtual teams can increase team efficiency and allow users
to concentrate their efforts on content development. This paper reports a case study implementing this
approach in collaboratively creating scientific papers. The use of XML when treating documents proves to
be the appropriate solution to develop user and document centered systems.
Creating scientific papers is most of the time a very
complex and elaborate task. This type of documents
usually is written by more then just one person, and
often the authors are located in different parts of the
world. This collaborative process is sometimes
slowed down by the fact that dealing with the
technology used to support it is very much time
consuming. Taking in consideration the authors need
for location and time independence, the usage of
different operating systems and applications, at this
moment technology offers solutions that satisfy just
partially the aforementioned requirements.
Document management systems (DMS) focus on
tracking and storing documents created and
exchanged by there authors (Aversano et al. 2001).
They provide components for defining metadata for
the documents (i.e. date of creation, authors, version
etc.), indexing (usually based on metadata), storage
and retrieval (based on the unique document
Workflow management systems (WMS) allow
the automation of processes within an organization,
enabling greater coordination and control among
geographically distributed teams (Nallaparaju et al.
2005). Using WMS, the organization can integrate
different software technologies, leading to the
improvement of the collaborative activities
(Aversano et al. 2001). This technology leaves
authors with the consumption of a great deal of time.
Collaborative editing allows multiple persons to
edit simultaneously the same document, see who is
working on the document and watch in real time the
changes that they have made (Raikundalia and
Zhang 2004). In order to have sufficient knowledge
about the changes that others perform upon the
document, group awareness mechanisms have been
created, such as: telepointers (multiple cursors of
users appear within the document), radar views,
multi-user scrollbars and, as shown by Raikundalia
and Zhang (2004), structure-based multi-page view,
point jumping mechanism and user info list. The
main downside of this solution is that the
implementations available are platform-specific and
can generate conflicts between members when
someone changes often content created by others.
The collaboratively edited file is stored on the
document owner’s computer, leading towards
versioning problems when participating members
make local copies of the document.
Ioan Podean M., Arba R. and Muresan L. (2008).
In Proceedings of the International Conference on e-Business, pages 437-442
DOI: 10.5220/0001907404370442
Wikis represent “a piece of software that allows
users to add, modify, and/or delete information from
a knowledge base via the web” according to Spek
(2008). As the author of this definition emphasis as a
main characteristic, wikis are anarchistic systems,
many implementations allowing anonymous users to
modify the content. On wiki systems “conflicts can
quickly result in ‘edit wars’ when multiple users
keep on reverting each others changes because they
don’t agree” as shown by Spek (2008).
Creating research papers requires a system that is
simple to use and allows users to focus their efforts
on the content rather that on the technology used to
create it. The system has to support the space
independence of the authors and integrate their
collaborative effort in a common workplace in order
to obtain greater team efficiency (Guerrero et al.
2004). Collaborative work involves information
exchange in order to support negotiation and
communication between group members and
different mechanisms through which the team can
regulate and manage itself in order to be goal
directed (Millward and Kyriakidou 2004). A more
supportive system would have document
management facilities and support for task
automation. To achieve greater efficiency the system
will have to be user centered and non–restrictive
regarding de operating system.
In this paper, we start by presenting current
technologies used for document management and
editing highlighting their main characteristics and
downsides. We will continue in Section 2 with the
theoretical approach of our system and then discuses
in Section 3 the implementation and the technical
details concerning it. Based on the model we’ve
proposed, in Section 4 we shall present some
conclusions and further work.
In this paper we shall present our implementation of
such a system that aims to cover the aforementioned
requirements. Dante is a web based system designed
to be a good support for virtual teams in elaborating
scientific papers. It offers document management
facilities and process automation for repetitive tasks.
Since all the data the system uses is stored in XML
files, Dante can be document and user centered,
allowing authors to easily edit, review and export in
different formats their work. Teams are building
around the document allowing them to be goal
directed; all members of the team having the same
rights. Each author is responsible of editing different
chapters of the document, chapters on which the
others could only place comments, content changing
not being allowed, avoiding conflicts and stepping
on each others and allowing individuals to reconcile
with the teams goals. The application facilitates
communication through synchronous and
asynchronous channels. Documents being stored in
XML files and using a web based user interface
makes the system work on different platform and
allows users to export documents in different open
formats, representing a combination of best practices
specific for the previous discussed systems. At this
moment the application offers no version control
capabilities, and therefore authors could not revert
documents to older versions.
As mentioned earlier, Dante is both a user and
document centric system, supporting collaboration
in virtual teams and efficient document
management. As described by Millward and
Kyriakidou (2004), it is important for virtual teams
to be a “singular concrete entity” with the following
characteristics: stability, regular interaction,
symbiosis and member proximity. Following this
requirements, in Dante teams are organized around
the document that they are creating. Member
proximity results from the fact that each member can
view the most recent version of the chapters that the
others have created and that everybody knows who
is responsible for a particular chapter. Each author
can review others work and make suggestions
related to each piece of text using the commenting
tools. The symbiosis of the team is supported by the
fact that each person’s responsibilities are clearly
drawn and all members have the same rights, all
depending upon others in improving their work.
Interaction between members is supported by both
synchronous and asynchronous mechanisms.
In collaborative real time editing systems several
users can edit a file using different computers. An
important aspect for this type of systems is group
awareness (GA). GA provides users information
about the status of a document and changes made by
others. As shown in Raikundalia and Zhang (2004),
several GA techniques have been identified:
telepointers (multiple cursors are shown within the
document), radar views, multi-user scrollbars and
structured-based multi-page view, point jumping
mechanism and user info list. In Dante, the GA
problem is solved by using a structured-based multi-
page view panel for displaying a project. One of the
main downsides of all collaborative editing systems
(CES) is that the document is saved on the document
owner’s computer, all others participants being
allowed to save a copy of the document leading in
ICE-B 2008 - International Conference on e-Business
time to lost edits and versioning problems. Dante
being a web based system it has the advantage of
delivering file storage facilities. All changes made
by the authors are saved on the server which will
offer only the most recent version of the document.
Authors edit different parts of the document and
send changes to the server via AJAX.
As shown in Leone, Hodel and Gall (2005),
combining CES and DMS can result in greater
performance improvements. Dante takes a similar
approach providing solutions and process
automation for creating, storing retrieving, editing
and exporting documents collaborative, anytime on
the most used platforms. All documents have
metadata to easily manage them and provide extra
search capabilities. Another important aspect is the
presence on the internet and the collaboration with
persons from outside the team using e-prints.
Lawrence (2001) shows that articles freely available
online are more highly cited and recommends, in
order to achieve greater impact and faster scientific
progress, that authors should aim to make research
easy to access. Content can easily be transformed
into HTML and allow others to post comments on
the article if the team wishes so.
Figure 1: Dante architecture.
To summarize, the main characteristics that we
consider essential for an efficient collaborative
document creation and review system are:
support for virtual team efficiency
user and document centered
support users location and time independency
platform independent
efficient group interaction
allow users to concentrate on the content and
waste as little as possible time with the technology
that supports the process
document management facilities
automation for different parts of the process (i.e.
formatting the document according to different
As shown in Figure 1, Dante is a web based
system design upon de model-view-controller design
pattern which stores all data in XML files. This
approach allows a great flexibility in handling
document and user interaction. The presentation
layer sets the appropriate tools according to user
level and rights and manages the client-side
communication with the controller layer using
The presentation layer defines de following main
tools: Editor, Partners and Chat. The Editor allows
users to manage old projects, start new ones,
collaboratively edit current projects and export
documents in different open formats and format the
content using predefined templates. When starting a
new project, the project owner must define a set of
properties, like name (works like an identifier for the
project), type (according to the type that has been
selected, a certain template will be used to format
the content when users export the document) and a
list of members that will participate to the project
(after defining the project, all participants will have
the same rights) (Leone, Hodel and Gall 2005).
During development extra sets of metadata will be
added to the project allowing users to consult the
state of the project, last modified date etc. Each
author can edit one or more chapters from the
document and place comments on those chapters
edited by the others. Chapters are presented as
elements in a tree menu and can bee accessed in
different windows. When accessing a particular
chapter, the system checks the metadata associated
to it and determines if the current user is the author
of the chapter and displays a new menu that allows
him to edit the content if so, otherwise allowing him
only to add new comments to the component
elements or edit comments define earlier. The editor
is not made up from elements that will allow authors
to format the content (i.e. defining font types,
paragraph alignment etc.), but from elements that
represent structural components of document (i.e.
paragraph, note, quote, table etc.). The formatting of
document will be done automatically by the
application according to the template that the
document owner had defined. Each structural
component of the document can be commented by
the rest of the team, the editor defining special zones
at the end of each element where these comments
can be consulted. When accessing chapters for
whom the current users is not the owner, a different
editor is loaded allowing the user to define and edit
comments and reply to those that others have
defined. Before finalizing the project, the chapters
can be exported in different open formats (i.e. PDF)
or to a link in order to be accessed by those that are
not participating to the project.
The Chat sections allows user to communicate
using synchronous channels. The section defines two
main channels: Groups and Personal. The Groups
channel lists all active projects for the current user
and allows him to communicate with the members
of each project in different panels. When a particular
group is selected, the user can communicate with the
members of that project that are online, the messages
being available for all co-workers. All messages are
stored in XML files and associated to the project,
allowing user to consult the discussion archive or the
project anytime. On the other hand, the Personal
channel allows user to communicate with each
friend defined in the Agenda using private channels.
These messages are not stored in the message
archive, only if the users decide so.
The Partners section has two main
subcomponents: Agenda and Invitations. The
Agenda allows users to manage their partners’
contacts and export them to micro-formats like
HCard. The user’s personal data can be exported in
VCard format. The Invitations subcomponent
manages the user’s invitations to participate at
different projects (only after accepting an invitation
a user can actively participate to a project). All
personal data is stored in XML files, allowing the
system to easily integrate them into the projects
content when exporting a project in a final state
according to different templates.
In the next section we shall discuss the details
regarding the implementation of our web based
collaborative document creation and review system.
As previously mentioned, Dante is a web based
system design upon de model-view-controller
design-pattern which stores all data in XML files.
The View layer personalizes the user interface
according to user’s rights and permissions and
displays the appropriate editor after reading the
documents metadata. It also implements a
communication module which transfers data to the
Controller layer using AJAX. The Controller layer
handles the events triggered from the UI and calls
the appropriate handler from the Model layer. We
will concentrate our attention on the Model layer
witch manages all XML documents.
The Model layer consists mainly from two
subcomponents: the Document manager and the
Repository. The Repository is a collection of DTD,
XML and XSLT files used by the Document
manager module.
The Model layer consists mainly from two
subcomponents: the Document manager and the
Repository. The Repository is a collection of DTD,
XML and XSLT files used by the Document
manager module.
Figure 2: Document workflow.
The document type definition files describe the
structure of the documents and all metadata that can
be added to them. In this case, to describe the
structure of the scientific papers we’ve created a
document type called xmlDocument. The structure
of this type is in a way similar to the more mature
DocBook xml vocabulary (Walsh 2005), being more
simplified and particularized for scientific papers.
The xmlDocument DTD defines the structure of the
whole document viewed as a project. The two main
elements of an xmlDocument are docInfo, which
describes the metadata associate with the document
(i.e. document name, authors, document type, last
update, version etc.) and docBody. The docBody
defines the content of the document (i.e. abstract,
references, appendixes etc.) and for to each chapter
the metadata associated (id, title and author) and a
link to the XML file that defines its content. This
separation of each chapter in different XML files
allows a more flexible management of content and
metadata. The vocabulary that describes the
chapter’s elements is defined by the xmlChapter
document type definition, implementing means of
storing and identifying elements. As mentioned
earlier, each author can define comments for the
chapters that he is not editing. These comments are
stored in separate XML files, and the vocabulary
describing them defines elements to uniquely
identify de comment, describe its characteristics (i.e.
author, date etc.) and link it to the element to which
it referees.
ICE-B 2008 - International Conference on e-Business
In order for the Document manager to easy set
the corresponding roles and rights, a document type
definition is implemented to store the projects. This
DTD allows defining for each user the projects for
which he is a collaborator or the owner. The
Document manager module consist in several
classes based on the DOM implementation which
automates the processes concerning the creation,
storage, retrieval and the export of the documents.
All server side scripts have been implemented in
PHP which includes a good support for XML,
complying with the commonly used standards (SAX,
DOM, SimpleXML, XMLReader, XMLWriter, and
the XSLT). Some of the classes defined in the
document manager come as a wrapper for the DTD
residing in the repository: the xmlChapter class, for
example, handles the creation and the update of
different document objects, prepares the content for
printing accessing the appropriate class when
exporting (i.e. the pdfPrinter class when exporting to
PDF). This module generates the appropriate user
interface according to the user’s role and rights,
loading the corresponding XSL and parsing the
requested XML file. For the same DTD the
Repository defines different XSL transformation
files for each role and user-level, restricting the
access to different actions that the user can perform
upon the document. Most of the UI used by Dante is
generated using XSL transformations.
The Chat module works in a similar way,
defining a DTD for storage purposes and different
XSL transformation schemes for display. As
mentioned previously, the user can communicate
using private channels or rooms dedicated to
different projects. The messages exchanged between
users in these project related rooms are bound to the
project using metadata (although physically residing
in different locations) allowing project based
message archiving. This approach allows members
to catch-up with the team when not being able to
join the group. The Agenda module stores member’s
personal data (this being done also using XML files)
and allows users to export this information in HCard
and VCard microformats. All templates require a
minimum of identification data for the authors, the
project importing all required data when formatting
from this module. We have tried to structure the
implementation as much as possible according to
functionality of the whole system, defining a
modular structure.
The user interaction is managed using
JavaScript. Because the communication from the
server to the client is mostly done using XML
chunks (or an entire file), the classes defined on the
client-side are in some manner a transposing of
those residing on the server being also a wrapper
upon the document. The Session Manager module
from the Controller layer determines which script to
be loaded according to conjuncture determining the
operations that a user can execute on a particular
document. When editing a particular chapter, all new
elements and all changes are stored in different
queues and only when the users decides to save the
document the content of these queues is send using
AJAX to the server. These classes are also based on
the DOM model, the content being sent to the server
representing a DOM node to be inserted in the
document residing on the server. The queues are
gradually discharged when a component element is
successfully saved on the server. This approach
allows defining specific UI elements and behavior to
each document type being treated. The user screen is
blocked while saving the content of the queues,
ousting the chances to make unsafe changes to the
content. When appropriate, an XSLT processor is
used on the client-side to reduce the charge on the
We have chosen this modular approach based on
document types and user interfaces particularized on
roles/rights and document types in order to facilitate
further development of the system in such a manner
that it could handle a lot more document types.
The work reported in this paper has addressed the
problem of integrating document management
functionalities and workflow capabilities into single
system with support for virtual teams in order to
achieve a very efficient solution for collaborative
document editing. Allowing users to edit
collaboratively documents and supporting their
needs for time and location independence can result
in more team efficiency. Users have to be able to
concentrate their efforts on content and reduce as
much as possible the time used to handle and
integrate technologies. An approach that integrates
functionalities from document management systems,
workflow management and collaborative editing
proves to be a much more user centered and
supportive collaborative solution. As such an
implementation, Dante tries to offer sufficient
support in order for the teams to be goal directed and
efficient. Using a web based solution does not
impose restrictions on the users regarding operating
systems or software. Taking in consideration the
multitude of solutions available, we have to consider
using as much as possible open formats in order for
the content to be easily integrated. As shown in this
paper, using XML as building blocks allows the
system to be document and user centered. We have
presented a case study of a particular field where
such an implementation would be a great support.
As further work, we intend to develop our system
toward a framework that can handle a wide range of
documents, taking in consideration the increased
need for collaborative document editing in a
multitude of working fields.
The work presented has been funded by the research
grant “Intelligent System for Business Decisions
Support”, Director Nitchi Stefan, PhD., Professor,
PNII Program, 91-049/18.09.2007 supported by
Higher Education Ministry.
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ICE-B 2008 - International Conference on e-Business