Monday, July 10, 2017

Crowdsourced Exploration of Mobile App Features: A Case Study of the Fort McMurray Wildfire

By: Maleknaz Nayebi @MaleknazNayebi
Associate editor: Federica Sarro @f_sarro

Software products have an undeniable impact on people's daily life. However, software can only help if it matches user’s needs. Often, up to 80% of software features are never or almost never used. To bring the real impact into the society, understanding the specific needs of the users is critical. Social media provide such opportunity to a good extent.

This is a post summarizing the main idea of an ICSE 2017 SEIS track paper titled "Crowdsourced exploration of mobile app features: a case study of the Fort McMurray wildfire". The two interviews complement the description and highlight the results. 

We gathered the online communications of Albertans about Fort McMurray fire at the time of this crisis. People formed unofficial online support groups on Facebook and Twitter trying to distribute and reply to the needs of evacuees. For example, for sharing a car, and fuel, baby clothes, getting information about road traffic and gas station lineups, reporting incidents or criminal movements and so on they put a post on Twitter or Facebook and add #yymfire or #FortMcMurray fire hashtags. Then, other members following these hashtags offered them help. In the case of emergency situations (such as natural disaster or man-made attacks), a cell phone may suddenly become the victims only resources.

We developed a method called MAPFEAT to gather and analyze social media posts. With MAPFEAT we elicit requirements from the unstructured communication and automatically map them into an app feature already existing in one of the apps of the whole app store. By evaluating these features through crowdsourcing, MAPFEAT ranks and prioritizes the app features that expect the highest match with user needs and thus should be included in a software application. 

In the case of Fort McMurray fire, we analyzed almost 70,000 tweets and mapped them into app features using MAPFEAT. We compared the features we had with the features already existing in 26 emergency apps.  The results showed that none of the top 10 most essential features for victims is available in any of the 26 apps. Among top 40 essential features as we gathered, only six was provided by some of the existing wildfire apps. In total, we mined 144 features, and 85% of them were evaluated as essential and worthwhile by the general public.

The mismatch between user’s requirements and software design is a well-known software engineering problem. With the lightweight and high capacity cell devices, now software engineering is, more than ever, a way to help people in solving problems. This would be only possible if we find solutions to involve the general public in the decision process.  

Links to interviews:

Fort McMurray wildfire tweets show key info missing during disasters: Alberta study

Evacuees struggled for answers during Fort McMurray wildfire: U of C

MAPFEAT is a series of analytical techniques and AI methods. For more information please refer to: Nayebi, M., Quapp, R., Ruhe, G., Marbouti, M., & Maurer, F. (2017, May). Crowdsourced exploration of mobile app features: a case study of the Fort McMurray wildfire. In Proceedings of the 39th International Conference on Software Engineering: Software Engineering in Society Track (pp. 57-66). IEEE Press.

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