Using Crowdsourcing for Domain-Specific Languages Specification

In the context of Domain-Specific Modeling Language (DSML) development, the involvement of end-users is crucial to assure that the resulting language satisfies their needs.

In our paper presented at SLE 2017 in Vancouver, Canada, on October 24th within the SPLASH Conference context, we discuss how crowdsourcing tasks can exploited to assist in domain-specific language definition processes. This is in line with the vision towards cognification of model-driven engineering.

The slides are available on slideshare:


Indeed, crowdsourcing has emerged as a novel paradigm where humans are employed to perform computational and information collection tasks. In language design, by relying on the crowd, it is possible to show an early version of the language to a wider spectrum of users, thus increasing the validation scope and eventually promoting its acceptance and adoption.

Ready to accept improper use of your tools?

We propose a systematic (and automatic) method for creating crowdsourcing campaigns aimed at refining the graphical notation of DSMLs. The method defines a set of steps to identify, create and order the questions for the crowd. As a result, developers are provided with a set of notation choices that best fit end-users’ needs. We also report on an experiment validating the approach.

Improving the quality of the language notation may improve dramatically acceptance and adoption, as well as the way people use your notation and the associated tools.

Essentially, our idea is to spawn to the crowd a bunch of questions regarding the concrete syntax of visual modeling languages, and collect opinions. Based on different strategies, we generate an optimal notation and then we check how good it is.

In the paper we also validate the approach and experiment it in a practical use case, namely studying some variations over the BPMN modeling language.

The full paper can be found here: The paper is titled: “Better Call the Crowd: Using Crowdsourcing to Shape the Notation of Domain-Specific Languages” and was co-authored by Marco Brambilla, Jordi Cabot, Javier Luis Cánovas Izquierdo, and Andrea Mauri.

You can also access the Web version on Jordi Cabot blog.

The artifacts described in this paper are also referenced on, namely referring to the following materials:

Webinar on WebRatio BPM Platform 8.4

I’m glad to share the video of the most recent webinar on WebRatio BPM Platform, the BPMN-based tool designed to support you in building high-end BPM Web and mobile Apps with a tailored User Experience. If you never experienced WebRatio BPM Platform, here is a summary of what you can do with it:

  •  DEVELOP WEB AND MOBILE APPS through prototypes, then change them as many times as you need. No more time wasted building mockups on paper.
  • NO VENDOR LOCK IN thanks to highly optimized generated code that is open, human readable and based on the most recent Java and JS frameworks.
  • DEFINE A CUSTOM WEB OR MOBILE FRONT END for your BPM App and create a customized user interface, giving every channel a different user experience.
  • SUPPORT YOUR USERS’ MOBILITY thanks to the mobile BPM capabilities that let you work on your BPM App on any device, desktop or mobile, and deliver a seamless user experience.
Discover more on the WebRatio site or watch the video of the webinar on YouTube:

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Videos of the Webinars on IFML and its integration with BPMN and UML

Along with the effort of disseminating IFML all around the world, I also gave some online webinars on IFML (the Interaction Flow Modeling Language). If you are interested in learning the basics of the language and on its integration with BPMN and UML, together with the enabled code generation options, you may want to watch the following recordings of the webinars.

This is the last webinar, dedicated to IFML and to its use integrated with other modeling languages in the MDA suite, such as UML and BPMN. The webinar will introduce the basics of the IFML language and will demonstrate the advantages of using it together with BPMN diagrams, UML activity diagrams, sequence diagrams, and class diagrams. The tutorial shows that IFML is the missing piece for modeling the front end of software applications and perfectly complements other modeling dimensions in broad system modeling projects:

If you like, you can listen to it also in Italian (also presented by me) or in Spanish (speaker Matteo Silva).

The webinar video, only introducing IFML and the standardization experience, is available too:


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Webinars on IFML and integration with UML and BPMN

Join the Webinar dedicated to IFML and its use integrated with other modeling languages in the MDA suite, such as UML and BPMN!

The webinar will introduce the basics of the IFML language and will demonstrate the advantages of using it together with BPMN diagrams, UML use case, activity diagrams, sequence diagrams, and class diagrams. IFML is the missing piece for modeling the front end of software applications and perfectly complements other modeling dimensions in broad system modeling projects.
The schedule of the webinars is as follows:
– Thursday July 25 at 15 CEST (GMT +2) (in english)
– Friday July 26 at 15 CEST (GMT +2) (in italian)
Register to the Webinar on the WebRatio Web site:
register to the webinar

Participation is free, courtesy of WebRatio.

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CrowdSearch 2012: my experience at the First International Workshop On Crowdsourcing Web Search at WWW2012

To keep updated on my activities you can subscribe to the RSS feed of my blog or follow my twitter account (@MarcoBrambi).

Bruce Silver’s keynote speech at BPMN 2011 workshop: interoperability and other issues in BPMN and UML

Today at the BPMN 2011 workshop in Luzern, Bruce Silver gave an interesting talk on the status of BPMN 2.0, its adoption, and his proposal for improving its general usage.
I really appreciated the talk because:

  • it focused on the ambiguities of the BPMN notation, even in the so acclaimed 2.0 version
  • it highlighted how users tend to be confused once the notation is so complex.

Bruce presented his well-known approach, with the caveat that probably method and style is too weak as a position, so he proposes to move to the rules term, so that people feel somehow more obliged to comply 🙂 .

    The first issue I take away is the problem of interoperability.
    I would also identify a trend on what I heard here, through a parallel to what is happening in OMG within the Canonical XMI initiative (read something here), performed by the Canonical XMI Finalization Task Force: given a modeling language (or an exchange format like XMI) which is under-specified, too general, or too open for dialects generation, the need arises for putting some stricter limitations to the designers, for making the tools more interoperable and for improving the quality of the models. Interoperability is the explicit aim of XMI, but, since it failed to an extent. Probably the same would apply to XPDL itself: it was designed as an interchange format for business process models, but then ended up being prone to several dialects and interpretations as well. For XMI, the improved interoperability aim is now in charge of Canonical XMI (while no action is being taken on XPDL).  The same purpose is addressed by the BPMN-I initiative by Bruce Silver.

    A similar problem that has been addressed is executability:
    Also on this, I see strong parallelism with the UML world. There is definitely a push towards executability of models: just think about the executable UML fUML and Alf initiatives (you can find a nice overview on both on Jordi’s blog here), at OMG or also some new activities like MiUML, an open-source executable UML project.
    On the other side, also BPMN 2.0 is addressing executability and within WebRatio we are also providing somehow a pragmatic approach to BPMN executability, by generating running Web applications. The question is: are customers asking for that? The claim by Bruce is that they are not for BPMN. Most people only want to model, not to execute. Probably, if you look at the share of interested people, for UML it’s the same. However, I think executability is an interesting property that should be granted to give a general grounding to reality to models (although I acknowledge that some models may not need/allow that).

    A final take from the day is related to choreography.
    Interestingly enough, again people are not using it: neither in the BPMN world nor in the UML one. I don’t have stats on the usage of the different kinds of UML models, but I’m pretty sure people only use class diagrams basically. Some will use activity diagrams, and few sequence diagrams. Anything else?

    Bruce Silver, with Bruce Silver Associates,
    presenting his keynote at the BPMN 2011 workshop.

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    Social BPM: motivation and impact on the BPM lifecycle

    A lot of discussions are ongoing on the motivations and role of social BPM, in particular on how and when it should impact on the classical BPM lifecycle.

    In terms of motivations, I think the social extension of a business process can be regarded  as a specific optimization phase, where the organization seeks efficiency by extending the reach of a business process to a broader class of stakeholders. This general objective articulates into different optimization goals, which constitute the motivation of the process socialization effort:

    • Exploitation of weak ties and implicit knowledge: the goal is discovering and exploiting informal knowledge and relationships to improve activity execution.
    • Transparency: the goal is making the decision procedures internal to the process more visible to the affected stakeholders.
    • Participation: the goal is engaging a broader community to raise the awareness about, or the acceptance of, the process outcome.
    • Activity distribution: the goal is assigning an activity to a broader set of performers or to find  appropriate contributors for its execution.
    • Decision distribution: the goal is eliciting opinions that contribute to the making of a decision.
    • Social feedback: the goal is acquiring feedback from a broader set of stakeholders, for process improvement.
    • Knowledge sharing: the goal is disseminating knowledge in order to improve task execution; at an extreme, this could entail fostering mutual support among users to avoid performing costly activities (e.g., technical support).

    To attain these objectives, the social BPM features (or levels of adoption) must be incorporated into the business process lifecycle.
    I tried to understand on  which phases of the classical BPM cycle the Social BPM levels of adoption impact more and I ended up with this simple mapping:

    Social BPM levels mapped to the classical BPM cycle

    While participatory design obviously impacts more in the design and modeling phases, the social enactment and participatory enactment apply on the execution phase. Finally, process mining involves some technical aspects at execution time (e.g., logging of events) but then plays its role mainly in the monitoring and optimization phases.

    I wish also to highlight that, when the model of the social process is consolidated, the deployment phase might also play an important role: it consists of a the technical phase that produces the actual executable version of the social process enactment application. This task might be complicated by the need of interacting at runtime with social software to support the social interactions required by the process model (in case of social or participatory enactment). These platforms are available online and can be used as a service in the enactment of the process (e.g., LinkedIn for skill and people search, Doodle for decision distribution, etc.). However, the integration of the BPM runtime to the social services is a nontrivial task, complicated by the absence of an interoperability standard masking the technical details of the APIs of each different platform.

    To face this problem means to support easy and quick deployment, which is a critical enabler for convincing the management to embrace some social approach with limited cost. For that one can rely on technical architectures and development tools that automate the generation of process enactment applications from Social BPMN process models.
    In the paper we recently wrote for the BPMS2 workshop we describe how to exploit the WebRatio architecture and tool for this purpose. WebRatio applies some model transformations to:

    • first map Social BPMN models into the WebML Domain Specific Language (DSL) application models 
    • and then the WebML models into Java components connected to social software APIs

    We will delve further into these issues thanks to a research project called BPM4People that has been recently funded by the European Commission within the 7FP Capacities program for SMEs.

    Do you see any other possible motivations or impacts of social BPM?

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    Video: Introduction to WebRatio

    In case you didn’t see it, here is the short introductory video about WebRatio, in which a speaker highlights the main features of the MDD tool based on WebML:

    You can also find some audio lessons on WebML on my official web site.

    Trends and challenges in Business Process Management (BPM) at SMAU 2010

    On Wednesday, October 20, 4pm I gave a seminar together with Stefano Butti from WebRatio on:
    Trends and challenges in Business Process Management (BPM). The seminar was very successful, with more than 50 participants (see some pictures below).

    This workshop highlighted the current challenges in the Business Process Modeling and Management fields, including:

    • social BPM: how to foster online social communities for collaborative real-time process improvement
    • mobile BPM: how to build essential mobile BPM applications for everyday life, spanning from online flight check-in to purchase control
    • data-centric BPM: how to integrate data and process modeling, by combining MDM (Master Data Management) and BPM, so as to achieve less expensive integration between BPMS and DBMS.
    • BPM on the cloud: how to exploit cloud computing platforms and services for performance and cost scalability of BPM solutions
    • Mobile BPM
    • .. and some others.

    Besides highlighting the needs and trends, the workshop discusses the visions of the major players and analysts in the field and proposes some approaches to the problem, with special attention to MDD (Model Driven Development) as a possible solution. To make the discussion more concrete, the MDD approach is exemplified with the WebRatio development environment.
    Here are the slides we presented:

    5th MDA and Agile Modeling Forum, Milano, Sept 30, 2010 – Morning Session

    I attended the 5th Model driven architecture and agile forum in Milano on September 30th.

    Here are a few take away messages I got:

    Richard Soley (Chairman and CEO of OMG): 

    1. If IT departments of large enterprises don’t change, they are doomed to end up cleaning the floor and changing light bulbs. Entire IT division role need to be reinvented. Basically CIO role shall become_ to automate the business processes throughout the company, and even better: to optimize the processes, more than just automate (otherwise: risk of commoditization). 
    2. Business Ecology Initiative: Green economy also means no redundant or inefficient processes. This and other communities of practice like: BPM/SOA, Green CIO, CyberSecurity, … are part of the current OMG strategy for sharing and exploiting experiences between companies.
    3. Models are going mainstream in the near future: “By 2013 graphical models in software will be used in more than 80% of new compositions” [Gartner]. And the purpose of standards is not to drive industry to a unique notation, but to make adaptation easier. 

    Stephen White (the main editor of BPMN): 
    BPMN is not able to bridge the gap between IT and business per se. However, it can combine with other languages, such as SoaML to solve the issue. Btw, this is in line with what we are doing now with WebRatio BPM: we integrate BPMN with WebML (and all its design dimensions) to address the gap and grant quick design and implementation.

    Allen Brown (with The Open Group):  
    TOGAF and MDA integration is crucial for making the first work and the second actually implemented in the enterprise. I see TOGAF as a rather heavyweight methodology (à-la ITIL).

    Stephen Mellor (one of the fathers of MDA): 
    You can be agile while developing with model driven methods, despite the agile critiques to MDA: i.e., that models don’t run, can’t be tested, are used just for documentation, require extra work and alignment. The criticism comes from a different understanding of the Model concept:

    • Models as sketches: you draw them and then throw them away
    • Models as blueprints: aim at directing and planning the implementation, under the assumption that construction is more costly than design
    • Executable models: they are not just models, they are intended as part of implementation and for verification. They are built under the assumption that construction is less costly than design.

    Now with executable UML models (xtUML) you can describe your actions and perform them on the models.
    Thus MDA and Agile can merge, thanks to model compilers and alternative techniques. Why does it happen now and not 20 years ago?

    Claus Torp Jensen (with IBM):
    The question is: what are we modeling? software systems or business solutions?
    We need strategic synergies betweeen Business strategies, SOA, BPM, and EA. Each of them in isolation can produce incremental results only..
    Architectural models and requirements must be contextual, collaborative, consumable (i.e., understandable) and connected in nature for being useful and integrated in the business strategy of the enterprise. How to get there?
    Semantics of the EA plan is not the same of the one in the BPM tool. You need to understand where is your work located: at business level (BPM), at information system level (business dependent IT), or at technology level (business independent IT). Each of them has his own “tribe” of people and will have its own tools and models.
    But remember that copying is evil, even at the enterprise planning level. You shall not copy, but only define and preserve links between the levels and the models.

    Morning panel
    The biggest difficulty for companies adopting BPM+SOA+EA is:

    • dealing with people habits and resilience to change (Soley)
    • accepting standards (White)
    • who to ask for guidance and training, and tools availability; communication between users, business lines, and other stakeholders (Brown)
    • definitely people (Mellor)
    • impatience of getting to the results (Jensen)

    Software integrators will not disappear, but will need to change their activities basically to BPM integrators.
    UML 3.0 will be out in 1.5 years or so. Now the working group is building the first draft.
    If you don’t have a success measure for your BPM/SOA project, you are at risk of failure. Some KPIs must be defined and obviously must benchmark the processes before and after the project. BPMM (Business Process Maturity Model) can be used for that too.
    About SOA, people tend to focus on reuse as the main advantage. But this is not the only aspect.
    About standards: as anybody knows, they are not complete enough to grant interoperability of models or diagrams. You may choose to buy all the best of breed tools and make the integration yourself, or you can buy an integrated toolsuite and make the seller integrate it in your business.Standards are only the common denominator of all the producers, they cannot cover all the cases and scenarios.

    Attendees to the event mainly included people from banking, software integration, (BPM and MDD) software producers, and consulting companies.