Friday, September 04, 2009

SODA 2010

Ironically (I'm on the PC), I'm probably the last one to post about the SODA acceptances (although I did tweet it a while ago)

In case you don't already know, one major change this year is the 20 page limit on final versions, brought about by the all-electronic proceedings. It's worth pointing out here that this is a major change that I don't think ANY conference (theoretical or otherwise) has put into place (I can say this because I had nothing to do with it :)). 20 pages is huge: there's no way you can wiggle out of writing full proofs at this point, and I hope that this trend will continue as more of our conferences go all-electronic.

One caveat: I don't know what the final version format is. It seems unnecessary to go with the butt-ugly Sheridan 2-column format, but we'll see.

On the papers:
I'm not going to comment on the papers, since I reviewed many of them. Suffice it to say that (even though it sounds like a cliche), I was impressed by the quality of the submissions, and there were many good papers that unfortunately couldn't make it. We're in the process of writing decision summaries for the authors: these are intended to capture more of the discussion surrounding a paper. Hopefully, they will give a better sense of what the reviewers liked and disliked about the paper than just the actual reviews.

On the process:
I felt a bit more disconnected from the overall deliberations this time, and maybe others felt this way too. I spent a lot of time on "my pile", but I didn't have a lot of time to look over papers that I wasn't in some way responsible for. Given the number of submissions, this is unavoidable I guess.

I actually think the reason I felt this way was because of the software interface. Instead of the (clunky) SIGACT server interface used in years gone by, we used the snazzy HotCRP interface. In almost every way, this is a vastly superior interface (and I've used EasyChair, the Microsoft CMT, and other packages as well). It feels lightweight, it has great searching and tagging capabilities, and most of the interfaces are one or two clicks from the home page. It cleanly combines email notifications and uploads/downloads with web-based editing, and I'd recommend it very strongly for anyone organizing a conference in the future.

The only feature the SIGACT server had which this doesn't, was a landing page where you got a stream of all comments on all papers. It was a serendipitious way of picking up on discussions not related to papers you were in charge of, and I remember in the past getting interested in a discussion and a paper and actually reading and submitting a review myself. In HotCRP, you land at a page containing your reviews, and it doesn't give you a direct view into the global picture (except maybe for the PC chair).

One amazing feat of social engineering that HotCRP also does: at this landing page, it tells you how many reviews you've put in compared to the average. There was a time during the review process where I'd reload the page every few hours and see myself falling behind the PC average, increasing the pressure on me to submit reviews :).

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