Friday, February 08, 2013

TCS+ hangout on the TSP polytope.

+Thomas Vidick  and the folks at the +TCS+ community have started a new experiment in G+ hangout talks. The first talk in this series was by Ronald de Wolf on the STOC 2012 paper that showed that there was no polynomial-sized lifted representation of the TSP polytope.

Overall, it was a very pleasant experience. I was able to reserve one of the 10 slots (a Hangout limit) for myself and my students at the University of Utah to attend and interact with the speaker, and from Thomas's post-review it seems that many more were signed on for "view-only" access to the stream.

There were very few technical hiccups, and +Oded Regev did a great job making sure that people were muted when not talking, and had a chance to ask questions in an orderly way. The chat sidechannel was a great help.

The talk itself was the best part: de Wolf did an excellent job conveying the main ideas of the proof without getting bogged down in details, and it felt as comfortable as listening to a talk live at a conference. Given the number of people listening in, this was already approaching medium-sized-workshop levels.

I'm looking forward to more of these events, and I'm glad that the +TCS+  folks are doing this. I also hope they can try more experiments with Google Hangout. For example, two ideas come to mind:

  • A reddit-style AMA ("Ask Me Anything"). One way to make this work is that the speaker would do a short presentation (maybe 5-10 minutes) and then would open up the floor for questions. To keep things manageable, people could write in questions on chat, and the moderator could filter them and ask the questions live. With sufficient preparation, some questions could be submitted ahead of time.
  • A live panel discussion with a moderator and a few participants, which again could have questions from the audience moderated by the moderator.

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