Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Collective Coordination of Conferences?

Around this time of year, I get a number of messages from students:  I want to take your class, but there's a conflict with this other class I want to take, what can be done...  Sometimes a solution can be worked out, sometimes not.  It's not an easy issue to deal with.  In Computer Science, we take a look at our own schedule of classes, and try to make sure there aren't any particularly bad time conflicts among our own classes, although inevitably there are some hopefully minor ones.  Then we try to look at other big classes in related areas -- try not to have our intro classes the same time as the intro economics, physics, statistics courses, etc.  Of course we also try to let them know when our big intro courses are, so they don't reschedule classes into those time slots as well.  In the end I think we do a reasonably good job.

That was a long-winded roundabout to where I wanted to get to, which is conference scheduling.  It's something that I think is becoming increasingly broken -- at least for theory conferences* -- due to the fact that there is (as far as I know) minimal coordination going on with respect to the calendar, and there's an ever-increasing number of conferences and workshops.  The near-overlap of ITCS and SODA is one obvious example.  The nearly-overlapping SPAA and PODC deadlines are another.**  I'm sure one can come up with hosts of others, and that's excluding the issue of trying to coordinate with other adjacent fields.  (For many years, INFOCOM and SODA deadlines, as I recall, were within a couple of days of each other -- and July 4th!  Not friendly, especially not family friendly.) 

I'm not claiming we want full centralization of conference scheduling.  But I do think there should be a lot more of it than we have.  A lot of aspects of the conference calendar -- dates, how many conferences we have, where they're located -- don't make a lot of sense to me, and I think that's because they don't make a lot sense.  I don't know how we arrange for a body to try to look at where we're at and figure out how to make it globally better.  But I wish someone would!   

* I haven't noticed this so much for other areas -- in networking, SIGCOMM, INFOCOM, NSDI, IMC, and even Allerton have always seemed reasonably spread out to me, but perhaps I just haven't noticed the problem.

** I've thought SPAA and PODC should have some sort of "merge" for almost 20 years now.  You're different communities?  Fine.  Then arrange a permanent co-location agreement.  It would be better for both conferences.  


Paul Beame said...

There is coordination that goes on in a decentralized way. We have a bunch of set patterns that get tweaked each year. People tend to know which conferences to check on, etc. Notification and submission deadlines of consecutive major conferences often are coordinated explicitly between, say FOCS and SODA. ICTS is relatively new and so it is not part of the standard pattern.

One issue is that all our standard sequencing is becoming outdated as the time between submission of final version and conference date can be shortened due to electronic publication. The problem is that the review cycles no longer match this. There is no need for a long window between acceptance and submission of final versions. (ICALP gives 3 weeks for example).

We have 4 month gaps from acceptance to publication: SODA is in January though the reviewing is done by mid-September. FOCS is in October but the reviewing needs to be done by June to have decisions prior to SODA submissions. STOC is in May but the decisions are made in January. Part of this is that the reviewing work for these big conferences is designed to be done at times when PC members have breaks from classes but even if that weren't the case it seems that the entire system of theory conference dates tends to be too tightly coupled for individual conferences to make major changes.

Sarah said...

A non-theory example: the USENIX Security and Crypto deadlines are 16 hours apart! Normally they are a week apart and the conferences are back-to-back, so I wonder who decided to make things even more tricky this year.

Suresh Venkatasubramanian said...

Another example of missed coordination is STOC and SoCG. It does no one any good that the deadlines clash, and while the communities are slightly different, they're not so different that some coordination can't happen.

Anonymous said...

It's very often the case that "weaker" conferences accommodate deadlines of "stronger" conferences, and so you have STOC deadline, then notification, and then you have ICALP deadline, notification, and then you have ESA deadline, notification, WAOA deadline, ...etc. PC of these committees do consult about the dates.

The fact that SoCG deadline is not well coordinated with the STOC dates is most likely because SoCG community doesn't want to have its deadline after STOC notification, which is within their right, though it's not a perfect solution.

SPAA and PODC: now SPAA is weaker and one would expect that it's SPAA who could think about changing their dates, or to propose to collocate with PODC. But I think this would mean some loss of independence for the community and they don't want to do it.

ITCS and SODA: the clash in the deadlines and the conference dates its caused by the decisions done by ITCS 3 years ago to run things in almost the same time as SODA; SODA has established dates for many years and there is no reason they should do anything.

Daniel said...

Paul: many people attend a conference only if they have a paper accepted (for various reasons). So some time is needed between acceptance and the conference to allow these people to comfortably organize the trip, find funding etc. Perhaps 4 months are too much for this, but not that much.

Also, people need some time to prepare the final version: other deadlines, holidays, coordination between the coauthors can easily make this last a few weeks.

Anonymous said...

Why not co-locate ITCS with SODA?

Paul Beame said...

Daniel: Registration and hotel booking for conferences does not typically open until a couple of weeks after final versions are due, usually about 2 months in advance since conference programs are only finalized after final versions are in. The vast majority of attendees register and book their travel 3-6 weeks ahead of the conference (though SODA in Kyoto might be an exception). Paper revisions don't justify another 2 months between acceptance and final versions.

Puzzled said...

Sarah, I don't understand the complaint about the timing of Usenix Security vs Crypto.

The two conferences are incredibly far apart in topics. The overlap (in terms of number of papers that would make sense to submit to both conferences, or that stand a decent chance of being admitted at both conferences) is in my experience awfully small -- nearly zero. Given that, I can't imagine why would expect the program chairs of Crypto and Usenix Security to coordinate their schedules.

Crypto long ago shifted away from practical papers, towards favoring theoretical work. As a result, any paper that Usenix Security would accept, almost surely would have a very difficult time getting accepted at Crypto.

And the same goes for the other direction as well. Any paper that Crypto would accept, almost surely would have a very difficult time getting accepted at Usenix Security. Usenix Security has for some time said that it is not interested in pure crypto papers. Look at the Usenix Security call for papers; it comes right and says it: "Note that the USENIX Security Symposium is primarily a systems security conference. Papers whose contributions are primarily new cryptographic algorithms or protocols [..] may not be appropriate for this conference."

I understand the complaint about scheduling, but I don't think Usenix Security vs Crypto is a very good example.