The Perpetual Conference

Wednesday, July 04, 2012
File under: Seminar Room

This years ICML conference had an interesting feature: discussion boards for each paper. I’m not sure if they’re the first major machine learning conference to do it, but it’s at least the first one which did a good job of building this and promoting it on the front page.

Instead of using some full discussion board software, they used disqus which is a JavaScript plug-in which can bring discussion threads easily to static sites (and has also been used on this blog for some time now).

Using these pages I could easily interact with Kiri Wagstaff whose paper I discussed in a previous post without actually being at the conference, which is great. It is a good example of how the Internet can help to improve the scientific discourse.

It seems it’s becoming less and less important to actually go to a conference. Talks are recorded, papers are online, and now we have these discussion feeds which are a good substitute for the discussion going on at a poster or after a talk.

We could even compile all these different bits and pieces related to a paper on individual pages to get something like a “perpetual conference.” You don’t actually have to be at the poster session to see what people have been discussing or to ask some clarifying question or pointing out some potential related work, you can do so, even month later over the discussion board.

Of course, I see that there are many benefits of physically hosting a conference. You’re away from your office and can focus on the work which is presented. You meet and interact with people in the hallways which is always nice. On the other hand, flying around half the globe, suffering a jet lag of 6 to 9 hours (at least for us from Europe, it’s often that way) for just a few days, is also quite an investment.

But even for “real” conferences, I think providing this kind of web visibility is a great way to increase the impact of the research presented there. The best thing is that nowadays you don’t even have to do a lot of web programming to get there, but you can instead rely on a huge number of services to tie in what you need using a bit of HTML or JavaScript.

So if you’re organizing a conference or workshop consider making it even more accessible to people not attending:

  • Set up individual pages for each of the presentations with permanent URLs.

  • Put the paper up, not only as a PDF, but using a service like slideshare or scribd for easy online viewing.

  • Record the talks, think about streaming the talks as they happen. Put the talks on vimeo or youtube, embed them on your page. If you have the money, pay videolectures to record the talk. They’re really good!

  • Put a discussion thread on the page using a service like disqus.

  • Set up a Twitter account, a Google+ page, or a Facebook page to inform people about what’s happening. Define and promote a Twitter hashtag to go with your conference.

  • Set up a front page for your conference which shows the activities on Twitter and on the discussion forums nicely as they did with this year’s ICML

  • Make sure to install Google analytics or some other form of traffic analysis tool to see what people are responding to.

You may wonder why you should do this, but trust me, it will make you venue much more visible, which is also good for the people who present at your workshop or conference, eventually leading to more citations.

Posted by Mikio L. Braun at 2012-07-04 12:23:00 +0200

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