Tuesday, January 16, 2007

The Proceedings

It is a conference ritual as far back as I remember. Your arrive at the conference and receive the proceedings, all the papers to be presented at the conference many of which you are seeing for the very first time. I would take the proceedings to my room, smell that new proceedings smell and open it up, first checking that my papers looked fine, not that I could do anything if they weren't. Using the proceedings I would plan what talks I would attend the first day.

The proceedings would never leave my room until after the conference. I just hated lugging the heavy proceedings around. Sometimes when a speaker said something that didn't make sense to me, I would simply borrow a proceedings from someone sitting next to me.

When I returned home I would put the proceedings in its proper place on my office shelf, marveling at my complete collection of STOC, FOCS and Complexity proceedings back to 1986, incredibly useful for looking up recent papers.

How has technology changed how I use a proceedings? Not much during the conference, but I now rarely use proceedings to look up papers and no longer have complete collections of STOC and FOCS.

Other people use proceedings during a conference in different ways. Some never open them up. Some follow along in the proceedings during a talk. Some read the paper before or after the talk.

That's the important point to keep in mind when we have our debates on whether to eliminate proceedings, or put them on the web or on CD-ROMs. We all use proceedings in different ways and no single solution will address everyone's needs.


  1. I just wanted to say that I love the on-line proceeds for FOCS 2006.


  2. How much would it cost to have an option for *either* a CD *or* a print-proceedings? I imagine it would be a cost savings. I know I would much prefer a CD (or memory stick, etc) than the bulky proceedings that I *never* open (and I know that others feel the same way).

    Of course, you wouldn't have that status symbol of the conference proceedings lined up on your office shelf ...

  3. I heavily rely in the proceedings to decide to attend a talk and to "follow along" during the talk. As laptop battery life improves and wireless access becomes more prevalent I can see the day in which printed proceedings are no longer needed, but we aren't there yet.

    Two things to note:

    1) CDs are useless as many laptops don't have CD drives, better would be online proceedings or USB accessible copies at the conference site (borrow the key, copy files over, return key).

    2) The savings in cost from not having proceedings would be minimal, in the order of $25-35. This is nothing in a conference where registration is $350-$500 and hotel+air travel is around a $1000. Want to save money? Lets hold conferences at universities and jointly with other conferences, so that we can amortize traveling between two conferences.

  4. There are other issues besides carrying bulky proceedings and the cost of printing.

    For some reason, printed proceedings seem to imply that we use a big publisher. And this seems to imply that the authors have to transfer the copyrights to the publisher.

    I advocate web proceedings in public web archives for one reason only: there is no real excuse anymore to transfer the copyright from the author to anyone. (It is enough to ask for a permission to publish, and that is something any researcher is more than willing to give.)

    Naturally, we could get the best of both worlds if we really wanted. In addition to using public web archives, the conference organisers could use a local university press or such to produce the hard copies for those who prefer them. You could even burn some CDs for those who prefer them. (Again, no need for a full copyright transfer; a permission to publish would suffice.)

    - J.S.

  5. There is a big difference in proceedings publishers. The copyright transfer forms for ACM, SIAM and IEEE are fairly different from those for the Springer LNCS series and access to Springer-Link is quite expensive (too expensive for example for our university library to subscribe).

    The Springer tranfer form explicitly has an exclusivity clause on the right to publish and now makes explicit the consideration involved in the transfer agreement (discounts on items that authors probably already have from previous publications anyway) which may make the transfer more enforceable legally.

    One aspect of all transfer agreements that is good is that the authors sign that they are not ripping off somebody else's work (a legitimate request of any publisher).

    The truth is that conferences rarely check that the form being signed is actually the original form, merely that some form has been signed. It is easy to modify a form to say that you are transferring non-exclusive right to publish and re-publish. On the Springer agreement, for example, one could cross out the word 'exclusive' in the agreement or simply insert 'non' before 'exclusive'.

  6. The old proceeding argument again...

    Here's my suggestion (or rather, economists' way of solving the problem):

    At the time of the conference registration, charge people for the registration fee without the proceeding, and ask how much extra they are willing to pay for a paper proceeding. If there's some k such that k times the k'th highest bid covers the cost of printing k proceedings (plus whatever overhead is required), then print paper proceedings for those who are willing to pay for it. Otherwise, don't.

    As Lance said, we all use proceedings in different ways and therefore value them differently. But if you believe people who do not use proceedings should not subsidize others, then a scheme like what I suggested is the best way.


  7. if you believe people who do not use proceedings should not subsidize others

    Oh no, not the simpleton's "subsidize" argument so common in American political discourse.

    Say, let's have a check list so that people who don't care about approximation algorithms don't pay for those talks and stop subsidizing those who do like approximation algorithms. Let's also have another checkbox for those who don't like tea or coffee and stop subsidizing those who do and lets have another checkbox for blind attendees so that their fees are not used to pay for projector rental and thus they stop subsidizing those with the gift of eyesight.

    Bundling services often makes economic sense for all parties involved if (a) on the average benefit is tightly bunched around the mean, and (b) unbundling the service is more trouble than it is worth.

    Lastly, even if one party comes out on the losing end, we might still apply the subsidy if it is deemed morally good, say if the overall social good is increased by having everyone participate, even those one who would rather not. Imagine, if for example, one could say "officer, I would like to opt out from traffic enforcement laws and the costs derived from it".


  8. Oh no, not the simpleton's "subsidize" argument so common in American political discourse.

    I was not trying to make a general statement. As you said, unbundling the service often has a cost, and is only justifiable if this cost is lower than the benefit we expect from unbundling. In the case of proceedings I feel there is such a benefit. At least, using a mechanism to find the "efficient" choice (like what I suggested) would have the benefit of getting rid of all these discussions (which has taken 20-30 minutes of pretty much every business meeting I've attended).


  9. I like to hang my kids' artwork in my office, but sometimes it gets a little crumpled on the way in. If I put it on the desk beneath a nice big stack of STOC/FOCS proceedings, in a day or two it's as good as new.