11 June 2008

Old school conference blogging

These days, the "conference blog" has come to be a fairly accepted part of an academic blogger's repertoire. I've actually received an email on the third day of a conference that people knew I was attending asking "why haven't you blogged yet!" Colleagues who blog have shared similar stories. How did the world manage without us?!

I occasionally like to read through old papers, like from the late 70s, early 80s, mostly in stats, but occasionally in NLP or ML. Mostly it's fun; often I learn things. The old NLP paper typically amuse me more than anything else, but it's a bit of a relief to see the set of things that were considered interesting or important 20-30 years ago. I was browsing through the ACL 1980 proceedings (I won't share the answer to "how old were you then?") on the anthology and came across a paper titled "Parsing." I thought that was quite impressive that someone would be audacious enough to title their paper "Parsing." I mean, can you imagine going to a talk at ACL 2008 and seeing the title "Machine Translation?" It's absurd.

So I read the paper.

Well, it turns out it's not really a research paper. It's the 1980 ACL's parsing area chair's impression of all the parsing papers that year, and how they related to the previous year.

"Fantastic!" I thought.

These are like pre-web-era conference blogs. But it's not just some random guy blogging about his favorite ACL papers across a variety of areas, but rather the one person who probably knew all the parsing papers in ACL that year better than anyone. Having area chaired myself, I know what all the summarization submissions were about, and I know quite well what all the accepted submissions were about. (Or, at least, I did right after we issues accept/reject notifications.) If I had sat down right then and written a page summary, relating the the past year, it probably would have taken about two hours. (An average blog post takes 30 mins, but I figure I would want to be more diligent, and also be sure to look up what happened the year before.)

I would actually love to see something like that reinstated. I think it captures an important area that's missing from you standard conference blogs -- namely, that you get coverage. As I age, I attend fewer and fewer talks, so my conference blog posts are necessarily really spotty. But if a chair from every area were to write a one page summary, I think that would be great. And I really don't think it's that much added effort -- I easily spent 10-20 times that going over reviews, looking for inconsistencies, reading papers, etc.

However, while I think it's useful, I also don't think that it's really something that needs to be in our proceedings. So I'm going to try to start a trend. Every time I am area chair for a conference, I will post to the blog a summary of the papers in my area. If you ever are an area chair, and would like to participate, please contact me. Perhaps I'll be the only one who ever does this, but I hope not. I'll start with ACL 2008 summarization as my next post.


Anonymous said...

Great idea. Count me in!

I'm not an area chair for any conferences (yet) but that's something I would definitely want to do should I find myself in such a position. It seems wasteful that all the work that goes on behinds the scenes is wasted.

I'd make one suggestion for when you do write up such a post: make sure you give an overview that's comprehensible to outsiders (i.e., something that researchers in "neighbouring" areas could understand) before delving into technical details that are more relevant to "insiders". This has the added advantage of providing a summary of themes that the following year's area chair can work against.

Kevin Duh said...

That's a great idea! Look forward to the summary posts.

I think this is an opportunity for blogging to begin impacting research in an important way. I wonder when will it become common to cite blog posts in research papers. :)

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