Saturday, July 25, 2009

Sensys 2009 PC meeting

The Sensys'09 PC meeting was held here at Harvard a couple of Saturdays ago. I meant to post about this earlier, but a little something got in the way.

This year we had 119 full paper submissions (down a bit from last year) and accepted 21 papers, for an acceptance ratio of 17.6%. This is similar to the acceptance ratio for previous years, and I think it represents a healthy level of competition for the conference. Personally, I would have preferred that we accepted closer to 25 papers, but at some point there's only so much pressure one can put on the program committee to make that happen. The full list of accepted papers is here. It is a very strong program and Jie and I are both extremely appreciative of the program committee for all of their hard work.

Overall, I was very happy with the reviewing process this year. The model we used for Sensys was similar to other top-flight systems conferences: PC members do the reviewing themselves (rather than farming out to external people or students); they write detailed reviews; and everyone has to attend the PC meeting in person. The program committee did a fantastic job and worked very hard to make this happen. On average each PC member reviewed 22 papers. We reviewed papers in two rounds. All papers were assigned three reviews in the first round. Roughly 50% of the papers were considered in the second round and got at least two additional reviews, sometimes more.

During the PC meeting, we grouped papers roughly by topical area, rather than simply ordering them globally by score. This made it possible to directly compare multiple papers on, say, time synchronization during the discussion. I think this worked very well as it provided more context for the discussion on a given paper and often some of the same PC members were involved in reviewing papers in a given area. At the end of the first pass we had roughly 15 papers in the "accept" list and about the same number in the "maybe" category. We then went through a second pass on the "maybe" papers to come up with the final list. The PC was generally very positive during the discussion; and in a few cases a reviewer with an initially negative reaction to a paper was able to reconsider as the rest of the program materialized.

One thing I am mindful of is that it is sometimes harder to accept a paper when it has "too many" reviews. At SIGCOMM, NSDI, and other conferences, I've seen papers get 7 or more reviews in the final round. My concern is that beyond a certain point enthusiasm for a good paper tends to wither with more reviewers weighing in on it. We recognize that no paper is perfect and the question was which papers were both technically sound and interesting enough to constitute a good program. The two-round process seemed to strike the right balance. I did not feel that we were accepting or rejecting papers based on not enough information.

We also had a fairly diverse program committee this year, including some folks representing areas not traditionally associated with Sensys. Part of our goal here was to ensure that the PC was not too insular and that we got a broad range of opinions. We also wanted to broaden the scope of the conference to encompass non-conventional sensor networks. We have a few good papers involving application case studies as well.

It should be an exciting conference - hope to see you in Berkeley in November!

Monday, July 13, 2009

Going Green with Electronic Proceedings

We're looking into the options for publishing the proceedings for SenSys 2009 (which I'm co-chairing with Jie Liu). Sensys is an ACM conference and traditionally has had a printed proceedings. I'm interested in what people think about an all-electronic (that is, online) proceedings, with no printed copies or CD-ROMs. The idea would be to put the PDFs on the conference website and ensure that they are archived by the ACM Digital Library. (Assuming, of course, that ACM would allow this -- I haven't looked into their policies.)

SenSys is an ACM conference, and has traditionally had printed proceedings. As anyone who has been a conference organizer knows, this can often be a cumbersome and slow process, requiring many weeks of lead time from the publisher, and quite a lot of work on the part of the authors and the publications chair. This also shortens the time available for paper shepherding. Going the traditional route also incurs a nontrivial cost which is passed down to every conference attendee, whether they want the printed book or not. Finally, there is an environmental cost to all those dead trees that never get read, and to physically ship out the proceedings to all of the SIG members.

Personally, I don't have a need for printed proceedings. I get my papers online, through Google or the ACM DL. I realize there are still plenty of people who want to hold a physical paper in their hands, which is what printers are for -- indeed, if we put the PDFs online a week or so before the conference, anyone who wants to flip through the papers physically could print them out themselves and bring them to the conference. Printed proceedings seem to me to be a holdover from the time when scientific literature was chiefly distributed through printed books and journals archived in libraries. That is not the reality today. Many journals have now gone all-electronic, so it seems odd to me that a conference could not go the same route.

At the same time, I realize there are some (real or perceived) downsides to electronic-only proceedings. There is a question about whether it really constitutes a "publication," and I have heard that some institutions in Europe and Asia expect a printed proceedings in order for a paper to "count." (I have no hard evidence of this so would like to learn more.) The copyright issue becomes a little sticky, but I think that it would work fine to allow authors to retain copyright in their papers but require that they release them under a Creative Commons license permitting the conference organizers, and ACM, to distribute them. Finally, do electronic-only proceedings diminish the gravitas of a paper being accepted into a major venue? I would hope that those bulky yellow-spined books alone do not impart validity to a conference paper, but you never know.

So, I'm curious to know what others think about going all electronic.

Startup Life: Three Months In

I've posted a story to Medium on what it's been like to work at a startup, after years at Google. Check it out here.