Principles for SIGCOMM

A Guide For The SIGCOMM-Confused

The SIGCOMM Slack has been unusually active over the past month, with three documents discussing how we might reshape the SIGCOMM conference posted to the #conference channel: a statement of principles posted on June 21, a proposal for incremental changes posted on July 15, and a report from SIGCOMM’s Executive Committed posted on July 16. These documents (which we will refer to as the principles document, the proposal document, and the report document) address the topic from very different perspectives, which must be confusing to readers who are new to this channel. To provide some clarity, this note describes how these documents came to be, and why their content reflects their differing purposes.

Principles For The SIGCOMM Conference: A recent CCR editorial was mentioned earlier this year on the conference channel, and a short discussion ensued. Four of the contributors to that discussion (Fabian E. Bustamante, Nate Foster, Aurojit Panda, and Scott Shenker; these four also authored this overview) had a discussion offline about how the SIGCOMM community has had a hard time channeling the widespread desire for change into meaningful reform, noting that most previous discussions for changing the SIGCOMM conference devolved into inconclusive arguments over specific mechanisms (e.g., should we go to multi-track or not, should we have multiple deadlines or not). This group decided that the key to avoiding these ultimately ineffectual discussions was to first seek community consensus on which aspects of the conference required change, rather than focus on the particular mechanisms that should be adopted. They consulted with a dozen or so colleagues with widely varying views to get external feedback, and identified three general principles to guide how the SIGCOMM conference should evolve. These principles were never intended to cover every facet necessary to create an ideal SIGCOMM conference but instead were expressly designed to be the smallest set of principles sufficient to ensure meaningful change. This statement of principles has now attracted over 155 signatures (you can add yours here), including 83 from past SIGCOMM PC Members (over 32% of PC members over the past decade), three from the SIGCOMM Technical Steering Committee, and four from the SIGCOMM Executive Committee. There were many comments on these principles (you can leave yours here); some of these comments were positive and encouraging, some identified additional concerns that should be addressed (such as supporting junior people in the field, and we concur with that sentiment), and a few flatly rejected the effort as misguided (e.g., based on doubts about increasing the number of accepted papers, and the need for more objective standards).

A Proposal For Incrementally Changing SIGCOMM: Given the surprisingly positive reception of the somewhat radical principles, the authors of the principles document felt the next challenge was to take the first step towards implementing these principles in a way that would: (i) be widely supported by the community and (ii) could be largely implemented by the PC chairs without much disruption. To that end, the principles authors talked with a range of people in the community, particularly those who did not sign the statement, to see whether we could meet some of the objections that had been raised. The result was a three-pronged proposal focused on empowering positive voices on the PC (to change the culture of reviewing, as we argue here), releasing full-length videos for all accepted papers (to give PC chairs flexibility in arranging the program), and creating virtual events (to encourage more year-round community engagement without requiring additional travel). See this note for a clarification on our proposal for paper reviewing, which has caused some confusion (for which we apologize).

Towards a Next-Generation Design for SIG Conferences: A Call for Experimentation: At the same time, the Conferences Revisited Task Force was wrapping up a broad study on rethinking the SIGCOMM community’s approach to organizing conferences in the future. Their report, which was posted online on July 16, calls for experimentation in our conference practices so we can learn from experience and improve the various SIGCOMM-sponsored conferences over time. The focus here, in contrast to the two previous documents, is not on a minimal set of principles, or on a few incrementally deployable mechanisms, but on a large “candidate set of experiments for improving conferences within the SIG.” The document covers many topics and proposes both general principles and specific mechanisms for realizing those principles. Moreover, the document is purposely a work-in-progress, noting that: “While our thinking is early and ideas simplistic, it is our hope that releasing this document at this stage may accelerate the process by incorporating community feedback before we go too far with ideas that may be unworkable or in need of refinements.” The extensive set of comments received thus far (you can add your comments to the document directly) suggests that this has been an effective way of engaging with the community.

Putting the documents in perspective: Comparing these three documents, there are areas where they are largely in agreement (e.g., not requiring strict coupling between paper acceptances and the conference program), areas that the report (which is much broader in scope) addresses but the other two documents are silent (e.g., having conference pods in underserved regions), and areas where there is substantial disagreement (e.g., how to reform reviewing; this disagreement is discussed here). Taken together, all three documents help the community move forward, but each in their own way. The principles document, with the surprising level of support it has garnered, has made clear that there is a hunger for change. The proposal document provides several steps that can be incrementally implemented without much disruption to our current practices. And the report document describes a rich set of possibilities for longer-term and more structural changes that our community should discuss.

We hope this overview helped clarify both the commonalities and the differences in these documents. We also hope to see many of you at the SIGCOMM Community Meeting in September where many of these topics will be addressed.

– Fabian E. Bustamante, Nate Foster, Aurojit Panda, and Scott Shenker

Jul 24, 2023