Principles for SIGCOMM

Principles For The SIGCOMM Conference

Context: The SIGCOMM community has many goals, ranging from research and conferences to education and outreach. Here we focus on one specific issue: how we should organize the SIGCOMM conference. SIGCOMM members have been discussing this topic for years, resulting in many good suggestions for improving the conference paper selection process. But these proposals leave the current conference paradigm intact. We, the undersigned, seek a more radical change, as captured by the principles below.

Principle #1: The paper-acceptance process should be decoupled from the in-person conference experience; i.e., the program should not be dominated by paper presentations.

Commentary: The paper-acceptance process and the in-person conference experience are currently tightly coupled, as the number of paper acceptances is limited by how many talks can be presented at the conference. There is a fundamental tradeoff: as we accept more papers to support the growth of the community, the in-person conference experience deteriorates, with more talks of shorter length, and fewer opportunities for discussion and engagement. An explicit decoupling would allow us to improve the in-person experience.

Principle #2: The goal of the in-person conference experience should be to foster the exploration of ideas and encourage the greater involvement of participants.

Commentary: To ensure that SIGCOMM remains a vibrant intellectual community, we need to explore new ideas and engage in active discussion. Currently, the SIGCOMM conference is dominated by the presentation of accepted papers, which achieves little more than what can be gained by reading the papers and/or watching talk videos. SIGCOMM should aim for conferences that (i) are more interactive (engaging a broader set of participants, particularly less senior ones, with a special emphasis on students), (ii) explore a broad set of ideas (not only those arising in accepted papers), and (iii) provide visibility for researchers who might otherwise not be recognized by the community. We expect the specific format will evolve substantially over time as we learn what works best to achieve these and other goals.

Principle #3: The goal of the paper-acceptance process should be to accept all papers that would help the community lay the intellectual foundations of our field.

Commentary: This is the most fundamental change being advocated here, as this criterion is quite different from the current practice of accepting only “the best papers”. This principle does not involve lowering our standards, but instead broadens our notion of what contributes to laying the intellectual foundations. We should have humility about our ability to decide which papers will have significant impact, so we should not view acceptance at SIGCOMM as a definitive judgment of excellence, but merely as a sign that the community sees the paper as having potential. We should thus focus more on what papers could offer the community in the long run, rather than worry about their minor imperfections or lack of immediate impact.

What happens next? These principles advocate a radically different approach to how we run the SIGCOMM conference. We cannot undertake such a major change without clear evidence of community support, which is why we are asking for your signature. If the community decides to embrace these principles, we should then discuss how to best put these principles into practice. We hope that you vigorously participate in these subsequent discussions, so future SIGCOMM conferences can live up to the principles articulated here.

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

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Jun 20, 2023