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SPLASH – Write to Share

One of my goals as member of the Mozilla research team is to encourage more public sharing of innovative ideas that contribute to the open web.  One way that this sharing can occur is via conference papers. My last post announced the call for papers for the ACM SPLASH conference Wavefront program.  I want to tell you a bit more about SPLASH/Wavefront and why your participation contributes to the development of the open web.

To start, I want to talk about different kinds of conferences.  The conferences you are probably most familiar are what I call  “selling conferences”.  (In all fairness, it would probably be equally accurate to call these “learning conferences” but I’m writing this from the perspective of a potential speaker rather than a non-speaker attendee.) In these conferences, the speakers are “experts” and generally have something (a product, a methodology, a programming language, a software tool, an interesting idea, etc.) that they are pitching. The audience is there to learn about what’s new and to choose new things to try (“buy”). There is a directed one-way information flow from the expert speakers to the audience. Many selling conferences are for-profit commercial ventures and often speakers are chosen on their ability to attract paying attendees.  A primary goal of many selling conference is to just get people to pay to attend.

Another kind of conference is what I call a “sharing conference”.  At these conferences, the speakers and audience members are generally professional peers. Everybody is there to share new ideas and to provide feedback on them. Speakers are chosen based upon the novelty and potential impart of the work they will speak about. Most sharing conferences are non-commercial and their primary goal is to advance the state-of-the art by sharing important new ideas and developments. The most significant sharing conferences are “conferences of record” where speakers are required to document their work in an archival report (a paper).  This enables the sharing to continue after the conference concludes and with those who cannot physically attend. The conference papers become a resource that may remain accessible and relevant for years after the actual conference.

Using these conference characterizations SPLASH is a “sharing conference of record”.  It is sponsored by the ACM, the world’s largest computing society, and SPLASH papers are archived in the ACM Digital Library.  SPLASH and conferences like it exist to foster the sharing of new ideas among computing innovators. This year, with the introduction of its Wavefront program, webish computing is becoming one of the focus areas for SPLASH.

There are relatively few conferences of this sort that are focused on webish technologies. In addition to SPLASH/Wavefront another is WebApps which coincidentally is also being held in Portland this year.

If you are pushing the state-of-the-art of webish computing and want your ideas to have an impact beyond your immediate projects you should consider submitting a paper to either or both of these conferences.  For most of us, shipping code is our top priority. But sharing our innovative ideas is also essential to the future of the open web.

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  • johnjbarton January 7, 2011, 10:26 am

    The ACM so-called “Digital Library” is a pay-per-view site, so I can not see how it qualifies as “sharing”. Many ACM site users work at large organizations with site licenses so they never have to think about how their work is being resold by the ACM. Because conferences like SPLASH use ACM, even individuals otherwise committed to open systems are forced to give their copyrighted work to ACM control. An organization like SPLASH should join open access journals like the Public Library of Science, http://www.plos.org/.

    • allen January 8, 2011, 9:58 am

      I agree that it is unfortunate that the ACM Digital Library (that is its actual name) is behind a paywall. So is the IEEE library. Hopefully that will change in the future.

      That said, I think it is reasonable to acknowledge that maintaining permanent online archives costs real money and that these organizations do need some ongoing way to support that activity. My perception is that open science efforts such as PLOS are more directed as alternatives to high-priced for-profit commercial journals rather than non-profit archives such as the ACM’s. Personally, I think that we all have a serious problem regarding the long maintenance of digital archives in a manner that will span both human and organizational lifetimes. More of us in the computing field need to be working on solutions to this problem.

      ACM authors including authors of SPLASH papers are still allowed to openly share their work. The ACM copyright policy is fairly liberal in the rights retained by authors. In particular, an author is permitted to make copies of their papers publicly and freely available via the authors personal or institutional website. An author does give up copyright control to the ACM but in return the author is getting curation and archival services that ensure the long term availability of the author’s work.