FOCS 2013 is over, and as predicted here it was very successful. I am happy to have taken part in its success (though all of the credit goes of course to the authors).
I also predicted that “A significant fraction of the community will think the PC messed up badly.” Naturally, most of the people with a paper at FOCS were generally happy with the PC work so I did not get too many complaints 🙂 (but I did get some). What I did find was that FOCS/STOC attendees passionately care about FOCS/STOC. I therefore got to hear quite a few personal philosophies about what’s good and bad in FOCS/STOC and what should be changed. The interesting aspect is that the opinions were at times the exact opposite:
- Some think (as also reflected in the comments here) that the conference has become too competitive and selective which is why FOCS/STOC is less important now. Others think that FOCS/STOC are accepting too many papers and in this sense the PC is not doing its job of filtering and therefore FOCS/STOC does not serve the purpose of joining TCS and is less useful.
- Some feel that authors and speakers in FOCS/STOC are drowning the audience in technical details rather than sharing ideas and this happens in part because FOCS/STOC papers are judged by experts in their subfield rather than by the community at large. Others expressed rage that the papers aaccepted in their subfield are far from being the best papers submitted. They say that this happens because they are judged by general TCS experts rather than by the subfield experts.
- Some think that FOCS and STOC should be joined into a single bigger event that will draw the attention of the entire community (but with multiple submission deadlines such as is now happening in other fields). Other think it is a horrible idea and two conferences are extremely important.
- The business meeting saw some exciting arguments on various topics.
- Sanjeev and I had a vigorous discussion (to be continued I am sure) on the no-page-limit policy initiated by the FOCS 2013 PC.
As you might have realized by now, I am passionate about FOCS/STOC as well. The experience of chairing FOCS made me think about it much more and I have various ideas about changes to be made (I did express my ideas even before but I have refined them since). But the abovementioned discussions indicate to me that (1) FOCS/STOC is still extremely important to many of us, (2) changes should be gradual and controlled as we have such a diverse set of expectations.
After things settle in my mind, I may blog some more about what I think should be done, but for now let me just say that I believe the following combination is important and possible: FOCS/STOC should allow wide active participation (in numbers larger than today and by a more diverse community). On the other hand a small enough (and humanly digestible) part of the program should facilitate cross fertilization and information flow between the sub communities. The federated theory conference which so many of us support is a good idea but only part of the solution.