Opinion Column: Tracks, Reviews and Preliminary Works

In a nutshell, the community agreed that: we need more transparent communication and homogeneous rules across thematic areas; we need more useful rebuttals; there is no need for conflict of interest tracks; large conferences must protect preliminary and emergent research works. Solutions were suggested to improve these points.

 

Welcome to the first edition of the  SIGMM Community Discussion Column!

As promised in our introductory edition, this column will report highlights and lowlights of online discussion threads among the members of the Multimedia community (see our Facebook MM Community Discussion group).

After an initial poll, this quarter the community chose to discuss about the reviewing process and structure of the SIGMM-sponsored conferences. We organized the discussion around 3 main sub-topics: importance of tracks, structure of reviewing process, and value of preliminary works.  We collected more than 50 contributions from the members of the Facebook MM Community Discussion group. Therefore, the following synthesis represents only these contributions. We encourage everyone to participate in the upcoming discussions, so that this column becomes more and more representative of the entire community.

In a nutshell, the community agreed that: we need more transparent communication and homogeneous rules across thematic areas; we need more useful rebuttals; there is no need for conflict of interest tracks; large conferences must protect preliminary and emergent research works. Solutions were suggested to improve these points.

Communication, Coordination and Transparency. All participants agreed that more vertical (from chairs to authors) and horizontal (in between area chairs or technical program chairs) communication could improve the quality of both papers and reviews in SIGMM-sponsored conferences. For example, lack of transparency and communication regarding procedures might deal to uneven rules and deadlines across tracks.

Tracks. How should conference thematic areas be coordinated? The community’s view can be summarized into 3 main perspectives:

  1. Rule Homogeneity.  The majority of participants agreed that big conferences should have thematic areas, and that tracks should be jointly coordinated by a technical program committee. Tracks are extremely important, but in order for the conference to give an individual, unified message, as opposed to “multi-conferences”, the same review and selection process should apply to all tracks. Moreover, hosting a face to face global TPC meetings is key for a solid, homogeneous conference program.
  2. Non-uniform Selection Process to Help Emerging Areas. A substantial number of participants pointed out that one role of the track system is to help emerging subcommunities: thematic areas ensure a balanced programme with representation from less explored topics (for example, music retrieval or arts and multimedia). Under this perspective, while the reviewing process should be the same for all tracks, the selection phase could be non-uniform. “Mathematically applying a percentage rate per area” does not help selecting the actually high-quality papers across tracks: with a uniformly applied low acceptance rate rule, minor tracks might have one or two papers accepted only, despite the high quality of the submissions.
  3. Abolish Tracks. A minority of participants agreed that, similar to big conferences such as CVPR, tracks should be completely abolished. A rigid track-based structure makes it somehow difficult for authors to choose the right track where to submit; moreover, reviewers and area chairs are often experts in more than one area. These issues could be addressed by a flexible structure where papers are assigned to area chairs and reviewers based on the topic.

Reviewing process  How do we want the reviewing process to be? Here is the view of the community on four main points: rebuttal, reviewing instructions, conflict of interest, and reviewers assignment.

  1. Rebuttal: important, but we need to increase impact. The majority of participants agreed that rebuttal is helpful to increase review quality and to grant authors more room for discussion. However, it was pointed out that sometimes the rebuttal process is slightly overlooked by both reviewers and area chairs, thus decreasing the potential impact of the rebuttal phase. It was suggested that, in order to raise awareness on rebuttal’s value, SIGMM could publish statistics on the number of reviewers who changed their opinion after rebuttal. Moreover, proposed improvements on the rebuttal process included: (1) more time allocated for reviewers to have a discussion regarding the quality of the papers; (2) a post-rebuttal feedback where reviewers respond to authors’ rebuttal (to promote reviewers-authors discussion and increase awareness on both sides) and (3) a closer supervision of the area chairs.
  2. Reviewing Guidelines: complex, but they might help preliminary works. Do reviewing guidelines help reviewers writing better reviews? For most participants, giving instructions to reviewers appear to be somehow impractical, as reviewers do not necessarily read or follow the guidelines. A more feasible solution is to insert weak instructions through specific questions in the reviewing form (e.g. “could you rate the novelty of the paper?”). However, it was also pointed out that written rules could help area chairs justify a rejection of a bad review.  Also, although reviewing instructions might change from track to track, general written rules regarding “what is a good paper” could help the reviewers understand what to accept. For example, clarification is needed on the depth of acceptable research works, and on how preliminary works should be evaluated, given the absence of a short paper track.
  3. Brave New Idea Track: ensuring scientific advancement. Few participants expressed their opinion regarding this track hosting novel, controversial research ideas. They remarked the importance of such a track to ensure scientific advancement, and it was suggested that, in the future, this track could host exploratory works (former short papers), as preliminary research works  are crucial to make a conference exciting.
  4. Conflict of Interest (COI) Track: perhaps we should abolish it. Participants almost unanimously agreed that a COI track is needed only when the conference management system is not able to handle conflicts on its own. It was suggested that, if that is not the case, a COI track might actually have a antithetical effect (is the COI track acceptance rate for ACM MM higher this year?).
  5. Choosing Reviewers: A Semi-Automated Process. The aim of the reviewers assignment procedure is to give the right papers to the right reviewers. How to make this procedure successful? Some participants supported the “fully manual assignment” option, where area chairs directly nominate reviewers for their own track. Others proposed to have a “fully automatic assignment”, based on an automated matching system such as the Toronto Paper Matching System (TPMS). A discussion followed, and eventually most participants agreed on a semi-automated process, having first the TPMS surfacing a relevant pool of reviewers (independent of tracks) and then area chairs manually intervening. Manual inspection of area chairs is crucial for inter-disciplinary papers needing reviews from experts from different areas.

Finally, during the discussion, few observations and questions regarding the future of the community arouse. For example: how to steer the direction of the conference, given the increase in number of AI-related papers? How to support diversity of topics, and encourage papers in novel fields (e.g. arts and music) beyond the legacy (traditional multimedia topics)? Given the wide interest on such issues, we will include these discussion topics in our next pre-discussion poll. To participate in the next discussion, please visit and subscribe to the Facebook MM Community Discussion group, and raise your voice!

Xavier Alameda-Pineda and Miriam Redi.

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