For this edition of the SIGMM Opinion Column, we asked members of the Multimedia community to share their impressions about the shift of scientific topics in the community over the years, namely the evolution of “traditional” and “emerging” Multimedia topics.
This subject has emerged in several conversations over the 2 years of history of the SIGMM Opinion Column, and we report here a summary of recent and old discussions, happened over different channels – our Facebook group, the SIGMM Linkedin group, and in-person conversations between the column editors and MM researchers – with hopes, fears and opinions around this problem. We want to thank all participants for their precious contribution to these discussions.
Historical Perspective of Topics in ACM MM
This year, ACM Multimedia turns 27. Today, MM is a large premium conference with hundreds of paper submissions every year, spanning 12 different thematic areas spanning across the wide spectrum of multimedia topics. But back at the beginning of MM’s history, the scale of the topic range was very different.
In the first editions of the conference, a general call for papers encouraged submissions about “technology, tools and techniques for the construction and delivery of high quality, innovative multimedia systems and interfaces”. Already in its 3rd edition, MM featured an Arts and Multimedia program. Starting from 2004, the conference offered three tracks for paper submissions: content (Multimedia analysis, processing, and retrieval), Systems (Multimedia networking and system support), and Applications (Multimedia tools, end-systems, and applications), plus a “Brave New Topics” track for work-in-progress submissions. Later on, the Human-Centered Multimedia track was included in the projects. In 2011, after a conference review, the ACM MM program went beyond the notion of “tracks”, and the concept of areas was introduced to allow the community to “solicit papers from a wide range of timely multimedia-related topics” (see the ACMM11 website). In 2014, the areas became 14, including, among others, Music, Speech and Audio Processing in Multimedia, and Social Media and Collective Online Presence. After a retreat in 2014, starting from 2015, areas are grouped in larger “Themes”, the core thematic areas of ACM Multimedia. After the last retreat in 2014, no major changes were introduced in the thematic structure of the conference.
Dynamics of Evolution Emerging Topics
Emerging topics and less mature works are generally welcome at conferences’ workshops. In our discussions, most members of the community agree that “you’ll see great work there, and very fruitful discussions due to the common focus on the workshop theme”. When emerging topics become more popular, they can be promoted to conference areas, as it happened for the “music, speech and audio” theme.
It was observed in our community conversations that, while this upgrade to the main conference is great for visibility, being a separate, relatively novel area could lead to isolation: the workload for reviewers specialized on emerging topics could become too high, given that they are assigned to works in other areas; and the flat acceptance rate across all conference themes could mean that even accepting 2 submissions from an emerging topic area would give ‘unreasonably’ high acceptance rate, thus leading to many good papers (even with 3 accepts) having to be rejected. Participants to our forums noticed that these dynamics are somehow “counteracted the ‘Multimedia’ and multidisciplinary nature of the field”, they prevent conferences from growing and eventually hurt emerging topics. One solution proposed to balance this effect is to “maintain a solid specialized reviewer pool (where needed managed by someone from the field), which however would be distributed over relevant MM areas”, rather than forming a new area.
It was also noted that some emerging topics in their early stage would most likely not have an appropriate workshop. Therefore, it is important for the main conference to have places to accept such early works, thus making tracks such as the short paper tracks or the brave new idea track absolutely crucial for the development of novel topics.
The Near-Future of Multimedia
In multiple occasions, MM community members shared their thoughts about how they would like to see the Multimedia community evolve around new topics.
There are a few topics that emerged in the past and that the community wishes they continued growing, and these include interactive Multimedia applications, as well as music-related Multimedia technology, Multimedia in cooking spaces, and arts and Multimedia. It was also pointed out that, although very important for Multimedia applications, topics around compression technology are also often given low weight in Multimedia spaces, and that MM should encourage submissions in the domain of machine learning concepts applied to compression.
There are also a few areas that are emerging across different sub-communities in computer science, and that, according to our community members, we should be encouraging to grow within the Multimedia field as well. These include works in digital health exploring the power of Multimedia for health care and monitoring, research around applications of Multimedia for good, understanding how the technologies we develop can help having a real impact on society, and discussions around the ethics and responsibility of Multimedia technologies, encouraging fair, transparent, inclusive and accountable Multimedia tools.
The Future of Multimedia
The future of MM according to the participants of the discussion goes beyond the forms we know today, as new technologies could significantly broaden and shake the current applicative paradigm of Multimedia.
The upcoming 5G technology will enable a plethora of applications that are now extremely limited by the lack of bandwidth. This could go from mobile virtual reality, to interconnection with objects and, of course, smart cities. To extract meaningful information to be presented to the user, various and highly diverse data streams will need to be treated consistently. And Multimedia researchers will develop methods, applications, systems and models to understand how to properly develop and impact this field. Likewise, this technology will push the limits of what is currently possible in terms of content demand and interaction with connected objects. We will see technologies for hyper-personalization, dynamic user interaction and real-time video personalization. These technologies will be enabled by the study of how film grammar and storytelling works for novel content types like AR, VR, panoramic and 360° video, by research around novel immersive media experiences, and by the design of new media formats, with novel consumption paradigms.
Multimedia has a bright future, with new, exciting emerging topics to be discussed and encouraged. Perhaps time for a new retreat or for a conference review?