The Role of SE Conferences

I rencently served as Program Chair (together with Tore Dybå) for the ACM/IEEE Internatonal Symposium on Empirical Software Engineering and Measurement. The conference has been very successfull with a record high number of submissions.

As program chair we deemed the quality of contributions to be our top priority and in addition we considered the constraint posed by a program articulated on one day and half. We ended up accepting 23 full papers (18.7% acceptance rate) which resulted even lower than ICSE 2014 (the top conference in Software Engineering). This fact originated a little bit of discussion both within and outside the steering committee.

Historically CS conferences has been tough venues and the best ones are typically valued (at least within the field) as much as good journals and they typically exhibit quite low acceptance rates. In the initial days of software engineering a few journal existed where papers on that topic could be published. Therefore, forcefully, conferences became where SE research found publication venues. Actually conferences remained a very relevant publication type, at leaset during the 90s.

Though, recently, the hysteria about research evaluation and the fact that in most other fields conferences papers are hardly considered publications led to the praxis of considering journal papers only, when it comes to research evaluation.

So my question is what is the future role of conferences in the software engineering (and more in general computer science)?

Should the conferences become mainly meeting and networking events as it is usual in other fields? If this is the way to go we have to wonder whether we should also radically change the revision process: moving from an in-depth reviews from three or more program committee members on the full version of the paper to an easy evaluation of an extended abstract only. Let’s face it: if only journal publication count, why spending a lot of effort in writing and reviewing papers for a conference? Let’s take it easy.

On the other end, if we believe some (not all) conferences represent significant publication venues, we ought to be selective, look for quality papers that are relevant contributions to the discipline.

I have to admit that I lean mostly towards the latter at least as far as ESEM is concerned.