Beki Grinter

Perennial CHI problems

In academic management, discipline, HCI, research on May 21, 2011 at 2:57 pm

I recently attended CHI 2011. I’ve attended CHI for several consecutive years, and I feel I am hearing some similar refrains: there are some problems with CHI that need to be addressed.

It doesn’t represent me! More needs to be done to encourage [practitioners, designers, developers, students] to attend and the reason they do not is because there is not enough relevant content.

CHI has grown relentlessly over the last decade. It has added tracks and increased the content in each type. I keep wondering when CHI will become COMDEX and we’ll be going to Las Vegas each year because its the only city big enough to host the conference. We’re a way off (I was just hoping to influence the location selection committee since I quite like Las Vegas), but we have been growing.

If growth has been the means by which we’ve tried to address the inclusivity concerns, and if that’s not happened despite growth, is it time to change the conversation? Should we decide that we’re all going to agree that CHI doesn’t completely represent all our interests all the time, and when it’s not, its perhaps representing someone elses? Or, should CHI devolve and become different conferences?

Its too expensive! I hear that one. I not only send myself, but I also send students. All my students work hard to manage their costs, and I thank them all for doing so. Still, a total of $5000 for all of us is not out of bounds. The latest version of this conversation we had was whether we’d like to have a tiered pricing structure to encourage more people to attend, with lower rates for those who really can’t afford the current costs, and higher rates for those of us who can to cover the gap.

I really support encouraging others to attend, but I also admit I winced adding to my costs. I’d love to know where the current registration fee goes. Is there anything we could do differently that would help us accomplish the goal of encouraging more people to attend without adding to the costs for those who already do?

Reviewing. The concern is the quality of the reviews or review process. I’ve always seen this as a problem of scale. Well ever since I was co-chair for the Papers process. Sending email to 2,500 distinct reviewers was a sobering reminder of just how many people it takes to make just one track of this conference run. It must be even more people now. How big are we as a community? What does it mean for us that it takes thousands of people to make it operational?

To end, I would like to thank everyone for CHI. Despite these concerns, the vast community of volunteers who did who knows what all (I would love to see a number of how many people were involved in CHI 2011 in some form, across all the tracks), pulled out another conference, that if I think it didn’t represent me all the time, I think it surely represented someone at the time.

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  1. Agree with every word, as usual. Sadly, I am not sure how CHI can fix any of these problems.

    Another size-related issue of CHI is that there is little chance to meet, or engage in meaningful interaction, with non-strong-ties. In one example, it would have been nice if I could chat with you a little longer… but after a brief introduction, in most cases people are pulled into their already existing circles. That’s why I like CSCW, with more focused content and community, where new ties can be formed, and almost every talk is relevant and interesting (to me).

    In one view, CHI became a place to “see and be seen”, instead of a place of developing and learning.

    On the cost issue, one way to mitigate cost is to have students serve as SVs. It’s a great networking opportunity for them. Of course, they cannot all be SVs, but I hear that this year’s CHI could have used more SVs than they actually had — SVs were really pushed to the limit in terms of hours spent, and therefore could not benefit as much from the conference content.

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