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VIS 2014 Observations and Thoughts

While I’ve covered individual talks and events at IEEE VIS 2014, there are also some overall observations – positive and negative – I thought would be interesting to write down to see what others were thinking.

I wrote summaries for every day I was actually at the conference: Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. VIS actually now starts on Saturday with a few early things like the Doctoral Colloquium, and Sunday is a full day of workshops and tutorials.

Just to be clear: my daily summaries are by no means comprehensive. I did not go to a single VAST or SciVis session this year, only saw two out of five panels, did not go to a single one of the ten workshops, attended only one of the nine tutorials, and didn’t even see all the talks in some of the sessions I did go to. I also left out some of the papers I actually saw, because I didn’t find them relevant enough.

Things I Don’t Like

I’m starting with these, because I like a lot more things than I don’t, and listing the bad stuff at the end always makes these things sound like they are much more important and severe than they really are.

The best paper has been quite odd at InfoVis for a while. Some of the selections made a lot of sense, but some were just downright weird. This year’s best paper was not bad, but I don’t think it was the best one that was presented. Even more, some of the really good ones didn’t even get honorable mentions.

While it’s easy to blame the best paper committee, I think we program committee members also need to get better at nominating the good ones so they can be considered. I know I didn’t nominate any of the ones I was primary reviewer on, and I really should have for one of them. We tend to be too obsessed with criticizing the problems and don’t spend enough time making sure the good stuff gets the recognition it deserves.

Another thing I find irritating is the new organization of the proceedings. I don’t get why TVCG papers need to be in a separate category entirely, that just makes finding them harder. It also only reinforces the mess that is the conference vs. journal paper distinction at VAST. Also, why are invited TVCG papers listed under conference rather than TVCG? How does that make any sense? There has to be a better way both for handling VAST papers (and ensuring the level of quality) and integrating all papers in the electronic proceedings. There is just too much structure and bureaucracy here that I have no interest in and that only gets in the way. Just let me get to the papers.

Speaking of TVCG, I don’t think that cramming presentations for journal papers into an already overfull schedule is a great idea. That just takes time away from other things that make more sense for a conference (like having a proper session for VisLies). While I appreciate the fact that VIS papers are journal papers (with some annoying exceptions), I think doing the opposite really doesn’t make sense. Also, none of the TVCG presentations I saw this year were remarkable (though I admittedly only saw a few).

The Good Stuff

On to the good stuff. This was the best InfoVis conference in a while. There were a few papers I didn’t like, but they were outweighed by a large number of very strong ones, and some really exceptional ones. I think this year’s crop of papers will have a lasting impact on the field.

In addition to the work being good, presentations are also getting much better. I only saw two or three bad or boring presentations, most were very solid. That includes the organization of the talk, the slides (nobody seems to be using the conference style, which is a good thing), and the speaking (i.e., proper preparation and rehearsals). A bad talk can really distract from the quality of the work, and that’s just too bad.

Several talks also largely consisted of well-structured demos, which is great. A good demo is much more effective than breaking the material up into slides. It’s also much more engaging to watch, and leaves a much stronger impression. And with some testing and rehearsals, the risk that things will crash and burn is really not that great (still not a bad idea to have a backup, though).

A number of people have talked about the need for sharing more materials beyond just the paper for a while, and it is now actually starting to happen. A good number of presentations ended with a pointer to a website with at least the paper and teaser video, and often more, like data and materials for studies, and source code. After the Everything But The Chart tutorial, I wonder how many papers next year will have a press kit.

The number of systems that are implemented in JavaScript and run in the browser is also increasing. That makes it much easier to try them out without the hassle of having to download software. Since many of these are prototypes that will never be turned into production software, it doesn’t matter nearly as much that they won’t be as easily maintained or extended.

VIS remains a very friendly and healthy community. There are no warring schools of thought, and nobody tries to tear down somebody else’s work in the questions after a talk. The social aspect is also getting ever stronger with the increasing number of parties. That might sound trivial, but the main point of a conference are communication and the connections that are made, not the paper presentations.

There is also a vibrant community on Twitter, at least for InfoVis and VAST talks. I wonder what it will take to get some SciVis people onto Twitter, though, or help them figure out how to use WordPress.

Posted by Robert Kosara on November 17, 2014. Filed under conference, IEEEVIS.