Wednesday, April 7, 2010

ECIR 2010 in Milton Keynes: A Report

Last week, five of us attended the ECIR 2010 conference in Milton Keynes. The conference was fairly well-organised, although it markedly lacked the lustre of the previous three editions of the conference. In terms of attendance, only about 170 delegates have registered, much less than Glasgow 2008 (210+), and Toulouse 2009 (180+). Perhaps, the exotic town of Milton Keynes was not deemed to be a very attractive venue for a conference. In fact, apart from attending the conference, there was not much else to do -- e.g. the nearest proper pub was at about 2 miles from the conference venue.

The ECIR 2010 conference has suffered from a new and previously unseen problem: several authors and presenters did not make it to the conference, preferring to give their presentation by proxy or using a pre-recorded talk. No less than 5 no-shows were recorded during the conference. Even the keynote speaker and winner of the first BCS IRSG Karen Sparck Jones award, Mirella Lapata, did not show up and gave her presentation through a pre-recorded video. While Lapata certainly had a valid reason (as probably did the other speakers) not to show up, it is clear that ECIR should concretely deal with such a problem, e.g., by making it compulsory that at least one author of each accepted paper be present during the conference.

In addition, the organisers decided not to have parallel sessions (because of lack of facilities?) during ECIR 2010. Therefore, several full papers were turned into poster presentations, which were held during the short lunch period. This was a very bad move, as because of the setting, these papers received much less attention and credit, even compared to the actual posters, the session of which was rather successful. Some delegates argued that some of the full-papers-turned-posters should have been given a full presentation slot, in lieu of those full papers with a no-show author.

Other than the problems mentioned above, the conference program was generally of a very good quality. In the first day, we enjoyed an excellent tutorial by two MSR researchers on Machine Learning for IR. The tutorial was given by Paul Bennett and Kevyn Collins-Thompson. We also enjoyed an equally excellent tutorial on Crowdsourcing by Omar Alonso from Bing.

In the next days, there were also several good papers that are worth reading:
  • A language modeling approach for temporal information needs (from Max-Planck)
  • The role of query sessions in extracting instance attributes from web search queries (from Google)
  • Interpreting user inactivity on search results (from Univ. of Washington, Univ. of Patras)
  • Learning to distribute queries onto Web search nodes (from Yahoo!)
  • Temporal shingling for version identification in Web archives (from Max-Planck)
  • Evaluation and user preference study on spatial diversity (University of Sheffield)
The best paper award was jointly awarded to:
  • Promoting ranking diversity for biomedical information retrieval using Wikipedia. Jimmy Huang and Xiaoshi Yin (York University)
  • Evaluation of an adaptive search suggestion system. Sascha Kriewel and Norbert Fuhr (University of Duisburg-Essen, Germany)
We have also had the chance to present our two full-papers on search result diversification, and learning to select:
  • Explicit search result diversification through sub-queries by Rodrygo L. T. Santos, Jie Peng, Craig Macdonald, and Iadh Ounis. Rodrygo presented our xQuAD search results diversification framework, and the talk was very well received by the delegates, leading to several questions, and many comments that this was arguably the best presentation of the conference.
  • Learning to select a ranking function by Jie Peng, Craig Macdonald and Iadh Ounis. This was one of the full-paper-turned-poster presentations. Jie presented the poster, which attracted a lot of attention and led to some very interesting discussions.

Finally, during the posters/demos session, two good contributions particularly caught our attention:
  • An Empirical Study of Query Specificity (Poster) - Avi Arampatzis and Jaap Kamps
  • NEAT :News Exploration Along Time (Demo) - Omar Alonso, Klaus Berberich, Srikanta Bedathur and Gerhard Weikum
The conference had also an Industry day, which we missed. You can see a report on the Industry day in the following blog post. During the conference, a few of us actively twittered the conference sessions. You can look at the archived ecir2010 hashtag for more details.

One of the most exciting moments of the conference was our visit to the Bletchley Park as part of the ECIR 2010 social dinner. This was an excellent venue with a lot of history, and the food was also good! During the dinner, we were given an impossible quiz to answer. Despite the wine, and a long day, some delegates did manage to find the answers.

Usually, when ECIR is held in the UK, the last day of the conference is the venue for Annual General Meeting of the BCS IRSG - the umbrella group for ECIR. However, in 2010, there was no AGM. We can only suppose that this was because the 2009 AGM was only held in October, co-located with Search Solutions 2009 at BCS HQ. We say suppose, because at the time of writing, the 2009 AGM minutes are not yet available!

Finally, we would like to thank the organisers for their hard work during the conference, for the idea of the ball-bouncer game during the session breaks, which was really cool/fun and for an overall reasonably organised conference. We look forward to ECIR 2011 in Dublin!

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