Monday, October 1, 2007

HotNets VI Review Results Out

Alas, no HotNets paper for our group this year. I'll be posting our submission on-line to our wiki shortly as the paper was geared strictly towards HotNets, i.e. primarily opinion / philosophy versus raw technical substance. It was definitely a learning experience (euphemism for definite reject) as we do not usually dive into the philosophical domain with papers. Certainly a fun paper to write though as we were quite a bit more casual with various bits of puffery throughout the paper. The use of words such as "scurrilous" and phrases of "having your cake and eating it too" are certainly not typical academse fair.

The executive summary of the paper was fairly simple, sites would love to be centralized as it makes a host of management / resource issues much simpler but often do not have the scale to do so. In that context, we described our concept of ScaleBox which represents the amalgamation of my NSF CAREER work on Transparent Bandwidth Conservation, bringing in packet caching, TCP pre-fetching, tail synchronization, and stealth multicast in a single unified architecture. Unfortunately, fitting all of that in only six pages coupled with various larger scale musings which I thought were much more profound (does TCP apply when bandwidth conservation is involved, does it work with the current Internet, how should multicast economics really work) is a recipe for disaster. Couple that with thoroughly imbibing one's one Kool Aid as I was knee deep in writing a DARPA proposal with an incorrect assumption of reader rapport and that spells R-E-J-E-C-T.

With the wikifying of the submission, I'll also be taking the step of putting the raw reviews themselves on-line. An added bonus is that I get to do a point-by-point rebuttal :) I have long been intrigued by the review process with all of its nuance. The Global Internet Symposium approach of having all reviews signed with fully public reviews for accepted papers was quite interesting with mixed results. Those that took the experiment seriously were not the ones where problems with reviewers existed in the first place which was unfortunate. I would have liked to have seen a bit of a post-mortem on GI via the TCCC mailing list but perhaps it was discussed at the TCCC meeting at INFOCOM. The raw reviews being posted was a fantastic step that should be encouraged in the community to foster transparency.

Alternatively, the public review of SIGCOMM and CCR is a bit of a let down in my opinion. While it is certainly wonderful as a more junior professor to have a well established person writing the front article (having Jon Crowcroft write the public review for our edge-to-edge QoS paper, ERM, was a special treat), the public reviews especially for a conference like SIGCOMM often seemed to get watered down. Some had reasonable anecdotes from the TPC but most were fairly bland relative to the paper. Given the tight interweaving of accepted papers at SIGCOMM versus TPC members, I guess this would only be natural. Coming as a relative outsider, the raw reviews give significant more confidence in the thoroughness of the process than the rough equivalent of a NSF panel summary.

While I won't muse too much on where conferences in networking are going as that is best left to the TCCC mailing list or other venues, it is interesting that the philosophy espoused by HotNets is actually the norm outside of systems / networking. Works in progress or abstract-only submissions drive conference submissions rather than conference papers representing completed works in and of themselves. A roommate of one of my graduate students was shocked to find out that conference submissions were actually rejected in our field, even more shocked when he found out the average acceptance ratios.

It is my humble opinion that we are doing ourselves a disservice by focusing so much on completeness or practicality (perceived or actual) rather than the potential discussion or outgrowth points for the paper. Perhaps I am a bit older school but my perception of conferences was that they were a venue for unfinished work with the on-site discussion and reviews serving as an incubation testbed for thought provoking questions. Suffice to say, I find it a bit troubling that there were more interesting works in terms of posing new questions / opening new research areas at BroadNets than INFOCOM this past year. The average quality of the papers at INFOCOM were better but the opportunities for future work seemed considerably less. SIGCOMM is a whole different entity that I'll leave for another day.

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