Friday, 24 February 2012

SWIRL 2012

Last week I attended SWIRL 2012: these are my highlights.


SWIRL 2012 has been a workshop where around 50 jetlagged top IR researchers gathered together essentially to experience summer during winter and incidentally to discuss the future of IR research. I am not sure that I count among the top IR researchers. Actually, probably the selection mechanism was more oriented towards the most crazy IR researchers since some really top were missing and some very crazy were definitely there. So I am not sure that I count among the top IR researchers, we can discuss if I count among the top crazy ones, but I'm sure I count among the top jetlagged ones. Luckily enough, all the others were jetlagged as well, and looked like Australians in Europe, so I managed to camouflage myself somehow. Also, and surprisingly, being very jetlagged even helped, since we had long discussions during the nights, and we managed to use the nights to read our emails :) and have the days free for working.

The workshop started with the usual nice dinner in a nice hotel. Well, actually we had a prologue, with some talks at RMIT from some IR researchers. They were, guess, extremely jetlagged, so probably not all the talks were so good, and yes I was one of the speakers. You see what I mean? Anyway, I presented Readersourcing, and I learned two things:
  1. Now I know who was one of the referees of the famous Go*gle/PageRank paper rejected from SIGIR; and that that submitted version wasn't that good... Anyway...
  2. When presenting Readersourcing in these years, I managed to discuss... ehm let's say to argue with S, K, and B. I did not record the first "discussion", but I did for the second one here. Now, the point is: shouldn't I seriously consider to quit this line of research?!?
Anyway, after that, the workshop started with the usual nice dinner in a nice hotel. During it I learned three things:
  1. Evaluation? We haven't had enough.
  2. How to wreck a nice beach (don't ask me to explain this, ask David).
  3. You can live your life as a party (ask Leif)
Then the crowd of 50-top-and-seriously-jetlagged-IR-researchers was packed into a bus and sent to Lorne to experience real summer. Indeed, the first thing we did in Lorne was to go to the nice beach (...). But after that we started to do some serious work. I don't recall all the details, probably because I was considerably jetlagged, but I do remember the main things. We were divided into 6 random groups that had to produce some ideas about the future of IR, i.e., research topics and directions that we felt important for the field. After that, we pooled all the ideas together (you know, we like pooling; actually, it is surprising to me that we didn't manage to stick into this process a logarithm, or a significance test, or the definition of a novel evaluation metric) and we voted the 6 top ideas. Indeed we didn't like the voting result too much so we slightly modified it (I'd say "the Italian way", but strangely there were no Italians driving this process) by merging, splitting, adding, removing, changing, deleting, twinkling, etc., and we obtained The-list-of-the-6-top-ideas-that-will-change-the-IR-world-in-the-future:
  1. Mobile IR
  2. Structured and unstructured information
  3. users People
  4. SmartIR (aka information literacy)
  5. "(less than) zero query" [sic]
  6. and, of course, Argy-Bargy
The other ideas were not killed, and will go back into play later on. We were then asked to form six groups, each one aiming at discussing one of the six ideas. Looking at the list it was very difficult for me to choose which group to join. Obviously, any schoolboy will understand the foundational and metaphysics nature of Argy-Bargy. Anyone will agree that we shall have no other information besides structured and unstructured. We can't kill users People, of course (fair enough, we didn't write "students"). SmartIR is the smarter term in the list. I've been working for the last 10 years, and published most of my last papers, on "(less than) zero query" [sic], although with different, and equally stupid strange labels like "query-free IR", "zero-interaction interactive IR", "browsing the virtual space by walking in the physical space", etc.

But at the end I joined the Mobile IR group. And, guess it, it was not about Mobile IR. It was about Understanding what Mobile IR is. Funny: a group that did not understand what it was about but aimed at understanding what its (mistaken) topic was about. How couldn't we succeed? Plus, when people chose their own group, strange things happened. Some people were not able to find their group; perhaps it was on the nice beach? Some people (those above plus others) joined another "wrong" group, and some of them, just to avoid being idle, decided to act as trolls. We had two trolls in the Mobile IR group, and you will understand how that made the discussion far more interesting, lively, polite, and constructive than you could ever imagine. Luckily, the night came, and after a good sleep (or perhaps some good chats, beers, barbecues, etc., since we were seriously jetlagged and can't manage to have that much sleep anyway), the morning after, Jamie and Vanessa had a clear vision of what the group was about and started drafting the report (each group was meant to write a report). Not having trolls around early morning probably helped. Did trolls suffer from jetlag? Did trolls take surfer lessons? We will never know.

As mentioned above, the other not-top-6-best-great-ideas were not killed, and some still-quite-heavily-jetlagged-IR-researchers volunteered to write a short report on those. Now, I have to mention the best name of the workshop: Axiometrics (credits to Arjen), a research line aimed at defining axioms in order to understand the about 100 IR effectiveness metrics. BTW, we might think of Anatometrics as well.


So the workshop was great, the organizers incredibly managed to obtain something out of about-50-top-crazy-IR-researchers-that-as-you-know-were-very-jetlagged, the discussions were interesting, I managed to have some good ideas and contacts for future paper writing, and perhaps some contact for my sabbatical as well (I'm looking for places were to stay during my sabbatical; please let me know if you're interested. I promise that I won't be so jetlagged for the whole sabbatical duration.) Plus, I've been out of business recently, for several reasons including lack of funds, A.'s birth, etc., and it was really nice to meet some old good friends and some new ones.

Criticisms? I always have. We could have made use of some "Social Web/Web2.0" tools, like Gdocs, Facebook, Twitter, to have a virtual discussion as well and, for example, to vote the ideas (did I hint that the voting mechanism was a bit... "italianized"? Now, we all know about Arrow's theorem, but that was far beyond that). Someone said that s/he had the impression that we were simply drafting a report to make easier for US and Australian researchers to get funds. Someone had the impression that the meeting was a bit too "old fashioned". But as I wrote, the organizers did manage to get something out of about-50-top-IR-researchers-that-as-you-know-were-very-jetlagged, and this is an enormous success.


Some interesting sentences were uttered during those days, and shall never be forgotten:
  • Cloud computing is not transparent.
  • You can't leave indoor outdoor, but you can't leave outdoor outdoor either.
  • How to wreck a nice beach.
  • Life as a party.
  • (Julio please help with the other one)
  • (anybody welcome to add)
Post workshop!!

Once back in Melbourne, a (randomly) selected subgroup of all those (somehow) 50 selected IR researcher had an interesting post-workshop, post-dinner, during-beer mini-workshop on p*orn and user models. I took some pictures of the participants:

As you can see, we range from someone (pretending to be?) not interested, or perhaps simply jetlagged, to someone really having fun, to a shy guy who doesn't want to be recognized, to someone counting beers (not an easy task!), to someone hiding in the shade. I learned some interesting statistics about user features. Anyway, guys, it was fun. Thanks!


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