One week to go. Please vote!

Everyone on the compgeom-announce mailing list should have received an email yesterday with a link to the voting site and a reminder that the voting period ends July 15, one week from today. If you did not receive the reminder (or the initial email), please let me know.

Let me reiterate once again: All members of the computational geometry community are strongly encouraged to vote. It is important that we hear from as many members of the community as possible, especially since one of the concerns with the previous vote was the relatively meager participation.

If you have already voted, thank you! If not, please vote soon.

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On The Role of Professional Societies

This is a guest post from Wm Randolph Franklin, originally left as a comment on another post.

The bigger issue is the role of professional societies. Since I straddle various disciplines, I’m a member of four, in decreasing order of cost, IEEE, ACM, SIAM, and CAGIS. My following discussion is restricted to IEEE and ACM since SIAM and CAGIS don’t exhibit the same problems.

The vast majority of the IEEE and ACM membership are “practicing” professionals. The role of the small minority of academic members seems to be to freely produce papers for consumption (at a price) by the industry people. Initiatives by these societies principally include new insurance offerings and more finely graded levels of distinguished membership. Initiatives valuable to academics that IEEE and ACM did not provide include, as mentioned by others, EasyChair and DBLP. Their news feeds are aimed squarely at practitioners. I get academic and intellectual news, for free, from other sources.

The professional societies are particularly bad for interdisciplinary research. Ignoring the necessity to belong to several, even the individual societies are subdivided into an increasing number of subgroups, each having an increasing annual fee. This hits the practitioners particularly hard because academics can get the material through their libraries.

At this point, I’m a member of IEEE and ACM mainly because of inertia, and because my university might look askance at my quitting.

To be fair, IEEE and ACM have do some continuing good. I think that sponsorship is worth something, especially with the number of new conferences and journals announced each year. Also, small social groups w/o external guidance have a danger of spiraling downhill. That applies to fraternities, churches, social clubs, and university boards. That is not a current concern for SOCG. However if it happened in the future then ACM might step in, replace the board, and restart things. Of course, w/o ACM, academics in the field could also simply abandon the organization and form a new one. So, this is not a major concern.

Against that are the increasingly harmful effects that have been listed by others: the hassles, the cost, the difficult access to papers. SOCG leaving ACM is the first step towards a possible larger paradigm shift.

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Voting is open!

This afternoon I sent an announcement to everyone on the compgeom-announce mailing list inviting them to the final vote on the future relationship of SOCG and ACM.

Since BallotBin is broken, we are running the vote on PollDaddy, a commercial polling service run by the same company as WordPress (which hosts this blog).  All votes are recorded anonymously.

To give everyone adequate time to participate—especially over the summer when people may be traveling—the steering committee has decided to leave the poll open for three weeks. Thus, the voting site will remain open through July 15, Anywhere on Earth (= July 16 at noon UTC).  Results of the vote will be announced on July 16.

If the total number of votes cast by July 15 is too low (less than 100), or the outcome of the vote is undecided (both alternatives receiving at least 45% of the votes), the steering committee reserves the right to decide differently than the majority vote. All members of the computational geometry community are strongly encouraged to vote.

I plan to send a reminder email to all compgeom-announce subscribers approximately one week before voting closes.  So you can still register to vote by subscribing to the mailing list now.

This blog will remain open and active during the voting period; guest posts in favor of either outcome are definitely welcome. In particular, I invite ACM President Vint Cerf and ACM CEO John White (both of whom have posted comments) to publish longer statements in support of SOCG’s continued association with ACM.

If you have questions or concerns about the vote, please feel free to either post them here or contact me directly.

Here is a copy of the final ballot:

This is the third and final vote on whether the Symposium on Computational Geometry (SOCG) should continue its long-standing affiliation with the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM).

The purpose of the vote is to provide the SOCG steering committee with accurate data about (1) whether the community prefers to stay with ACM or organize SOCG independently, (2) the rationale for this preference, and (3) the community’s willingness to commit effort in the event that SOCG does go solo.

Ongoing discussion of issues related to the vote can be found at Background information and results for the two previous votes can be found at

Results from this vote will be announced on July 16, immediately after voting closes.

Thank you for participating in this important decision!

Question 1

What is your preference for the future organization of SOCG?

  • I prefer to stay with ACM, with the understanding that ACM will approve all good-faith requests for in-cooperation status outside the United States. Refusal of in-cooperation status outside the US triggers our immediate departure from ACM.
  • I prefer to leave ACM, and organize SOCG as an independent conference with proceedings published in LIPIcs and with financial backing provided through other means, starting as soon as practically possible.

Question 2

If you voted to stay with ACM, please select your main reason.

  • Maintaining continuity
  • Financial backing and insurance
  • Prestige of being affiliated with a professional organization
  • Having proceedings in the digital library of a professional organization
  • Other (please specify):

Question 3

If you voted to leave ACM, please state your main reason.

  • Open and free access to the proceedings
  • Reducing costs for the attendees
  • Reducing administrative overhead for the local organizers
  • Increased flexibility
  • Other (please specify):

Question 4

Independent of your vote in question 1, would you be willing to help out as a volunteer in the event that SOCG does go solo?

If you answer “yes”, please indicate what kind of help you can offer. Possibilities include: legal issues, insurance, banking, sponsoring, proceedings, record keeping, and local organization.

  • No
  • Maybe
  • Yes

If you answered “yes”, how would you be willing to help?

Question 5

What is your current academic status?

  • tenured faculty member
  • untenured faculty member
  • postdoc
  • PhD student
  • Other (please specify):

Question 6

How many times have you attended SOCG in the last ten years? (Prior or recent attendance is not a requirement for voting.)

  • At least 5 times
  • 3 or 4 times
  • 1 or 2 times
  • Never

Question 7

We welcome other thoughts you may have about the issue.

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Please Stand By

BallotBin appears to be completely broken, which means we will not be able to open the vote today as planned.

The steering committee is investigating other voting platforms, and we have a few promising leads.  We expect to launch the vote on a different site in the next day or two.  (No, we will not fall back to “send email to X”.)

Even before these difficulties arose, the steering committee had already decided to keep voting open for three weeks, so that everyone has adequate time to vote, even if they may be traveling over the summer.


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For Me, It’s All About Open Access

Note to readers: This is posted by me, Pat Morin, and represents my personal views on the continued association of SoCG and ACM.

Previous posters have summarized the history of SoCG and ACM’s relationship (long and sometimes frustrating), what will happen to the conference name (we’ll have to change it if we leave), concerns about the ACM Digital Library (it has some usability and timeliness issues), and the primary benefit of staying with the ACM (brand recognition).

None of these posts addresses what I see as the most important benefit of leaving the ACM: free and open access proceedings. I’m writing this from home right now, and accessing any SoCG paper more than one month old would cost me $15.00 for the PDF. Admittedly, this isn’t as much as Elsevier’s $31.50 for a CGTA article, Springer’s $39.95 for a DCG article, or World Scientific’s $30 for an IJCGA article. It is, however, more expensive and inconvenient than every conference with free open-access proceedings and every free open-access journal.

There are a number of good reasons to make our proceedings open-access, some of which are ideological:

  • Most of the research that appears in SoCG was funded from public sources. Members of the public, including our academic institutions, should be able to access it without paying for it again.
  • There are academic institutions all over the world that, for various reasons, don’t subscribe to the ACM digital library. Should researchers at these institutions be kept out of the loop about what’s happening in computational geometry?

Other reasons are more practical:

  • It can be a pain to get access to a SoCG paper when travelling or even when working from home.
  • It’s handy to be able to post copies of, or direct links to, papers on a course webpage. Right now posting copies is a copyright violation and links are only useful for students on campus.
  • Most people in industry don’t have access to the ACM digital library. They may find that something we’re doing is relevant to their work. Knowing the details, though, requires buying an article which costs money and time (see below).

    Suppose someone does spend the time and effort to buy a paper based on the title and abstract, because it appears to describe an efficient algorithm for a problem they have. If we’re honest with ourselves, we have to admit that, in many cases, they’ll be disappointed with what they find in the article: an asymptotically efficient algorithm that (a) doesn’t solve exactly the problem they want to solve, (b) is only efficient for impossibly large inputs, (c) is so complicated it’s (for them) unimplementable, and/or (d) relies on a number of other results that are also only available for a fee from ACM and other publishers.

    They won’t do this too many times before writing off our work altogether. Our research would be more likely to find applications if those who might actually implement it were able to freely browse our research.

  • Even if a casual reader is willing to pay $15.00 for an article, the process is excruciating. After choosing to buy an article, one has to create a web account (including a security question) and then choose to login. At this point, the web browser is no longer on the article page, so one has to find it again and choose to buy the article again. Finally, it’s possible to enter your credit card or paypal information and buy the article. (I don’t know what happens after this step.)

    Contrast this with accessing a LIPIcs paper. The third result I get from googling “STACS 2013 proceedings” takes me to a page from which I can get to any paper within 3 clicks.

On the other hand, what are the benefits of continuing to publish our proceedings as closed access articles with ACM?

Jeff Erickson has already discussed the benefit of brand name recognition which can be an issue for some members of our community. ACM has already pointed out the benefit of getting to keep our conference’s name. The benefit of the value added to our papers by having them in the ACM Digital Library is questionable, at best.

That leaves the financial benefit, which Paul Beame has addressed somewhat: SIGACT gets $39K more from the ACM Digital Library than it pays the ACM. After publishing SIGACT News, $25K is left. Of this $25K, SoCG was allocated $4,500 this year. (To my knowledge, this is the first such allocation.) This $4,500 made for some nice student travel stipends this year, but be warned: Paul does say that conferences “should not count on this” in the future and that “we do expect [Digital Library] revenues to go down.”

By publishing with LIPIcs, the cost of publishing the proceedings would be about $1,200 which is, apparently, considerably less than what ACM charges, so there is some savings to be had. By leaving ACM, we would lose any contribution from SIGACT, which was $4,500 this year, or roughly $22 per attendee. Given all the other factors involved, it seems hard to predict whether leaving the ACM and publishing with LIPIcs would make things more or less expensive.

Please keep the issue of open-access in mind when casting your vote this week.

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Statement from Paul Beame (SIGACT chair)

This is a guest post from Paul Beame, the chair of the SIGACT executive committee.

First of all, I would like to express the desire of the SIGACT leadership to work for the benefit of the whole TCS community including SoCG. We are trying to bring the TCS community together more, as in the proposed 2016 co-location of SoCG with STOC but also more generally. At the STOC business meeting there was also strong support for a Federation of TCS conferences in 2017 where we would try to co-locate many more theory conferences with STOC in the latter half of June. We’d love it if SoCG wanted to join in 2017 also but also understand that SoCG is expected to be outside North America in 2017. Obviously, with this perspective, we hope that SoCG stays with SIGACT and ACM.

I should explain more about finances. ACM provides a substantial net financial benefit to the TCS community. SIGACT gets money from ACM for its share of the digital library revenues based on downloads of SIGACT material. Over the years, from a combination largely of STOC surpluses and ACM DL revenues, SIGACT has built up quite a large operating balance as well as a separate endowment fund for awards. We do expect DL revenues to decline markedly as things become more open access, which has led to conservative budgeting of SIGACT funds. (2/3 of revenues are from papers older than 5 years, often from conferences that are now sponsored by other SIGs, and a move to delayed open access might wipe out all of that revenue stream overnight.) However, in the last year, SIGACT got $39K more from ACM from the DL than it paid to ACM in allocation fees for its own operations and passed on overheads of its conferences. This isn’t all available: SIGACT does lose money on every member because it costs more to print and mail SIGACT News than an average membership costs, a net loss of $14K overall, though there is now an electronic-only option that may make this break-even on average. STOC also made a total of over $110K in surpluses the last two years (we don’t have a 50% surplus return agreement for STOC as we do with SoCG). For several years SIGACT had an operating fund balance of around $800K but these two items have caused a very significant jump to well over $900K.) The SIGACT leadership are trying to return much of that extra money to the community both to STOC and other conferences. This year’s money to conferences, of which $4500 went to SoCG, was a start. We don’t want conferences to count on this, or make promises that we can’t keep in future which is why there are no commitments at this point. Leaving ACM would cut off SoCG from this money.

A bit more detail about in cooperation requests. SoCG would have to ask each year, but the bar for SIGACT support for this will be low for conferences outside North America. (After all SIGACT has committed to pay for extra costs in this case so it is reasonable that SIGACT get asked each time.) The bar for approval of this inside North America, especially in the US, would be very high. (Having seen how things worked with ACM when I ran local arrangements for STOC 2006 in Seattle, it really couldn’t have been easier. All I had to do was tell an ACM person to pay some bill and it got done; I didn’t have to handle a penny and their advice saved the conference a bunch of money. They negotiated some really good rates for us and some good stipulations in the contract that would have been a mess for us if they hadn’t been included.)

There are benefits of ACM policies for sponsored conferences that SoCG would be foregoing when it elects to operate in cooperation rather than with sponsored status. Just one example is the following. ACM has an arrangement with RegOnline (the usual registration service for many conferences) that halves the costs (I can attest to this having paid for them at regular price for FOCS conferences) and sends the money direct to an ACM sub-account for the conference. Expenses are paid by ACM staff as authorized by the organizers. This means that organizers do not set up bank accounts and reporting is easy (no final auditing or anything for the local organizers, something that would be necessary for a non-profit to do for tax purposes).

Contingencies required in budgets for ACM should not be an issue here. Even without changing the number of attendees, it is easy to meet contingencies by adjusting the assumed distribution of registrants to include a higher percentage of non-members or late registrants, or a smaller percentage of students to compensate for much or all of the contingency. It is also possible to approve budgets with lower contingency percentages for conferences that consistently have budgeted well. Contingency is sometimes necessary, though. I did have one case when I ran IEEE FOCS 2010 where with a fudged contingency we would have had a deficit except that SIGACT stepped in to help. Cutting things close works fine if you have an organization with deeper pockets backing you up. An independent conference could not cut it so close with the contingency and would need to build in a real contingency that is quite a bit larger than what actually one can budget for ACM.

Finally, the situation with SoCG and ACM is very different from that of CCC and IEEE, particularly in terms of the cost versus support for the conference.  Moreover, unlike with CCC, SoCG leaving ACM would eliminate the possibility of future “in cooperation” status with ACM, something that the members of the CCC steering committee are very keen on maintaining. I hope that SoCG wants to maintain our relationship, too.

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Voting starts on Monday

The final vote on the future relationship between the Symposium on Computational Geometry and the Association for Computing Machinery will be held next week: June 23–July 1.  On Monday, June 23, voting codes and BallotBin links will be sent to every subscriber of the compgeom-announce mailing list.  If you are interested in voting on this issue, please subscribe to compgeom-announce as soon as possible.

I do want to emphasize that this vote is open to all members of the computational geometry research community, regardless of career stage, employment status, or degree status, or prior participation in the conference.  Please vote, and please encourage your colleagues to vote.

Here is a draft of the actual ballot, which combines language from the previous SOCG ballots with a few information questions from the recent CCC vote.

1. Which of the following options do you prefer?

    1. I prefer to stay with ACM, with the understanding that ACM will approve all good-faith requests for in-cooperation status outside the United States. Refusal of in-cooperation status outside the US triggers our immediate departure from ACM.
    2. I prefer to leave ACM, and organize SOCG as an independent conference with proceedings published in LIPIcs and with financial backing provided through other means.

2. If you answered (A), please check the main reason:

  • Maintaining continuity
  • Financial backing and insurance
  • Prestige of being affiliated with a professional organization
  • Having proceedings in the digital library of a professional organization
  • Other — Please specify:

3. If you answered (B), please check the main reason:

  • Open and free access to the proceedings
  • Reducing costs for the attendees
  • Reducing administrative overhead for the local organizers
  • Increased flexibility
  • Other — Please specify:

3. Independent of your vote in question 1, would you be willing to help out as a volunteer in the event that SOCG does go solo?

  • No
  • Maybe
  • Yes — Please specify how you think you can help.  Possibilities include: legal issues, insurance, banking, sponsoring, proceedings, record keeping, local organization.

4. Please indicate your current status:

  • Tenured faculty member
  • Untenured faculty member
  • Postdoc
  • PhD student
  • Other

5. How often did you attend SoCG in the past 10 years?  (Prior attendance at SOCG is not a requirement for voting.)

  • At least 5 times
  • 3 or 4 times
  • 1 or 2 times
  • never

6. We welcome other thoughts you may have about the issue:


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