May 2, 2013
MarkBernstein.org
 
Follow me on Twitter

Preamble

Websci this year received a lot of work.
One ninety eight submissions were reviewed
By more than seventy program committee folk,
And in the program we managed to find space 
For forty talks and more than forty posters
By squeezing every minute,every meter,
And plotting out the pecha kucha show
I hope you’ll all enjoy right after lunch today.

I emphasize we always separate
The mode of presentation from publication.
Some of the papers we thought best became
Posters or short talks because we we thought
They’d show to best advantage in a smaller space.

So we might think ourselves well pleased,
A happy conference, prosperous and strong.

This year, you gave this conference many frights.

We waited for your papers anxiously
And feared too few would come, 'til at the end
They all poured in at once, and more came late.
The deadline for extended abstracts came
And went, and papers still rushed in. Reviews
Were also plentiful but very slow,
Terser and more shallow than I’d wish.

And so I take a moment here to ask
You all to slow down all of your reviews, 
To water them and let them grow a bit.
Move carefully but well beyond your comfort zone,
And show your work. Tell what you understand
And how. 

	We do not care as much as you 
Just what you like — and don’t. We need to know
More clearly what you thought about, and why. 

❧ 

Disciplinarity is harder than you think.
In school it seems to be for most
A question of departmental boundaries,
One that good-natured friends with ease
Should overcome. Alas, this turns out not
To be the case. Our disciplines
Encode our rules of evidence, and worse
Encode what we think good, and bad, and wrong.
Last night, in fact, I was awake past two
To settle one last vexing argument.
Simple things like how we submit work
And then review it raise question and tempers too.
What seems straightforward in one field
Another finds intolerably wrong.

❧  

Whoever thinks a faultless piece to see,
Thinks what ne'er was, nor is, nor e'er shall be.					

But still, my friends, this isn’t good enough.
The writing we received is really far from good,
Making all allowance for the fact
That we all come from different states and fields.

I don’t complain of trivial mistakes.
I am myself a very sloppy writer,
And almost every paper I submit
Has missing words and blunders. It’s not these 
That makes our papers so damn hard to read, 
But rather imprecision in our choice of words
And absence of concision in our prose.
You need not hammer home the structure of your work
If it's the same old structure we have read
Since we were undergrads. 

	But if you write
About the antelopes that roam the Web
It does behoove you well to know exactly what
An antelope might be, and to distinguish them
From beavers, boojums, snarks and ocelots.
You need not argue ocelots are bad!
We simply want to know how your ideas fit
With what we all already do and know.

Precise word use and thorough scholarship			
Are even more important when, as here,
The audience is drawn from many disciplines.

Our topics — timid, inoffensive, mild –
Will seldom cause  great outrage or surprise.
The times are bad, the provost even worse,
I understand how fear of a false step
Can tempt us to tread light. But still,
It’s not just me: a bunch of you sent mail
To ask about the timing of your talk
So you might fit it in your travel plans
And rush away to give another talk.
I don’t recall a single message sent
To ask about a colleague’s Web Sci work,
And when their talk might be. 

	Why do we come
To conferences like this? To please our dean?
To earn a meager line on our CV?
That’s not the point. 

	I hope we come to learn
To find the best of what is being done
And thought about this complicated Web.

So thanks for coming. Please enjoy the show;
I look forward to learning what you all newly know.