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Recently I was in an ACM supported conference. During the banquet, the conference organizers told us about the future and past of the conference. They told us that during the 2010 edition of the conference there was a loss of 5000$.

They showed us the budget of the previous conference where we could see that there were 8000$ (10% of the budget if I remember correctly) given to ACM. Maybe because I am not yet fully in the field (I am starting my PhD in september 2011), I was the only one to ask what was this money given for. The answer I got was really disappointing, apparently the main contributions of the ACM was to print the proceedings and to give advice so the next year there would not be such a loss (apparently the advice given was to raise the entry fees).

I was really surprised, since in order to read the proceedings your university has to pay a subscription to ACM (correct me if I am wrong), I thought ACM (is it the same for IEEE?) had to pay to support the conference.

So my questions are:

  1. What does ACM really bring to a conference?
  2. Have you heard of other conferences where this is the case?

Related Blog posts: Freedom to Thinker and Matt Blaze's post, apparently the question was already asked.

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what's wrong with arxiv.org ? –  Artem Kaznatcheev Jul 20 '11 at 17:02
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I agree that Arxiv is a great thing but there is no peer review hence no "value" on your work. The idea was also to have something equivalent to saying I published in a conference. –  Gopi Jul 20 '11 at 17:07
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I think in general, that professional organizations in general make money off of conferences. Certainly all the IEEE conferences (not restricted to just computer science) work this way. I believe that one of the things they do is insure losses, so that if the conference does happen to lose money, it doesn't come out of the organizers' pockets. You are always free to organize your own conference, not sponsored by one of these organizations. Why should ACM members' dues be used to support conferences? –  Peter Shor Jul 20 '11 at 18:37
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Not related to the question as currently phrased, but the previous version was asking about the possibility of articles being submitted, reviewed and commented upon publically before publication. A special issue of the International Journal of Quantum Information on distributed quantum computing did just this a while ago on quantalk.org. As an example of this, the open review of an introduction to measurement based computation submitted by myself and Earl Campbell can be found at: quantalk.org/view.php?id1=162&thread=1 –  Joe Fitzsimons Jul 20 '11 at 23:39
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@Gopi: For what it's worth, I list arXiv preprints on my CV. It's usually where my newest results will be. –  Joe Fitzsimons Jul 20 '11 at 23:51
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2 Answers

One thing ACM brings to a conference is name recognition: if I see that a conference is ACM-sponsored, even if it's one that I haven't heard of before, I can be confident that it's reasonably high quality and well organized, rather than being one of those scam conferences that accepts everything and profits off the registration fees. (I'm less sure of that with IEEE after the Schlangemann scandal.) Of course, there are also good conferences that are not sponsored by these societies. And I wouldn't want to rely on this halo effect for making decisions about tenure or anything important like that — better to solicit opinions from people who know that area better — but it can be useful when deciding where to send a paper.

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Thank you David for this link! From Dr. Schlangemann's paper I learned that "many experts would agree that were it not for the construction of red-black trees, the exploration of context free grammars might never have occured". It's a good day! –  Sasho Nikolov Dec 4 '11 at 2:24
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I was involved in the organization of the Fourth International Symposium on Combinatorial Search and I am currently involved in the next one. Other than that, I am an active reviewer of the ACM Computing Reviews, so I hope I can help a little bit.

First of all, conferences when providing a good standard of services are not cheap at all. However, there are a number of societies (NSF for example) and organizations/companies that do usually support the conference. As opposite to Peter Shor, I do not think that most conferences try to make money off of the conference (in general) but not to lose it. However, it seems to me that ACM/IEEE conferences are now going in the wrong direction ---see the abovementioned link

As for the proceedings, take the case of the AAAI, just because I know it better. We paid about 3,000 US$ for getting the proceedings managed by this association. In exchange, the proceedings were available during the conference over the net (so that there was no need to distribute any separate CD/USB pendrive) and they are now widely available to the general public ---to access the proceedings of the Fourth International Symposium on Combinatorial Search follow this link while the proceedings of the previous edition are available here.

So regarding the second question, the answer is no. And it is definitely important to make here a clear statement: that is not the only way to manage proceedings ---i.e., to ask the conference chairs to pay, to particular readers to pay and to organizations/universities to pay while retaining the copyright of the papers.

As for the first one, it seems to me that these societies (as Peter Shor said before) try to make money off of the conference they sponsor. The service they supposedly provide is that they overlook the conference and guarantee a high service level, but I am pretty sure that you all know conferences (particularly sponsored by IEEE) which are far from being good (e.g., a high number of submissions are accepted and the general quality is rather low). As a matter of fact, there are a number of Call for Papers that I do immediately send to my Trash folder without even reading ...

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