Thoughts on my first visit to CHI

I recently returned from Florence, Italy, where I made my first visit to the CHI conference. I was struck by a number of things:

  • Size. There were about 2,500 people at CHI.  I’d never been to a conference larger than 200 or 250 people.  I did not like that I could often look around and see nobody that I recognized.  I liked that the size brought lots of non-academics, lots of fun stuff to do, and lots of options for things to see and do.
  • Culture. I work in a computer science department; I’m used to feeling like I barely belong in the discipline (I am interested in the applications of computing and the impact of computing on people). CHI presented the opposite feeling: I felt like an uber-geek. The culture was: design, art, experiment, evaluation, psychology, sociology.  Strangely absent was much talk of things like algorithms or architectures.
  • Breadth. Past conferences I had attended had revolved around the presentation of peer-reviewed research papers.  Not true at CHI, where there were lots of alternatives: pseudo-research (e.g. “works in progress”, design competitions, etc.), interactive demos, panels, …  One pretty good feature of the conference was “CHI madness”, where presenters gave 30 second overviews of their work.  Very well orchestrated, and often fun to watch.

By the way, I presented a paper (Predictors of Answer Quality in Online Q&A Sites). It was a good experience. People seemed uniformly interested in the topic, and seemed excited to talk about what we learned and our plans for future work. I learned of other researchers who have started working in the Q&A area.  I also got moderately motivated and inspired.