My name is danah boyd and I'm a Principal Researcher at Microsoft Research and the founder/president of Data & Society. Buzzwords in my world include: privacy, context, youth culture, social media, big data. I use this blog to express random thoughts about whatever I'm thinking.

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no CHI for me

The workshops at CHI this year are *unbelievable* and it was hard to choose. In the end, i agreed to be a discussion leader for Social Visualization Workshop. As the registration deadline loomed, i was hoping that i would find funding, but both are kinda tangential to both my research and work. I decided to look and see if i could afford it on my own and was shocked to see that the cost of registration (including workshops) is $650. And that’s the student price! ::gulp:: So, sadly, i will not be attending CHI this year.

I have to say, i’m also quite shocked at the hike in fees. [For those who are used to industry fees, this is quite expensive for an academic conference where even the presenters pay.] I thought i was going mad until i saw Jofish’s visual of the registration costs over time:

I know that putting on conferences is expensive but i really wish i knew what registration fees went towards. I also wish monetary-related decisions were more transparent, particularly for conferences that are not-for-profit. Are there reasons to keep attendees in the dark about what their fees pay for?

Like Jofish, i also wonder about the implications that this fee hike has for interdisciplinary discussions when members of less-funded disciplines cannot attend. Making CHI only affordable to the CS folks is not a good thing. And i cannot even imagine what it must be like to be outside of the Euro-American corridor where most of these events occur. Or to be a graduate student who has no funding and never has the privilege to attend. It’s scary to think about the ways in which the academy work creates fundamental biases in knowledge production.

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21 comments to no CHI for me

  • B

    Well, you now know why some people think there aren’t enough academics on the field… There just aren’t many rich enough to pay for attending to such glossy events.

    They site looks like not so academic to me: am I wrong thinking the whole thing turned from pur research? Couldn’t you ask friends working in company academics (PhDs @ Yahoo, Google) that might go there to do something, bring back some material, quote you as much as they can?

  • tyfn

    danah,

    The student volunteers will have hotel rooms (85) set aside this year so that will enable some students to attend that have funding issues.

    It is interesting that the conference is being held in Montreal (should be cheaper because Canadian dollars) and yet it is so expensive. I would expect that the Quebec government would offer incentives to get international conferences into Montreal.

    How does the cost of CSCW (Banff in November) compare with the costs of previous years in the US?

  • I think you touched a very important point. I’m from Italy and with tight funding. In order to come to AAAI2005 in Pittsburgh, I had to volunteer (to get Free registration), to apply for a scolarship and then to beg my institute to place the missing money. Ah, and for accomodation I found hospitality via hospitality exchange sites such as couchsurfing .com and hospitalityclub.org.
    See http://moloko.itc.it/paoloblog/archives/2005/04/30/looking_for_accomodation_in_pittsburgh_and_for_travel_support.html

    I’m not complaining about this, actually I totally enjoyed volunteering and I’d couchsurf anyway (it is a much better experience: for example, my host gave a bike to move in Pittsburgh while the other attendees were stuck and lost in a hyper-luxury boring hotel).

    Anyway these prices are a shame. And before deciding about submitting for a conference I always check the prices but they always come up later. So I have no way to decide to submit to a conference that costs 100 euros and not to submit to the one that costs 750 euros.

    For example, how many people from Ethiopian University (or in general African ones) have you met at conferences? Myself, I think zero. This si really a shame.
    One possibility is to have conferences (partially) funded by UNESCO. And another option is to have researchers coming from rich countries paying more and use part of that money so that researchers coming from less rich countries can attend with scolarships. But, yes, there should be much much more transparency.

  • xertroyt

    Ahem. The academy *is designed to* create fundamental biases in knowledge production. That’s the point. Let us admit it.

    Of course, the ideology of free and fair research obscures this fact, but just reflect on how nice it is to be at a university that can pay for, or has already paid for, library holdings, visiting speakers, etc., etc. Need I go on?

    An interesting example in the humanities is the shift to historicism. This seems in some way to just be a change in fashion, but guess what? Historicism means visiting libraries and museums — ones with great and frequently rare holdings. In many cases, this means special training to understand the provenance of the work being studied, and special training for the mere handling of the source.

    Is it any coincidence that this happened with the rise of theory, where scholarship was limited only by brand-new books you could find in the library? Suddenly elite universities had to defend their turf / reputation / product, and this demand helped those scholars discover historicism which has a built-in barrier to entry through the scarcity and rareness of the items undergoing study and analysis (as opposed to a paperback copy of a theory text, available in many bookstores, if not free for borrowing at the library).

    Of course, the first defense against the rise of theory was the privileging of foreign languages (saying that your scholarship wasn’t worth as much if you dealt with the theory in translation), but this didn’t work because big state universities in the midwest and elsewhere had perfectly good language specialists. (Indeed, the rise of theory was in part motivated by these younegr folks, who wanted to steal market share from the elite univerities where they were trained by an older generation.) What they were lacking, though, were the rare works that undergird the academic research practices of historicism, so naturally the intellectual fashion went there.

    I’m sure similar arguments could be made for anthropology and the privileging of certain kinds of expensive ethnography over mere (cheap) theory.

  • equally frustrated

    I’ve volunteered for SIGCHI in the past, and can tell you that most of the expense comes from renting out these massively expensive convention centers with super-fancy (and not cheap) A/V support, totally inappropriate for the size of the conf (1500-3000, with an average of 2000-2500 in the mid and late 90s). After the economic downturn from 9/11, attendance crashed in 2002 for a few years. But the lavishness stayed the same…and with contracts for locations put into place years in advance, you’re kinda stuck. It’s simple math: if less people show up, you’ll need to charge more to break even.

    Another thing is that SIGCHI is not its own entity; it’s a SIG in ACM, who sets the rules. And ACM is a big bureaucratic nonprofit with baffling rules and sometimes expensive tastes (why do they need their main offices in Manhattan, with those sky-high rents, for example?) So yes, a lot of things are now out of CHI’s hands.

    Also, in years past, the tutorial program was the cash cow of the conference. As those prices rose and more (cheaper) opportunities came to learn the same information (often from the instructors teaching the same tutorial in other locations, at other times of the year) — well, the money dried up.

    With 2006, the tutorial cost is integrated. In theory, if you were going to take a tutorial anyway, this route is a bit cheaper (and I think that’s how their marketing shtick is going). But in reality, not a large percentage of conference-goers took tutorials in the past few years.

    Obviously, the model from recent past needed to change. But who knows if this new model will work out? Either way, we’ll see what happens…

  • When I first saw registration fees, I also thought that this must be the side effect of CHI still getting over the “lean” years after the dot-com slump. After all, they have managed to maintain at least to some extent the “lavishness” of the conference throughout the years. However, this report completely changed my opinion. I believe this is one of the sources of frustration. If CHI is finally *out* of a financial slump, and last years’ conference in Portland made money, then the point Jofish and danah are making is very reasonable. Why such a steep hike in rates suddenly?

    Integrating tutorials into the program may make the industry attendees happier, but many academics did not participate in those precisely because of the costs and the option of being able to choose was always nice. Is CHI trying to lure more of its industry attendees? Ones that pay the wopping “late registration” fee? I don’t know, but I would like to find out what’s going on and whether this rate hike is something to be expected next year as well. In that case, I would not bother submitting again in the fall.

    By the way, this IS the first time CHI is actually subsidizing housing for SV’s, which is very nice. But keep in mind that there aren’t very many SV’s and getting on that list can be difficult especially for students who are new to the conference and didn’t know they needed to sign up even before submission deadlines!

  • I recently felt the same way with the upcoming NTEN conference in Seattle. While the prices were not as exhorbidant as CHI, they were definitely prohibitive to those of use who work in certain sectors of the nonprofit sector. It certainly is unfortunate and I’m sure that it is creating a sort of privileged class among those who work in nonprofits. Such conference rates seem to create a glass floor (as opposed to ceiling) where organizations cannot access such technology as readily due to lack of resources. I would have LOVED to attend the NTEN conference, given that I work with many organizations that are technologically needy (as well as resource needy) and would greatly benefit from these emerging technologies. But where can I get the money to pay for these conferences??? Nowheresville! I even have problems paying for fees for conferences in my discipline (Social Work).

  • Mark

    A four star hotel in Montreal costs about $300/night. Eight nights for the SVs. 85 rooms. You do the math. That money has to come from somewhere.

    On a more serious note, CHI has always “made” money based on tutorials taken. Registration fees (barely) cover the fixed costs of the conference. The attendence at tutorials has been steadily declining, due to a multitude of issues (companies are less likely to fund tutorial expenses, tutorials no longer offer the value they once did, information is easier to come by). The courses (and higher reg fee) is an attempt to re-jigger the revenue stream.

  • lucky volunteer

    I got lucky on two counts: I knew to apply as an SV early on, and then I actually won the lottery. I had to take out extra student loans to pay travel expenses, but even though I live in North America relatively close to Montreal and CHI is paying for the room, it will still cost more to attend than I spent on textbooks for the YEAR.

    There’s no way I could attend if it weren’t for volunteering, and it would still almost be too expensive to do if the (shared occupancy) room were not covered. But in contrast, an industry-focused conference that I’m volunteering for, the Emetrics Summit, costs $2290 for a 3-day conference, and Santa Barbara is much more costly for travel than Montreal.

  • I have done workshops and conferences before and even the ones that didn’t pay at least gave presenters full entry to the event. It sucks that you can’t go.

  • Thank you for this. I mean, I’m not a student any more, but I feel like one when it comes to thinking about coughing up a couple grant for a conference fee. Even if you organize a workshop, you get socked for fees in many cases.

    At the beginning of the year I drew up my expected travel and registration expenses in a spreadsheet – the usual stops: CHI, Ubicomp, ETech, etc. It’s a small fortune, and CHI was the most expensive by far. So, I’ll beg off this year – not to mention that nothing I submitted was accepted. It becomes a financial burden to participate in making new stuff and creating new things.

  • a sad day for chi community! hehe… but i did notice you’re on the program for sunbelt. i’ll look out for you there!

  • At least part of the problem is the need to attract junketeering industry attendees. The conference needs them to succeed, or at least the organizers believe so, and a certain “vacationy” quality is an important criterion in deciding which relevant conference to attend – luxury digs, prime host city, etc. Price discrimination (student vs member, for instance) can only go so far before it enrages even deep-pocketed bosses, and so people in the price-favored class still wind up facing a very large check for their portion of the conference’s expected income.

  • So here’s the deal: they actually completely changed the conference structure and the fee structure. In the past, you had to pay for the 3-day conference and up to 2 days of tutorials and workshops separately. This year, there is one 4-day conference which includes tutorials and workshops — and one flat fee for the whole thing. It’s also based on the SIGGRAPH model.

    These changes were made with a ton of customer input and feedback. The organizers knew that it wouldn’t please everyone, of course.

    Funny thing: practitioners can get funding to go to the tutorials but not the conference. Academics can tend to get funding for the conference but not the tutorials.

    By the way, in most cases travel + hotel costs are far more than conference costs.

  • Kevin – thanks for the info. You should know that workshops are not included. And hotel costs only cost more when you don’t do hostels/crash on people’s floor. Basically, student plan often allows you to make it cheap, minus flight and registration. I made it to SIGGRAPH annually on the cheap since i was a freshman in college. But you didn’t have to pay if you were presenting there.

  • Hmmm… wasn’t aware that it didn’t cover workshops. I’ll have to go ask about that. Probably because so few attendees are allowed into workshops (they’re by invitation only). But it’s still strange. (I have another 4 months on the SIGCHI executive committee, when people still have to listen to me 🙂

    I did say “in most cases” — there are certainly people who crash on friends’ couches.

    SIGGRAPH lost lots of money over a stretch of years — into the millions. CHI definitely lost money for a few years, though not as much as SIGCHI. There was a point when well over 25% of the attendees at CHI got complimentary registration, too. When CHI cut back on comp registration several years back, there were tons of complaints, amazingly enough from people who essentially had no justification for free registration other than that they had the boldness to ask (not implying that you are one of those). But at a conference where participation is encouraged and a significant fraction of the attendees present, it’s very easy to end up in a situation where hardly anyone is paying. When I was co-chair of CHI 96, this was a major pain for everyone.

  • No doubt – i was fully engaged with SIGGRAPH when it had that crunch. But you cannot compare CHI with SIGGRAPH if you don’t compare it all the way. The fact that they give free passes to people who are giving papers, running tutorials, displaying emerging technologies, showing art, showing film… this is important. It helped attract better submissions (although it did also attract more in general) but it also guaranteed that the people who were contributing to the field came. Why should i submit something to CHI when i can’t afford to attend? My incentive to submit has been completely diminished by this price hike. I also have to question other conferences and i’ve already pinged the folks at CSCW to see if the conference will be affordable before i even think of proposing another interdisciplinary workshop.

    Don’t get me wrong – i didn’t expect CHI to be free. But i did have an understanding of costs based on last year and was completely shocked when i went to register.

    I totally understand that this is a complex puzzle and i’m not blaming you or Rob or anyone, but i think that it needs to be publicly acknowledged that there are consequences to this move. If CHI wants to be a professional conference, by all means, go for it. But if it’s meant to be the academic center of HCI, and if HCI is meant to be interdisciplinary, this is very problematic. Remember, most social science national conferences cost about $50 for students who are utterly shocked when they think of attending CHI.

  • ok, but’s let’s REALLY go all the way with the comparison.

    SIGGRAPH has a massive tradeshow that (if run correctly) brings in a ton of money from exhibitors. CHI has never had even close to that kind of exhibit floor, and the CHI attendees have said repeatedly that they don’t want it. And there’s a price to pay for that.

    I will completely grant you, however, that complementary and discounted registration are a great way to make sure that you attract an audience.

    Don’t worry, I don’t feel blamed. Personally, I blame the CHI community, which vacillates between trying to be so broadly inclusive as to deny itself any kind of defining character, and trying to tear itself apart through infighting between the polar opposites (researchers vs. practitioners, psychologists vs. designers, formal models vs. empiricists). The community doesn’t know what it wants to be, and the leadership is unwilling to take a stand one way or another. At least the chair of CHI 2006 decided to try creating real discipline-based tracks, so that you can find a community of kindred souls and content that it important to you. You don’t have to stick to the track that was designed for your discipline, but it’s there if you want it.

    The one constant in the universe is that no one is ever happy with the CHI conference. Including me.

  • andrea k

    I’m not a student, but I’ve found it’s harder as a practitioner in a time and money-strapped start up to get funding to attend CHI than it was for me as a masters student. We gained some ground last year in getting a few of our UI team up to Seattle – first time for our company – but lost it again this year when we got approval for even fewer to go…

  • Dennis Wixon

    An explanation of the Fees for the CHI conference

    The conference needed to change dramatically. It was also important not to ignore the
    conference successes when making changes. The increased fees are part of that change.

    First I will review the history and second discuss the specifics of 2006. I?ll also address
    the student fees and finally present an overview of conference expenses.

    However, I want to begin by apologizing to the community at large for not providing
    some earlier notice of the planned increase in fees. Such a warning would have provided
    more opportunity for people to plan.

    Background:

    It became clear in 2003 that the conference needed to change.

    * CHI 2002 and CHI 2003 had collectively lost 600K which effectively wiped out the
    SIGCHI fund balance and put the overall status of the SIG in jeopardy. This was
    dramatic change from years past when the conference had contributed to the overall
    financial health of the society.

    * The tutorials program had been shrinking for several years. While it had contributed
    significantly conference surplus in years past, that too had disappeared.

    * An ever increasing number of submissions had resulted in acceptance
    rates for submission dropping to arbitrarily low levels. Everyone recognized the
    importance of maintaining the high quality of the accepted papers in the CHI
    proceedings. However, acceptance rates had gotten so low that a case could be made
    that acceptance ran the risk of becoming a semi-random process.

    * Diversity of participation was at risk with sponsors, practitioners, designers, and non-
    traditional researchers (e.g. ethnographers) leaving. While we had a loyal following,
    almost half the people who attended the conference each year were new attendees.

    Response:

    The first step was to reduce costs and preserve as of the value of the conference. We cut
    costs very aggressively, removing hundreds of thousands in expenses. To address the
    concerns regarding the right ?cut? point for accepting submissions, CHI 2004 raised the
    target threshold for number of papers accepted; this was continued for CHI 2005. CHI
    2005 continued aggressive cost cutting and saw an increase in attendance which lead to
    small surplus. However small and focused changes were not going to address all the
    issues that had arisen. We needed to make significant changes to the conference while
    preserving its strengths. For 2006 we did the following:

    * We continued strong support for the technical elements of the conference, by: adding
    software to support the reviewing process, continuing to support a large papers review
    meeting (albeit cutting some travel funds). We added Notes which provides for a
    shorter and more-targeted submissions. We also extended the duration of the
    conference to four days which allows for more technical content.

    * We eliminated traditional tutorials and their fees and replaced them with courses which
    were embedded into the conference and had a new more flexible structure and only
    nominal fee. Part of the long term intent is to provide a venue for ?short? courses
    which may cover new areas of research and practice.

    * We added a evening reception and job fair to serve anyone looking for job but aimed
    particularly at students

    * We increased our outreach to a range of communities including design, education,
    engineering, management, and research. It?s important to point out here that broader
    participation in the conference benefits everyone. It provides a greater audience for
    every accepted work, it opens opportunities for cross fertilization, it serves the
    society goal of advancing the field, and it spreads the fixed costs of the conference
    more widely.

    Student fees.

    The increase in student fees is particularly painful and it was a decision we made very reluctantly. Here is some of the background for it

    * The data shows, that we kept increases for students to a minimum for a number of
    years despite increased costs and massive losses.

    * The proportion of students attending the conference has been increasing dramatically
    in the last few years. This is great.

    * Historically, fees paid by other attendees and tutorial fees had helped support keeping
    student fees low.

    * Taken together an increasing proportion of students and a low student fee were
    unsustainable.

    * This year we more than doubled the number of student volunteers and we are
    increasing their housing support.

    We regret the hardship for people who cannot afford to attend. For those who need to
    choose between attending CHI and attending other conferences, we urge you to take a
    careful look at the entire program (courses, technical content, job fair) and then make a
    decision regarding the whether or not to attend. We hope you will find sufficient value.

    Attendance:

    To provide some further data regarding attendance, here is some data on registration to as of 8-Mar

    * 671 (39%) are ACM members paying full early reg fee
    * 560 (32%) are students paying full early reg fee
    * 326 (19%) are non members paying early reg fees
    * Other categories are 5% or less

    These numbers are quite positive. The number of students registering is exceeding our projections, which is good.

    Expenses:

    In addition, some people have raised concerns about the costs of the conference. While
    we have made significant cuts in the overall conference budget, it?s worth providing data
    on how the conference dollars are spent (these are direct expenses only and don?t
    represent percentage return allocated to cover ACM and SIGCHI?s expenses)
    :

    * 40% represents facilities costs (space, av, computing etc)
    * 26% represents food and beverage costs (break food, reception etc)
    * 16% represents all committee expenses (including all meetings, etc)
    * 10% represents publications (including conference proceedings and program, etc.)
    * 6% represent technical program (including reviewing software and courses, etc.)

    I should point out that these are dollar costs only. We have a much more socially and
    financially significant contribution from all the volunteers on the conference committee,
    all the reviewers, the Executive Committee, the Conference Management Committee, the
    sponsors, the course instructors, all those who submit to the conference and all those who
    attend.

    Volunteer:
    Finally, I would urge anyone and everyone to get directly involved. CHI is a volunteer
    organization and conferences are designed and run by volunteers. The strategy of the
    society and the conferences is set by volunteers. The conference is a partnership of the
    volunteers, the attendees, and the society as whole. It is nothing other than what we (yes
    YOU) make it.. As a first concrete step I would urge any and everyone to attend the
    SIGCHI business meeting on Wed evening. In the meantime, I welcome any and all
    feedback.

  • Thank you for this long explanation! Is there any way that you can start tracking the disciplines/backgrounds people come from when they sign up? I think that it’d be good to see how diverse the audience actually is…