Author: Professor Prabhakaran Balakrishnan
Affiliation: University of Texas at Dallas (Department of Computer Science)
“What does history mean to computer scientists?” – that was the first question that popped up in my mind when I was to attend the ACM Heritage Workshop at Minneapolis few months back. And needless to say, the follow up question was “what does history mean for a multimedia systems researcher?” As a young graduate student, I had the joy of my life when my first research paper on multimedia authoring (a hot topic those days) was accepted for presentation in the first ACM Multimedia in 1993, and that conference was held along side SIGGRAPH. Thinking about that, it gives multimedia systems researchers about 25 to 30 years of history. But what a flow of topics this area has seen: from authoring to streaming to content-based retrieval to social media and human-centered multimedia, the research area has been hot as ever. So, is it the history of research topics or the researchers or both? Then, how about the venues hosting these conferences, the networking events, or the grueling TPC meetings that prepped the conference actions?
With only questions and no clear answers, I decided to attend the workshop with an open mind. Most SIGs (Special Interest Groups) in ACM had representation at this workshop. The workshop itself was organized by the ACM History Committee. I understood this committee, apart from the workshop, organizes several efforts to track, record, and preserve computing efforts across disciplines. This includes identifying distinguished persons (who are retired but made significant contributions to computing), coming up with a customized questionnaire for the persons, training the interviewer, recording the conversations, curating them, archiving, and providing them for public consumption. Efforts at most SIGs were mostly based on the website. They were talking about how they try to preserve conference materials such as paper proceedings (when only paper proceedings were published), meeting notes, pictures, and videos. For instance, some SIGs were talking about how they tracked and preserved ACM’s approval letter for the SIG!
It was very interesting – and touching – to see some attendees (senior Professors) coming to the workshop with boxes of materials – papers, reports, books, etc. They were either downsizing their offices or clearing out, and did not feel like throwing the material in recycling bins! These materials were given to ACM and Babbage Institute (at University of Minnesota, Minneapolis) for possible curation and storage.
ACM History committee members talked about how they can fund (at a small level) projects that target specific activities for preserving and archiving computing events and materials. ACM History Committee agreed that ACM should take more responsibility in providing technical support to web hosting – obviously, not sure whether anything tangible would result.
Over the two days at the workshop, I was getting answers to my questions: History can mean pictures and videos taken at earlier MM conferences, TPC meetings, SIGMM sponsored events and retreats. Perhaps, the earlier paper proceedings that have some additional information than what is found in the corresponding ACM Digital Library version. Interviews with different research leaders that built and promoted SIGMM.
It was clear that history meant different things to different SIGs, and as SIGMM community, we would have to arrive at our own interpretation, collect and preserve that. And that made me understand the most obvious and perhaps, the most important thing: today’s events become tomorrow’s history! No brainer, right? Preserving today’s SIGMM events will give us a richer, colorful, and more complete SIGMM history for the future generations!
For the curious ones:
ACM Heritage Workshop website is at: https://acmsigheritage.dash.umn.ed
Some of the workshop presentation materials are available at: https://acmsigheritage.dash.umn.edu/uncategorized/class-material-posted/