Bootstrapping Credibility, or: My Secret Evil Superplan for World Domination

December 2, 2014

If you were to start an independent, lightweight, open-access journal, the main obstacle will be bootstrapping credibility. How do you go from an unknown, probably-spam, scare-quotes “journal” with zero issues to a venue that people might actually consider submitting to?

Part of the answer is clearly brute force: coerce good people into reviewing or submitting on blind faith, or be so famous that your name alone engenders reverence and awe. But the design of the venue’s purpose and operation also matter. There are better ways to begin than blithely going toe-to-toe against established venues.

Here are two ideas for making a new venue easier to trust—and, incidentally, more exciting.

Incentivize Good Reviews

Reviewing in computer science is not as effective as it could feasibly be. I can’t provide hard evidence for this perspective, since reviews are generally secret and sensitive, but I am not the only one who has it.

Reviewing is problematic not because reviewers are lazy or malicious; they are almost universally not. It’s primarily because our conferences are unintentionally architected to incentivize quick decisions and conservatism. High PC load, short PC meetings, secret reviews, limited author–reviewer dialogue, and the conference-to-conference resubmission cycle all contribute to an environment where the expedient reviewer looks for a low-hanging reason to reject (or delegates to a student to do so).

On the assumption that authors are as tired of reading rushed evaluations as reviewers are of writing them, a new venue could make itself attractive by carefully constructing its process to invert the incentives. I envision a journal where:

The prospect of a humane review process attracts me as a reviewer, and the promise of careful reviewing attracts me as an author. I hope the same is true of the community as a whole.

Address an Underserved Market

To avoid competing with existing conferences, a new venue should focus on kinds of papers that they do not serve well. Some subgenres that are a poor match for conferences in my community include:

A new venue can build initial credibility by attracting papers that can’t go anywhere else. But even if it starts modestly—by highlighting existing publications, say—the venue can capitalize on an initial reputation to build something bigger. I am optimistic enough to believe that a niche publication that does it right could eventually expand to displace an established venue—or at least encourage it to evolve.