Friday, November 02, 2012

Some notes on ACM Interactions and the CHI community

As some of you may know, together with Ron Wakkary, I have been the Editor-in-Chief now for the ACM Interactions magazine for more than two years. It has been a great experience in so many ways. We have tried to give newcomers to the field, from both academia and industry, an opportunity to share their experiences, knowledge and insights, while also bring in the most distinguished names in the field to share their expertise. ACM has also been instrumental in developing a new website for the magazine, that is now slowly becoming a core part of Interactions.

After having worked with Interactions for a while, it is clear to me that there is need for this form intermediary type of publication between research publications and trade journals. First of all, Interactions is not peer reviewed. This means we can publish new perspectives and ideas that would be almost impossible to get published in traditional conferences and journals. If you take a look at ACM Interactions over time, it is clear that many new "trends" were published much earlier in Interactions than anywhere else. It is also important to a field that has a major focus on professional development to get input from professionals and the industry.

Of course, this double purpose means that a magazine such as ACM Interactions suffers in other ways. For instance, researchers do not necessarily see it worth the trouble to publish in the magazine since it does not "count" as a scientific publication. At the same time professionals may still find the magazine too academic and not enough in resonance with and relevant to their professional reality.

My personal belief is that HCI as an academic discipline and as manifested in the major conferences (CHI, DIS, NordiCHI, etc) has taken on the purpose and goal to improve practice and use. This means that HCI has a strong focus on professional development, building knowledge and tools for practitioners for design and for understanding use. (This is of course not the only purpose that a field like HCI can adopt, more about that somewhere else.) The SIGCHI community is a blended community of researchers and professionals. Such a blended community is unique and something that very few other academic disciplines have. This focus on professional development makes it crucial to have venues where knowledge about practice can flow both ways, from academia to practice and from practice to academia.

To me, ACM Interactions is today a venue that subscribe to that purpose and does fairly good. It can be done much better and we are trying to move in that direction. For instance, it is crucial to have the best thinkers in the field write about their ideas in a way that makes it accessible to any researcher and practitioner in the field. It is also crucial to have professionals to write about their experiences in a way that points to under-researched areas and that present insights that can only emerge from being fully engaged in practice over time, which is something that researcher are not able to do.

All these different goals and conditions make it s difficult to make a magazine like ACM Interactions successful. It is all about balancing conflicting desires and needs from many stakeholders (as any design project). The key is to design something that does not become a dull compromise but raises above the conflicting interests and add value to all stakeholders.

[As a foot note I want to mention a few things about Interactions:
-- We are seeing a steady and increasing flow of submissions. Even though Interactions is not peer reviewed, the acceptance rate is going down.
-- We are still not sure that we are covering the whole breadth of HCI and are strongly inviting those who feel that Interactions does not cover their aspect of HCI to submit to us.
-- We are always looking for professionals that want to contribute to the discussion about the field to submit.
-- We also do want Interactions to be a place for discussion and debate, so we welcome comments and feedback on existing articles.]

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