Well, I am home after a few days at CHI 2016 in San Jose. The conference was bigger than ever and probably more diverse than ever before. CHI is an amazing 'machine'. To make this happen once a year is a major achievement!
With the growth of the conference comes some obvious issues, for instance it is difficult to find people, it is impossible to listen to all interesting sessions, etc. But at the same time, the size provides something else, maybe more important. I see CHI nowadays as providing more of an overview of the field than leading to more detailed and engaged research discussions. Very few sessions (that I attended) led to any interesting questions from the audience, and in most cases the questions were asking for clarifications or expansions, almost never any critical questions aimed at challenging the presented research. The compactness of the sessions with very short time for Q&A of course does not make it possible to have any reasonable debates or discussions of any depth.
On the other hand, the same 'compactness' makes it possible to quickly get an overview of a sub-field in a condensed and focused way. The sessions were in general well composed to contain presentations that did relate and fit together. I have found this 'overview' aspect of the conference to become more valuable over the years. For instance, this year (since I am working on the notions of interface and interaction) I went to several sessions on new interaction techniques and solutions. I think that I am now quite updated on what is going on when it comes to these topics in the field.
Of course, I do miss scholarly debates and conversations regarding new ideas and theoretical positions and frameworks. The panels are to some extent designed to serve this purpose and some do but most don't seem to really work well for that purpose, instead they become mini-sessions where a number of presenters get a chance to present their specific perspective without any room for more serious conversations.
Maybe there is a missing conference format. I would like to see a format that made it possible for researchers with different standpoints on an issue to discuss with each other in public. I think such events would be invaluable to younger researchers and phd students who would get a chance to see real scholarly debates. These debates would give them a different understanding of the texts they probably have read. I think the only thing that is needed is one moderator and two researchers debating some major aspect of the field. Maybe next time we can arrange something like this.