To begin, I think we (as a community) need to decide what exactly it is (if anything) that needs fixing? In particular, I am not convinced that the goal of changing STOC should be to maximize attendance. (Oded Goldreich makes these points quite nicely.) While there are aspects of STOC (and FOCS, for that matter) that, in my opinion., do need fixing, I am also willing to concede that I may not be the "target audience" of STOC and I surely do not have the historical perspective that other responders have. In that sense, my opinion does not matter unless the larger community shares my concerns.
So what do I think needs to be fixed? There is the issue, raised also by Oded, that STOC and FOCS have become too focused on the competitive aspect of having a paper accepted than about the technical results being presented. There is the associated problem, both internal and external to the theory community, that someone may not be viewed as a "real" theorist without regularly publishing in FOCS/STOC. Then there is, perhaps, the most important question: what do attendees gain from attending the conference, and what should they gain? Should the conference be a social affair (in which case maybe maximizing attendance should be the goal)? Or should the goal be to learn, and to foster cross-pollinization of ideas across disciplines? I would prefer it to be the latter, and for me the conference currently fails.
In trying to analyze why that is the case, I hit upon two possible reasons:
(1) First, there appears to be an emphasis on technical "heavy lifting" at the expense of general interest to the broader TCS community. (As an aside, when I evaluate a paper for STOC/FOCS the first thing I try to evaluate is its interest to the broader community. I have been told explicitly by some people that I should not do this.)
(2) There is no time, nor is their motivation, for speakers and authors to make their results accessible to a broader audience. Both the above may go influenced by the competitiveness issue raised earlier, though they are not completely correlated.
I think accepting all reasonable submissions (as recommended in Lance's proposal) is exactly the wrong way to go, and would ultimately not address either of the points above (in addition to not increasing attendance). To me, one of the purposes of STOC (ideally) is to filter results for the community, altering the community to results of (potential) broad interest. Accepting all papers would also have the effect (as many others have noted) of diluting the meaningfulness of having a paper accepted. This means that people with "strong" papers will (a) not submit to STOC and (b) might decide to wait a whole year to publish at FOCS (which would lead to disastrous results, and only increase competitiveness). For these same reasons, I completely disagree with the claimed "Effect on Young Researchers" paragraph of the proposal. If a STOC publication means nothing (which will be the effect of accepting everything) then it won't help researchers at all to have a publication there.
Instead, I proposed something radically different here that would seem to address everyone's concerns. My suggestion was to accept fewer papers to the main track of STOC, with the stated goal of highlighting papers of broad community interest. In addition, however, there would be several associated "workshops" (whether they share the name STOC or not does not matter much) on specialized topics. Papers for these workshops could even be selected from among those papers submitted to STOC but not accepted for the main track. This would have the effects of (1) increasing the total number of papers accepted overall, while drawing back people from other disciplines who may have felt "marginalized" by STOC in the past, while at the same time (2) accepting fewer papers to the main track, thus helping to focus the community's attention on a smaller "core" of important papers. At the same time, we might be able to give longer speaking slots to papers accepted to the main track, and encourage the authors to devote more time to make their talks accessible to the audience. While I may be wrong, I think this proposal would also reduce the competitiveness overall, since it wouldn't be expected, say, that a graduating student would have several main-track STOC publications by the time they graduate.
- I very much like the idea of inviting plenary speakers to talk about groundbreaking results and/or to give tutorials, and I think this fits right in with my ideals for the conference and would also increase attendance. Like Oded, however, I often find open-ended "invited talks" less useful (although there are certainly exceptions...).
- It's not a bad idea to allow people to give short talks about their research and/or papers published elsewhere, in an effort to increase participation (especially among students) and attendance . But I don't see the need to institutionalize this with a review process that accepts everything. In other conferences, there is simply an informal "rump session" that accomplishes the same thing and doesn't force speakers to commit months in advance.