It is not clear to me why would people be attracted to a large meeting. I never got a sense at the large AMS meetings that it attracts top researchers, unless they happen to give invited lectures, or happen to agree with a bunch of colleagues to meet there. Papers presented are almost all low quality (I tried and went to talks) and extremely poorly attended. In short, people would go even more to FOCS and much less to STOC. Why should you even present a paper at STOC, if it has no prestige, and if very few attend. Note that at FOCS/STOC currently attendance in a typical presentation is 50-100. I expect this would go down considerably at your kind of STOC!
I think that to boost attendance at STOC, like FOCS, the service provided by choosing the *best* submissions is still the main attraction. Somehow this carries a weight saying - "look, this paper is relevant for the whole community, either because of wide interest or because it is major progress in a specific area". Your suggestion to give this up!
Of course, measures could be taken to improve the attractiveness of STOC. Much less radical than your suggestion would be the following obvious ones:
- Co-locate it with a few specialized conferences (eg with CCC, as in Boston this year, which can run in parallel to, say RECOMB, or SPAA, or some learning conference). All of the attendents will go to STOC, and then will go to their favorite specialized one. FCRC structure, where STOC retains its character, is much better!
- Another obvious suggestion is making STOC cheaper. I don't see why we have to go to the most expensive cities and hotels, and why we are not doing more at universities. I am not saying it is easy, but I am sure money is a constraint too.
- Finally, continue the tradition of a day with tutorials/surveys!
The strength and progress of TCS has been largely due to connections between its different subareas - I gave an invited STOC presentation on this topic "Depth through breadth (or why should we listen to talks in other areas)"
Sure, you can relegate this to FOCS, and we'll have only one such conference, which will steal all the quality presentations and attendance from STOC.