Many people have been blogging on the technical content at SODA, but I won’t. Given that David has already hinted that I only value the first 10 minutes of most talks, clearly I’m not in the position to expound on the more than the definition of problems and all but the highest level of analysis.
I’ve been thinking about what I like about conferences. Of course I appreciate meeting wih friends and colleagues – working on new and old problems. I do enjoy the talks too. But for me, the 20 talk is problematic. I can only imagine two possible uses of 20 minutes: an advertisement to go read the paper, to educate people of the definition of the problem/topic/solution statement, or to actually go into technical details.
For topics that are directly in my area, 20 minutes are too short to delve into any technical details for which I would have questions. Nor do I need an advertisement. I am probably already aware of the paper (thanks archiv and its users) and perhaps already read the paper.
For topics not in my area 20 minutes is probably too long for an advertisment and too short for me to absorb definitions in order to appreciate any technical content.
That said, I miss theory seminars. I am the only traditional TCS person at OSU and am too far from theory strongholds to attend a theory seminar. I would love to get that content from a conference. The plenary talks provide a little of that, but they are not usually on recent results of a technical nature (nor would I want that to change).
What I propose is having two types of talks – short 10-15 minute “advertisements” and long 45-60 minute seminar style talks. The committee could choose the best results to give longer slots to. Perhaps (and probably controversially) longer slots could be biased towards better speakers.