Controversies on tap


Panels at academic conferences are often worth attending because they are not as well represented in the proceedings as paper presentations. There is the aspect of a good performance, as well, that can make the experience entertaining, provocative, and (perhaps) even informative. For the conference organizers’ perspective, then, the issue is how to create engaging panels. Ingredients that should be considered include controversial topics and articulate, provocative performers.

With this intro out of the way, here are some ideas for panels around web-related topics. This is but a small sample, and I am sure that the dozens of comments on this post will elicit many more excellent controversies.

  • Social media a force for good? This is related to my earlier post summarizing Evgeny Morozov’s talk, which can be contrasted with a whole range of Utopian interpretations.
  • Another topic that could be (made) sufficiently controversial is the handling of ads in search engine results. One pole: well-matched ads give people exactly what they are looking for without having to do much looking. Opposite view: if they were so good, these results would just appear in the organic results in the right place.
  • Then there¬† is the whole business of search engine optimization and whether there is a good solution to the escalation of conflict between search engines trying to measure unbiased opinion about the value of some web page vs. various SEO tactics that seek to game those algorithms.
  • The pros and cons of the Google book scanning project with respect to copyright and other controversial issues. No shortage of people with strong opinions on the subject. Geoff Nunberg, Pam Samuelson make good con-cases; who would be a good speaker for Google?
  • Restrictions on bloggers. There is some recent controversy about the FTC decision to impose disclosure rules on bloggers. Lots of strong opinions on both sides (see here, for example).

What would you like to see debated at a venue such as WWW 2010 , SIGIR 2010, or JCDL 2010?

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  1. How about information accountability? Here are my contributions to the controversy:

  2. What, no one representing the governments of China and South Korea? But seriously, I’d enjoy making the case for transparency in publication as a ethical and socially pressured (though not legally mandated) norm.

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