ACL 2020
Overall Impression

Association of computation linguistics (ACL) is one of the central conferences on the subject. Due to recent COVID-19 pandemic outbreak in 2020, it was moved from its initial venue in Seattle to online. The format was new to many people and brought a very different experience. In this post I write about the overall impression of the conference and its format.

Better Learning Opportunities

Our work on opinion summarization

Every author was asked prepare a 12 minute video instead of a usual poster or talk. In general, the paper videos were on average of a very high standard. It made it easy to understand main ideas and contributions of papers. During a typical talk/presentation, there is little or no time to take notes without missing what the author is saying. Yet in this format, it was possible to follow one’s own pace: pause the video, takes notes, or replay some part that are not entirely clear. Also, because the videos were available all the time, one could create a custom agenda and not to worry about missing an interested talk. Overall, you could learn more by watching the videos and iterate over more works, and have easier time understanding details.

Q&A Sessions

Besides a video, every paper had two slots for a 1 hour Q&A session. Q&A sessions were channeled via Zoom, where you could interact with the author and ask questions. My personal impression was that on average less people attended such sessions than one might expect at a conference. For example, the best awarded paper got around 20 participants. I particularly enjoyed the Q&A session of Climbing towards NLU: On Meaning, Form, and Understanding in the Age of Data.

Bottom Line

The virtual ACL 2020 provided great learning opportunities for participants in the ‘follow your own pace’ fashion, accomodating many time zones. One could learn more in this format by watching videos instead of physically being present at a talk. Nevertheless, the overall experience was worse in contrast to what a typical conference offers in terms of atmosphere and social engagement.