OOPSLA 2005: Explore; Discover; Understand

In 2005 we are planning to start a series of changes to OOPSLA aimed at increasing the relevance and reach of the conference, thereby bringing in new participants and attendees while maintaining its status as a premier ACM conference. Our plan is to shift the focus of the conference in a particular direction over time, making adjustments as we learn what changes are working. The changes we plan maintain the following constraints:

The essence of OOPSLA has always been exploring, understanding, and advancing object technology, and this essence still forms the kernel of the conference as it stands today (2005). But alongside that hardcore research forum, OOPSLA has always provided a venue for exploring new ideas—the workshops primarily, tutorials to an extent, panels insofar as they are aimed at such things, and, recently, Onward!.

OOPSLA in the past has been the spawning grounds for new ideas and ways of thinking about objects and about programming; some of the ideas introduced at OOPSLA by its extraordinary community members have gone on to have their own venues: software patterns, the Agile methodologies, and aspects come to mind right away; and OOPSLA has been the intellectual takeoff point for Smalltalk, C++, and Java.

But as the conference has stuck steadfastly with object technology, the great diversity of participants has diminished, and their numbers have dwindled. In response, we are trying to make OOPSLA a conference that attracts a diversity of people, and to do that requires finding the heart of the conference. Back when OOPSLA started, objects were the new thing in programming, as were the waves of new takes on them. Further, all the spin-off communities—patterns, agile, and aspects, for example—were centered on programming. What set OOPSLA apart was the passion of its attendees for programming—as a science, as a craft, as an art. To restore the broad appeal of OOPSLA will take, we believe, an explicit move toward making it a conference about programming. There are no academic conferences aimed squarely at programming at the moment, and we believe people crave it.

Our vision is for OOPSLA to become a conference that we affectionately call “PSLA”: Programming, Systems, Languages, and Applications. OO(PSLA) will be one of the themes of the conference, which would welcome everything about programming qua programming. But we cannot move there right away nor in large steps. So we start slowly and see how it goes.

Here are the things we will do for OOPSLA 2005:


Over the years, OOPSLA has been the incubator for new ideas, new technologies, and new methodologies. This work has been done within the established venues at OOPSLA, though at times uncomfortably. A symposium is like a small conference on a topic related to the existing or future interests of OOPSLA attendees—a symposium is between a workshop and a conference in size and ambition. SIGPLAN and ACM are partial sponsors of the symposia, and OOPSLA provides some facilities and infrastructure, such as registration, conference rooms, and advertising.

The design of the symposium event is up to its organizers, who provide content and structure for the event—perhaps there is a program committee, perhaps there are invited talks or workshops. Symposia can be proposed to the General OOPSLA Chair, or the Chair can solicit topics and volunteers. A symposium should be of interest to OOPSLA attendees, though a direct connection to objects is not required. In fact, any topic dealing with programming is appropriate, space willing.

In 2005, we are hoping to host symposia on Wikis, Lisp/Scheme/Dynamic languages, and scripting.

Technical Program

The paper sessions form the heart of the technical program: Technical papers, Onward!, Essays, and Lightning Talks. Technical papers present significant contributions to the exploration, study, use, and understanding of programming, systems, languages, and applications based on object-oriented or associated technologies. Contributions may be original research results that advance the state of the art, with clear technical or empirical novelties sufficiently substantiated by the author(s), they may be papers that explore or examine new ideas, approaches or paradigms, or they may be essays that explore or examine historical or philosophical perspectives, comparative evaluations, experience-based accounts of best practices, or reports on other insights gathered from practical applications or theoretical explorations. Papers having both research and experiential components are encouraged.

Research Papers

These papers form the heart of the traditional OOPSLA experience. Research papers describe substantiated new research or novel technical results, advance the state of the art, or report on significant experience or experimentation; they will be presented in the Research Track.


Onward! is a separate track that explores or examines new ideas, approaches or paradigms; it includes refereed papers, panels, invited talks, a session called Breakthrough Ideas, a Film Festival, a keynote, and reviewed presentations.

Papers describing new paradigms or metaphors in computing, new thinking about objects, new framings of computational problems or systems, and new technologies are presented in the Onward! Track. Such papers don’t necessarily advance the state of the art, but aim, instead, to alter or redefine the art by proposing a leap forward—or sideways—regarding computing. Although an Onward! Track paper might not contain a fully worked out theory or implemented system, it must be well thought out, well-written, and compelling in its vision or uniqueness of thinking. Onward! papers are published in the Proceedings.

A Breakthrough Idea is a 5-minute remark and a 250-word micro-essay on an idea that could change the world or is something the author wished he or she had the nerve to say in public about computing. Breakthrough Ideas are solicited by the Onward! program chair.

A presentation is a 45-minute talk along with a short (4-page) paper published in the Companion or its equivalent. A presentation is judged primarily by the likelihood of its stimulating discussion.

Some ideas are not suitable for standard slideware and talking-head presentation. The film festival is for those ideas, concepts, insights, and oddities that require a more thoroughly multi-media presentation. Films are solicited by the Onward! chair, and unsolicited submissions are accepted by the Onward! program committee. Each film is screened during the conference with a special back-to-back screening of all films one evening—probably very late.


Some worthwhile contributions are not in the form of original research; perhaps they are in-depth looks at technology and how it’s used, at the philosophical underpinnings for technology and its uses, at the anthropology of programming, or at the sociology of technology acceptance, for example. Essays are refereed by the program committee. These papers are judged at the same level as papers in blind-reviewed conferences in philosophy and the humanities, or along the same vector as HOPL papers (though not nearly as rigorous—few review processes are as rigorous as HOPL has been). One could think of the ideal essay as the first draft of one’s Turing lecture.

Essays are presented in a special session at the conference, and are published in the Proceedings.

Lightning Talks

A lightning talk is a 5 minute presentation on any relevant topic, using at most a single, acetate foil. A lightning talk is a platform to speak longer than it takes to ask a question but not as long as a talk; with the review questions don’t get but not as rigorous as a paper’s. The form of the talk can be anything, but the 5-minute limit is strictly enforced. Proposals are submitted and reviewed; they are published in the Companion.

The Program Committee

The committee is broken into focus areas, such as theory, implementation, patterns, essays, and Onward!. A reviewer can be in several focus areas. Each group is encouraged to discuss and come to conclusions about the papers in their area before the program committee meeting. A focus group can use subreviewers as is the current custom.


To avoid papers being rejected for having small flaws, a shepherding process is used. A paper is shepherded if it is agreed that it would be acceptable with small revisions, and both a shepherd and an anonymous 2-person review subcommittee volunteer to execute the process. The author or authors are informed that the paper has been rejected, but might be accepted after a brief shepherding process. The shepherd works with the author(s) to make the suggested changes. The revision period is two weeks. The shepherd’s communication with the author(s) are forwarded to the 2-person review committee. At the end of the period, the shepherd informs the subcommittee of the results of the process and forwards the revised paper. The subcommittee determines whether the changes satisfy the requirements of the full committee. The paper is accepted only if a new version of the paper is submitted and both reviewers agree that it should be accepted.

Paper Review Criteria

All submitted papers are reviewed according to these criteria:

The program committee focus areas determine how much to value each of these criteria; for example, technical papers in the past have valued technical contribution and substantiation about the same, with a lesser concern for the presentation, and little consideration for the argument or art/craft. The focus area of essays will likely value the presentation and argument above all else, and Onward! will value novelty most highly.

All the reviews comment on these criteria, and a cover letter is sent to the authors explaining what each focus area valued and their selection criteria.

In all cases, the reviews of submissions are of suitable rigor to satisfy academic standards—it’s just that some of those academic standards are appropriate to computer science, others to philosophy departments, and others to anthropologists—as examples. The idea is to use all means available to move forward the art, craft, science, and mathematics of programming, systems, languages, and applications.


Tutorials have always been the backbone of OOPSLA for practitioners. It’s where ideas are transferred from the research community and early adopters into the mainstream. Companies send their employees to OOPSLA to attend the tutorials, and individuals wishing to upgrade their skills go to OOPSLA to learn in workshops, lectures, and tutorials.

Tutorials are presented both by recognized, invited experts, and by individuals who have developed interesting coursework. The invited tutorial speakers are fully supported at OOPSLA so that they are able to interact with the attendees throughout the conference. The other tutorials are selected through a submission and review process, and selected teachers are provided a conference pass.

This way there is both a set of well-established tutorials as well as a set of experimental and new offerings.

Practitioner Reports

Practitioner Reports focus on software and software development in actual practice. These reports provide the opportunity for practitioners to report on their experiences, and for researchers to present case studies of practice. Reports may concern software systems themselves, or the development process and related issues. Approaches of perennial interest include how new concepts are actually used in real projects, and how practice requires coming up with novel ideas. Beginning this year (2005), we will encourage reports that focus on application software, presenting motivation, resulting design, and perspectives on the application in practice.

What’s the Same

Workshops, keynotes, invited talks, and the social events are working well and will be retained as is. What we hope to regain is the energy of interacting with exciting thinkers and doers—you and your colleagues invigorated by dialogue and debate—and an exchange of ideas that move our field forward. And along the way, it can’t hurt to have glimpses into nearby and not-so-nearby fields and its practitioners who have insights and paradigms to share.

The cycle of human progress is explore/discover/understand fractally embedded in all activities. OOPSLA will embrace these once more.