ICML 2010 Discussion Site

ICML 2010 is already underway so I thought I would quickly mention the new discussion site I built for it. I’d like for the new version to improve on the earlier ones in terms of participation so, if you haven’t done so already, head over to ML Discuss and start discussing!

This is the third year I have set up such a discussion site for ICML. The previous two years were built upon a wiki engine with a plugin that allows comments to be left on wiki pages. This worked fairly well but had one major drawback: it was not easy to be notified when someone commented on your paper or added to a discussion you had participated in. John and I talked about this after the last ICML and agreed that better notifications should be a priority for future discussion sites like this.

To address this, I built the new site from scratch and “outsourced” the comment system to Disqus. The Disqus service allows anyone to put a comment thread on any webpage by adding a small piece of Javascript. Once this is done, all the comment moderation, user management, notifications, and RSS feeds are all handled through the Disqus interface. While, in a sense, this sort of stuff is “trivial” it requires a lot of care to set up the infrastructure correctly and keep it running so I was glad not to have to do that myself.

The rest of the site — parsing, managing and serving the ICML paper and author information — is a few simple python scripts running on top of Google AppEngine. Along with Bosco, I’ve used this combination of AppEngine and Disqus before for a similar service called annotatr for commenting on articles in CiteULike. The development environment for AppEngine is great, allowing you to test everything locally, and deploy with literally the push of a button. I would recommend this approach to anyone wishing to set up a discussion site.

As an aside, while building ML Dicsuss I realised this quick and dirty style of development epitomises what Noble and Biddle call scrap-heap programming in Section 13 of their Notes on Postmodern Programming1: exploiting the “large number of existing programs that the postmodern programmer can scavenge through and reuse”. Now that more and more programs exist as services on the web I think we will see more of this style of development in the future.

Happy discussing!

  1. Just for fun, see if you can guess what part of this paper that I quoted in my wedding speech.

Mark Reid June 22, 2010 Canberra, Australia
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