What I'm referring to is the way we go about publishing our research results. As far as I know, we are the only scientific community that considers conference publication as the primary means of publishing our research results. In contrast, the prevailing academic standard of "publish" is "publish in archival journals." Why are we the only discipline driving on the conference side of the "publication road?"
Conference publication has had a dominant presence in computing research since the early 1980s. Still, during the 1980s and 1990s, there was ambivalence in the community, partly due to pressure from promotion and tenure committees about conference vs. journal publication. Then, in 1999, the Computing Research Association published a Best Practices Memo, titled "Evaluating Computer Scientists and Engineers for Promotion and Tenure," that legitimized conference publication as the primary means of publication in computer research. Since then, the dominance of conference publication over journals has increased, though the ambivalence has not completely disappeared. (In fact, ACM publishes 36 technical journals.)
My concern is our system has compromised one of the cornerstones of scientific publication—peer review. Some call computing-research conferences "refereed conferences," but we all know this is just an attempt to mollify promotion and tenure committees. The reviewing process performed by program committees is done under extreme time and workload pressures, and it does not rise to the level of careful refereeing. There is some expectation that conference papers will be followed up by journal papers, where careful refereeing will ultimately take place. In truth, only a small fraction of conference papers are followed up by journal papers.
Years ago, I was told that the rationale behind conference publication is that it ensures fast dissemination, but physicists ensure fast dissemination by depositing preprints at www.arxiv.org and by having a very fast review cycle. For example, a submission to Science, a premier scientific journal, typically reaches an editorial decision in two months. This is faster than our conference publication cycle!
So, I want to raise the question whether "we are driving on the wrong side of the publication road." I believe that our community must have a broad and frank conversation on this topic. This discussion began in earnest in a workshop at the 2008 Snowbird Conference on "Paper and Proposal Reviews: Is the Process Flawed?" (see http://doi.acm.org/10.1145/1462571.1462581).
Interesting. I'm curious about all this and I wonder if any of the computing people out there who are reading this share Yardi's ambivalence. It's always seemed to me that the computing community's tendency to self archive on their own web space has been a great strength, probably leading to a somewhat lower probability of an arxiv-like system coming in and taking over like with physics. From what I've seen, probably 80-90% or more of most conference proceedings are available via authors' web pages.