Why you should submit a talk to Haystack, the Search Relevance Conference

Charlie HullJanuary 14, 2020

Most of you will be aware of our Haystack conference, which we currently run in April in Charlottesville, USA and in October in Europe. We’re now in our third year of Haystack events and we’ve recently opened the Call for Papers for our next conference, which closes on 7th February. The event simply wouldn’t be possible without those who offer to present a talk and we’re immensely grateful to those who do.

So why should you consider submitting a talk? It can be a scary prospect for those unused to presenting at conferences (and even for some who have done it before): will my talk get chosen? Will people listen? Will anyone find it remotely interesting? I’m going to do my best to assuage those fears and encourage you to submit your relevance story.

Firstly, we try very hard to create a high-quality programme for Haystack through the use of a blind-as-we-can-make-it submission process. One of our team receives every submission and removes as much information as they can that might identify the speaker and their employer. We then ask a small group of search relevance community members (not OSC employees) to rate the anonymised talks. Once we have a list of the top-scoring talks (and a list of backups in case for some reason a speaker has to drop out) we inform all the submitters and put together a programme - the person running the process makes sure we have some subject diversity (e.g. not just 8 talks all about Elasticsearch Learning to Rank, much as some might enjoy that!) and that we don’t have more than one talk from any one organisation. This hopefully means that our programme is based on the quality of the submissions - we also don’t currently take any direct sponsorship for the event, so there’s no way of guaranteeing a talk slot by sponsoring. We know this process isn’t perfect but it’s as good as we can make it, given we’re a relatively small team - and we do try and learn from any past mistakes. Some OSC staff even submit talks - and they are treated exactly the same as all the others, some get through the process, some don’t.

The great thing about presenting at Haystack, a relatively small and informal event is that everyone is there for the same reason - to learn about search and relevance. Some attendees may be more technical than others, some may be more interested in certain aspects of the programme, but you can be pretty sure if they choose to come to your talk that they’re interested in what you’re going to say. It’s an informed but friendly crowd. One thing to note is that we’re as interested in the process around search relevance tuning as the technical details itself - how you create and manage a search team for example, as Karen Renshaw talked about at Haystack EU 2018. So it’s not exclusively technical talks that we’re looking for. If you’re looking for inspiration, do check out the past events - there’s slides and/or videos of all the past talks (yes, we’ll video your talk and add it to the collection).

However, this begs the question: what will presenting at Haystack do for me (and my employer)? Well, by talking at Haystack you can demonstrate what cool and interesting projects you’re working on, why others (clients, partners, customers, potential employees) should be interested in your work and importantly you can help others facing similar challenges. They might even have some feedback that could help with your current and future projects. It can also build your personal profile as a relevance expert!

At OSC we firmly believe in growing and supporting the relevance community, which is why we created Relevance Slack, which now has over 650 members (it’s a great place to hang out between search conferences), run Meetups and of course Haystacks. Interacting with each other, being open about the challenges, working together to solve them and publishing the results for others to learn from is at the core of how we think at OSC, and Haystack is the chance to do that in person. You’ll meet some great people and have some amazing and inspiring conversations too.

We’re very much looking forward to the event - help us to make it the best it can be, and send us your submission today!


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