About Artifact Evaluation

In 2011, ESEC/FSE initiated a novel experiment for a major software conference: giving authors the opportunity to submit for evaluation any artifacts that accompany their papers. A similar experiment has since run successfully for several more conferences. This document describes the goals and general mechanics of this process.

If you're just looking for the packaging guidelines, go directly to them.

Background

A paper consists of a constellation of artifacts that extend beyond the document itself: software, proofs, models, test suites, benchmarks, and so on. In some cases, the quality of these artifacts is as important as that of the document itself, yet our conferences offer no formal means to submit and evaluate anything but the paper. We are creating an Artifact Evaluation Committee (AEC) to remedy this situation.

Goals

Our goal is two-fold: to both reward and probe. Our primary goal is to reward authors who take the trouble to create useful artifacts beyond the paper. Sometimes the software tools that accompany the paper take years to build; in many such cases, authors who go to this trouble should be rewarded for setting high standards and creating systems that others in the community can build on. Conversely, authors sometimes take liberties in describing the status of their artifacts—claims they would temper if they knew the artifacts are going to be scruitinized. This leads to more accurate reporting.

Our hope is that eventually, the assessment of a paper's accompanying artifacts will guide the decision-making about papers: that is, the AEC will inform and advise the Program Committee (PC). This would, however, represent a radical shift in our conference evaluation processes; we would rather proceed gradually. Thus, in our process, artifact evaluation is optional, and authors choose to undergo evaluation only after their paper has been accepted.

In the immediate term, we hope that authors will upload their artifacts to the digital repositories of publishers. For example, the ACM Digital Library and Springer's SpringerLink both allow digital supplemental material, and authors have successfully uploaded their artifacts there.

Criteria

The evaluation criteria are ultimately simple. A paper sets up certain expectations of its artifacts based on its content. The AEC will read the paper and then judge how well the artifact matches these criteria. Thus the AEC's decision will be that the artifact does or does not “conform to the expectations set by the paper”. Ultimately, we expect artifacts to be:

Benefits

We believe the dissemination of artifacts benefits our science and engineering as a whole. Their availability improves reproducibility, and enables authors to build on top of each others' work. It can also help more unambiguously resolve questions about cases not considered by the original authors.

Beyond helping the community as a whole, it confers several direct and indirect benefits to the authors themselves. The most direct benefit is, of course, the recognition that the authors accrue. But the very act of creating a bundle that can be used by the AEC confers also helps:

However, creating a bundle that meets all these properties can be onerous. Therefore, the process we describe below does not require an artifact to have all these properties. It offers a route to evaluation that confers fewer benefits for vastly less effort.

Rewards

Because our focus is on rewards, we propose three. For papers whose artifacts pass muster:

First, authors will get additional time to present, either in a separate track or as an addition to their paper presentation.

Second, papers will get an additional page to describe the artifact.

Finally, they will be mentioned in the proceedings and at the conference. Artifacts that are deemed especially meritorious will be singled out for special recognition.

Membership

The AEC will consist of about a dozen members. Other than the chairs, we intend for all other members to be senior graduate students, identified with the help of current, active researchers.

We believe qualified graduate students are often in a much better position than many researchers to handle the diversity of systems expectations we will encounter. In addition, these graduate students represent the future of the community, so involving them in this process early will help push this process forward.

Naturally, the AEC chairs will devote considerable attention to both mentoring and monitoring, helping to educate the students on their responsibilities and privileges.

Process

To maintain a wall of separation between paper review and the artifacts, authors will only be asked to upload their artifacts after their papers have been accepted. Of course, they can (and should!) prepare their artifacts well in advance, and can provide the artifacts to the PC through unofficial URLs contained in their papers, as many authors already do.

The authors of all accepted papers will be asked whether they intend to have their artifact evaluated and, if so, to upload the artifact. They are welcome to indicate that they do not. Since we anticipate small glitches with installation and use, the AEC reserves the right to send a one-time message to the authors requesting clarification. Authors can submit a one-time response, focusing solely on the questions of the AEC; we do not impose a word-limit (since, e.g., a code attachment may be needed), but strongly suggest that the prose be no longer than 1000 words. Based on these inputs, the AEC will complete its evaluation and notify authors of the outcome.

Authors are welcome to ignore the feedback or to include it in their paper as they deem fit (as a footnote, a section, etc.). Meritorious papers can include a lovely badge of the following form, customized with the conference's name:

[badge]
This image was created by Matthias Hauswirth (thanks!).

Artifact Details

To avoid excluding some papers, the AEC will accept any artifact that authors wish to submit. These can be tools but can also be test suites, models, proofs, etc. Obviously, the better the artifact is packaged, the more likely the AEC can actually work with it.

In all cases, the AEC will accept a video of the artifact in use. These may include screencasts of the software being run on the examples in the paper, traversals of models using modeling tools, stepping through a proof script, etc. The video is, of course, not a substitute for the artifact itself, but this provides an evolutionary path that imposes minimal burden on authors.

The details of packaging the artifact will be published separately.

Submission of an artifact does not contain tacit permission to make its content public. AEC members will be instructed that they may not publicize any part of your artifact during or after completing evaluation, nor retain any part of it after evaluation. Thus, you are free to include models, data files, proprietary binaries, etc. in your artifact. We do strongly encourage that you anonymize any data files that you submit.

We recognize that some artifacts may attempt to perform malicious operations by design. These cases should be boldly and explicitly flagged in detail in the readme so AEC members can take appropriate precautions before installing and running these artifacts.