SIGIR 2022 Annual Conference – a report from Dennis Aumiller

Another month, another conference back in person! The ACM SIGIR 2022 conference – the special interest group’s premier event – was back in person for the first time since 2019, and for the first time ever made its stop in beautiful and sunny Spain. Hosted by general chairs Enrique Amigó, Pablo Castells and Julio Gonzalo, the weather certainly left nothing to be desired in sunny Madrid in the period from 11-15 July. With record temperatures of over 40°C (104°F) reached during the conference week, it was certainly a blessing to enjoy some climatized breezes in the conference venue, Madrid’s historic Círculo de Bellas Artes. Impressing with majestic statues watching over the marble staircase, participants got to feel some of Madrid’s vivid history.

But aside from the hot weather, the organizers had a series of issues to worry about, quipped organizer Pablo Castells during his opening remarks: Record summer temperatures, re-emerging Covid waves, nearby construction sites, as well as overloaded airlines were all too real concerns that made them originally question whether physical attendance would even make up a significant portion in the first hybrid SIGIR event.

Despite all these issues, though, in the end he had nothing to worry, with 560 physical attendees successfully making the trip and enduring the Spanish summer heat. Complementing the physical presence, over 400 further virtual participants registered for SIGIR, although it should be noted that the actual representation might be slightly different, as we will discuss later. Finally, SIGIR’s acceptance rates stay fairly competitive, with around 20% acceptance rates for full paper submissions, and a slightly higher rate of about 24.5% for short paper submissions.

Aside from the main conference, the theoretical counterpart to SIGIR, ICTIR, was again jointly co-located at the same venue and held during the Monday and Tuesday sessions. However, since neither of the authors did attend ICTIR, we cannot directly comment on the content of this year’s edition. However, based on the reports by other SIGIR attendees, it should be more than worth checking out the papers over at

Virtual Day & Tutorial Day

Despite the official conference being held between the 11th-15th July, the real start to SIGIR 2022 was already in the week prior, with the inaugural “virtual day” complementing the physical program. This was a creative attempt at eliciting more interaction between remote participants, but also increase the chance of physical attendees giving the conference a dedicated time slot to immerse themselves in remote presentations. However, the timing was slightly off-putting for many, given that it forced everyone to take out an additional day of their schedules, which, especially this close to the departure weekend, meant additional stress if one wanted to fully participate and pay attention. Discussions within the steering committee and post-conference evaluations will show what the future of such dedicated remote-only days can be, and how they can be best incorporated into the more traditional setting of a “full conference week”, where in-person participants primarily care about the face-to-face interactions post covid.

Starting off the conference week were Monday’s tutorial sessions. However, in part due to the simultaneous sessions of ICTIR, attendance of tutorials was comparatively low, which was made up for the fact of plenty of interactive and hands-on sessions throughout the day. However, steadfast attendees that made it through the day were rewarded in the evening hours by a welcome reception with fantastic view: Held on the rooftop terrace of the conference venue, sponsor Amazon Science ensured that there was enough finger food (and accompanying drinks) available for everyone.

Main Conference

For the main conference track, the organizers planned with four parallel tracks going into each day. This allowed participants to choose from a wide variety of different paper topics, although some sessions were clear audience favorites. In particular, the perspective track with its imaginative papers had some greatly enjoyable presentations, which made for interesting food for thought and great discussions. Particularly worth mentioning is also the best paper runner-up “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle: Green Information Retrieval Research” by Harrisen Scells, Shengyao Zhuang and Guido Zuccon, also presented at the perspectives track.

Aside from the established track, this year also marked the first time a reproducibility track appeared at a SIGIR conference. While already being established at related conferences such as ECIR for quite some years now, the first edition at SIGIR made a splash with a total of 7 acceptances, and a surefire way to return in future editions again.

The general consensus was that poster discussions were among the most missed conference experiences, which showed during the poster & demo sessions Tuesday and Wednesday afternoon. In fact, some people questioned whether the existence of dedicated oral presentations is even justified with the more engaging (and flexible) format of poster presentations. However, even for in-person participants, the poster floor generally posed the highest risk area of contracting Covid, which was a real concern after some infections became known during the week.

Finishing the first day of the full conference programme was a creative concert by the duo Fetén Fetén, who impressed their audience by performing a range of traditional Spanish tunes on a set of creative instruments, from a simple pair of spoons all the way to a literal handsaw. This musical performance was only topped by the live jam session at Wednesday’s banquet dinner, where a variety of community members came together to perform and rock the stage in front of a hyped SIGIR crowd!

Aside from the previously mentioned runner-up paper, further works being awarded were the full paper “A Non-Factoid Question-Answering Taxonomy” (Valeriia Bolotova et al.) and best short paper “Curriculum Learning for Dense Retrieval Destillation (Hansi Zeng, Hamed Zamani and Vishwa Vinay). Short paper runner-up went to the work “Towards Validating Long—Term User Feedbacks in Interactive Recommendation Systems” (Hojoon Lee, Dongyoon Hwang, Kyushik Min and Jaegul Choo).

Aside from the presentations and poster discussions, SIGIR also offered some special interest opportunities during the lunch breaks. During the student luncheon, senior members from the community came together with several junior attendees, to give advice on a whole variety of topics related to research in the field of information retrieval. I’d like to give a special shout out to Julián Urbano, who reminded everyone in his luncheon talk about the fact that everyone is doubting their own research, and how important self-awareness and reflection are as a researcher, no matter their seniority. Wednesday’s DEI luncheon also addressed some of the issues on inclusivity at conferences, an issue that only becomes more important in the age of hybrid conferences. And finally, the Women in IR panel focused this year particularly on female leadership, both in academia and industry, and boasted an impressive line-up of speakers and all-female mentors.


First to hold his conference at the virtual day was Alistair Moffat, musing on the necessity (and difficulty) of working with real users, a key aspect that differentiates the IR field from so many other areas. He particularly focused on reiterating the fact that the community should not just abstract away a user, and instead focus on the human aspect of the experimenters as well.

For the in-person keynotes, Jamie Teevan went on the “search for a new and better future of work”, detailing her experiences at Microsoft on their experience throughout (and post) the Corona pandemic with the help of user insights. Her slides were also peppered with a whole slew of pictures from past SIGIR conferences, which made her talk especially appealing also to younger researchers, many of whom got to enjoy their first “real” physical conferences again.

On Wednesday, Eneko Agirre took the IR community on a journey through the difficult and often opaque lands of recent advancements in prompt-based language model fine-tuning. While initially seemingly relevant only to a smaller group of NLP-focused IR researchers, he nimbly bridged the gap to some of the core problems in the IR field – information extraction.

For the final keynote on Thursday, Ruhi Sarikaya was very open in sharing some of the historical developments of the Amazon Alexa device. His compilation of architectural choices, coupled with the original approaches to some of the prevalent problems, made this one particularly enjoyable for industry practitioners willing to learn more about the very real problems users are facing daily in interacting with virtual agents.

Hybrid Conference Setup

Another great advantage in the age of hybrid conferences is the almost guaranteed availability of a pre-recorded presentation, which made it also possible to catch up on missed presentations after the main conference through the dedicated virtual platform. However, this also touches on some of the less enjoyable part of this year’s conference. Due to the unfortunate travel situation in China, a significant portion of presenting authors from this country could sadly not make their way to Spain. This also meant that a large portion of sessions, originally fully planned to be in-person with in-person presenters, now had most presentations running remotely, or even fully falling back on the recorded presentation.

Aside from being a real nuisance to the presenting authors, this also meant that the attention of many in-person attendees was significantly reduced, and often resulted in rather one-sided Q&A rounds after otherwise clearly interesting paper presentations. With the issue being so prevalent, it also became a clear target for the discussion round in the general meeting, where both committee members and participants mused over appropriate ways to handle limited attendance. An important move was also the announcement of the SIGIR Asia Pacific conference, scheduled for a dedicated audience in the region, which might help to alleviate some of these issues. However, it still stands to show how high the acceptance of such a conference is, especially given the general fear around impact factor and conference rankings.

Aside from the oral presentation issues, though, it is also questionable how to incorporate remote participants effectively in a more interactive plenary session, such as the demo and poster slots. Here, it becomes even more challenging to create an inclusive environment where others have the platform to both see other work, and be seen for their own contributions, without disrupting the “flow” of existing presentation floors.

In the end, it still poses a greatly different experience between purely physical presentations and virtual playback for many participants, and in return also questions the original focus of moving towards a hybrid conference model. However, this is nothing uncommon this year, and in this (or similar form) was also a pressing issue at other hybrid venues earlier this year. It will be interesting to observe how the community can embrace this new conferencing format, but it seems that the SIGIR committee is heavily dedicated to improving the experience for both in-person and remote attendees in the future.


Re-appearing on the conference scene, the first SIGIR certainly opened with a bang. The overwhelming majority of people was extremely pleased with their overall conference experience, yet some of the issues left a slightly sour taste in the mouth of some attendees. Primarily, the issue with (missing) attendance of paper authors at sessions was heavily discussed and will likely stay an issue as long as major countries will still heavily limit travel out of the respective country. However, the rumored number of infections at the conference might give good reason for precautionary measures like this. Physical conferences – especially bigger venues like SIGIR – give plenty of room for infections to spread to a large crowd of multinational travelers, which is a prime ingredient for further spreading.

Despite this, many are already looking forward to the next SIGIR. Already known is the location of next year’s event (Taipei), and the choice for 2024 was revealed to be Washington, D.C. at the general meeting this year. For those willing to look this far into the future, bids for 2025 were also presented there, with Padua making a strong impression over competing locations Amsterdam and Berlin. Wherever it will ultimately land, the community can be sure to be in good hands, with each city boasting an impressive organizing team.

For now, though, we want to focus on the current event, and again thank the organizers, wishing them a restful summer break under the Spanish sun!

Dennis Aumiller

About Martin White
Martin White

Martin is an information scientist and the author of Making Search Work and Enterprise Search. He has been involved with optimising search applications since the mid-1970s and has worked on search projects in both Europe and North America. Since 2002 he has been a Visiting Professor at the Information School, University of Sheffield and is currently working on developing new approaches to search evaluation.

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