The Recommender Systems Community Beyond the #RecSys conference

Our community beyond the RecSys conference

As we approach our 12th year of ACM RecSys conferences, it is important to highlight how our community has grown from the conference into more informal and smaller groups and activities around the world. Today, we highlight three of those groups in Amsterdam, London and New York.

The Recsys Amsterdam group, originally started in 2013 has now grown into a community of almost 500 people, who meet 3–4 times a year to discuss RecSys topics, with a focus on the startup and industry sphere.

Reaching hundred attendees in some of their events, the group has a clear purpose: “to increase the cross-pollination and exposure between academia and industry”, and the speaker lineup for each event reflects that purpose.

We talked to David Graus, one of the current co-organizers of the RecSys Amsterdam group:

The group started because recommender systems became a thing, and there was a lot of interest on the topic, initially from academia. Looking at our community nowadays, a sizable part of the Amsterdam tech scene involved or interested in the topic. We have no trouble whatsoever to find speakers or hosts, so it really seems we’re filling a need. We also find a lot of folks attending that are not directly working with recommender systems, but joining out of interest.
Interestingly, I’ve had the remark from non-tech folks that they were surprised and positively impressed with the amount of sharing and openness in our community — people (even from industry) aren’t really afraid of “opening their black boxes.” I think in recommender systems, data is key anyway, and technology is something you can show off easily ;-). So the sharing aspect is definitely a strong driver in organizing these meetups.

The RecSys London Group had their first event in May 2017, and since then have already organized three events hosted by Just Eat!, Criteo and Redis. It has experienced an spectacular growth from 30 people attending their first event to expecting 60 in their next one!

We also talked to Robbert van der Pluijm, one of the co-organizers of the RecSys London group, to learn more about why and how things got started.

We decided to create the group last year, inspired by the RecSys Meetup groups in Amsterdam and Paris. Our focus was to share insights and lessons learnt regarding practical problems in the RecSys space. It’s great to have more and more people in you network you feel comfortable with explaining your problem to. And who are open to search for a solution together. Leaving your egos at the door, you give and take, and move forward together. I’m really happy with how the community in London is slowly growing and we at Bibblio and me personally are really happy to be a part of it.

The France group, RecSys FR started in December 2015 and has been meeting every 3 months ever since, with many of the close to 700 members becoming regulars. While at the beginning the focus of the community was the exchange of practical knowledge across companies, their scope is now wider, including academic talks, and sometimes talks from relevant legal topics, such as the European Data Protection Regulation.

Talking with Alexandre Abraham, one of the co-organizers we already start seeing patterns that describe our global community:

As underlined by David, the gold in recommender systems lie in the data and the openness of people in the community is what keeps them alive: we really learn new techniques and discuss new experiences at each event; it is not a showcase for companies to hire people! Now that the group is settled, we are trying to open it and to create a synergy between industry and academia by inviting more researchers. Our first attempts were very successful, and I was glad to hear discussions between industry people and academics about how to make their recommendation better.

These are three great examples of how our community has grown into local groups, attracting people into our field, and discussing problems that matter for them. Their events have been such a success that Robbert has recently started a RecSys NYC group, which will be having their inaugural event in April, hosted by eBay!

The 12th ACM Conference on Recommender Systems will take place in Vancouver, Canada, 2nd-7th October 2018 — if you want to submit your work or attend the conference, please check our website, where we have recently published our call for contributions and important dates.