Whova conference platform

Online Format

RecSys 2020 will be held entirely online during September 22-26, 2020. Despite the unfortunate circumstances, this is an exciting opportunity to experiment with the online format while reaching out to new community members, which was one of the core motivations for bringing the conference to Rio in the first place.

Design Goals

In transitioning online, our goal is to offer attendees an experience as close as possible to what makes RecSys great, while making the necessary adjustments to make it inclusive for our international community around the globe. At the same time, we want to deliver this experience in the most seamless way, by allowing participants to engage with the conference without having to keep track of it through multiple disjoint channels.

Online Platform

RecSys 2020 will use Whova as its online conference platform. The platform provides a centralized venue for registered attendees to make the most of the conference before, during, and even after it. In particular, live streams and pre-recorded videos are embedded directly in the platform and accessible through both desktop and mobile interfaces for maximum comfort and inclusivity. Attendees can watch sessions on a bigger screen on their desktop or follow along anywhere on their smartphone or tablet, interacting with speakers and other attendees through dedicated Q&A and chat rooms. Several networking tools are also provided to help attendees make new connections via attendee profiles, matchmaking, icebreaking, contact exchange, and virtual meetups for ad-hoc conversations on video, both one-on-one and in small groups. Keeping track of everything going on is also facilitated through a personalized, timezone-aware agenda as well as push notifications for mobile devices. All this in one place, with only an internet connection required!

Schedule Overview

The main conference will keep its traditional single-track structure, beginning with a keynote each day followed by multiple paper sessions and a poster/demo session. Longer breaks between sessions will allow attendees to network with other attendees and sponsors, engage in several virtual social activities, or simply chill out before the next session. Instead of choosing one particular timezone, the main conference will follow a timezone-agnostic, always-on schedule. In practice, attendees should be able to watch and interact live with all the content presented through September 22-24, 2020 (see below for further details on each session type and on satellite events), regardless of what timezone they are in. To make this possible, each conference session will be presented live twice, with the two presentations (denoted “A” and “B”) scheduled 11h apart from each other, as illustrated below for attendees in Los Angeles (UTC-7), London (UTC+1), and Shanghai (UTC+8). All times shown are local to these cities. Sessions highlighted in green fall within local waking hours (07:00-23:00), whereas those in red are sleeping hours (23:00-07:00).

Day #1 of RecSys 2020 with sessions localized for three timezones (click to enlarge).

In the example, Session 1 could be attended during waking hours by attendees in Los Angeles (both Session 1A at 09:00 and Session 1B at 20:00 UTC-7), London (Session 1A at 17:00 UTC+1), and Shanghai (Session 1B at 11:00 UTC+8). Not only does this scheme ensure maximum accessibility for attendees across the globe, but also maximum visibility for speakers, who are guaranteed speaking slots within waking hours. For instance, a speaker in Los Angeles could be assigned a convenient slot in Session 1A/B and Session 2A/B, a speaker in London could be assigned Session 2A/B and Session 3A/B, and a speaker in Shanghai could be assigned Session 4A/B. Note that this setup assumes speakers are spread well enough across the globe, which is supported by our simulations using the timezone of first authors of submitted papers as a proxy.


As a highlight of the conference, keynotes will be presented live at the premium slot of 14:00 UTC+0, which falls in waking hours (07:00-23:00) for most timezones on Earth (from Los Angeles at 07:00 UTC-7 to Shanghai at 22:00 UTC+8). Keynote talks will be followed by live Q&A mediated by a session chair, which can be extended in dedicated virtual rooms after the sessions.

Long Papers

All authors of long papers (research papers, reproducibility papers, and industry talks) must pre-record a 2-3 min teaser to advertise their work and a 10 min talk for archival purposes. Professional support will be available to help authors record their talk. Long papers will be presented live twice each day. Each presentation slot includes a 10 min talk plus 5 min for Q&A mediated by a session chair. Q&A can be extended in dedicated virtual rooms after the sessions. Speakers must show up for live Q&A and are strongly encouraged to also deliver their talk live for maximum interactivity and maximum visibility of their work. In extreme cases, should it be infeasible to assign a speaker slots in convenient times, or if the speaker is unable to show up twice given some unforeseen circumstance, the pre-recorded 10 min talk will be used as a backup.

Posters and Demos

All authors of short papers, demos, and late-breaking results as well as doctoral symposium participants must pre-record a 2-3 min teaser to advertise their work. Authors will be assigned a slot in two poster sessions in one of the three conference days and are expected to present their work as a poster in at least one of these sessions. To encourage the spontaneous interactions typical of in-person poster and demo sessions, we will use Gather, a web-based, virtual world platform that allows attendees to move freely on a virtual map, talk to nearby attendees, and stop by poster and demo booths to interact with presenters.

Social Activities

We will have a dedicated program of social activities throughout the main conference during September 22-24. Official social events, such as the conference reception, will run during the premium slot of 12:30 UTC+0 just before the following day’s keynote, making them accessible to our community at large. Moreover, we will also have open social events proposed and hosted by community members and scheduled during breaks of our technical program. Check out our call for socials for further details.

Sponsor Expos

Diamond and Platinum sponsors will be offered the opportunity to host an expo event to showcase their products and applied research through an invited talk or panel discussion organized and hosted by their own staff. In contrast to our industry talks, which are dissociated from sponsorship activities and undergo a rigorous peer review process as part of our technical program, sponsor expos will have a broader focus on career opportunities and run during conference breaks, with at most one expo per sponsor.

Doctoral Symposium and Workshops

Given its smaller scale and inherently interactive nature, the Doctoral Symposium will take place as a synchronous videoconferencing event via Zoom, starting at 14:00 UTC+0 on September 21. Workshops will follow a similar scheme, with 6 half-day (180-min long) workshops running in parallel starting at 14:00 UTC+0 on September 25, and another 6 full-day (270-min long) workshops running in parallel starting at 14:00 UTC+0 on September 26.


Tutorials will follow a hybrid scheme, with pre-recorded video lectures (either 90-min or 180-min long) available for registered attendees a week before the conference, supplemented with two live sessions 9h apart from each other at convenient local times for the speakers for hands-on activities and Q&A on September 25.


Our proposed online format builds upon the amazing work carried out by fellow organizers of several related conferences that moved online earlier this year — many at short notice. In addition to ACM’s guide of best practices for running virtual events, we were particularly inspired by the interactivity of ECIR 2020, with its synchronous, curated sessions; the innovativeness of ICLR 2020, with its custom-built online conference platform; and the inclusivity of ICML 2020, with its timezone-agnostic schedule. We believe our effort is a step forward in the continuous experimentation towards effective online conferences and hope it will inspire further improvements, some of which potentially carrying over to in-person conferences as well.

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