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The New SIGCHI Progressive Web App

For those of you who have done it, running a conference is a lot of work. Authors submit via Precision Conference (PCS) and publish in the ACM Digital Library (DL) while chairs organize sessions, make programs for their websites, and recruit volunteers to wrangle data and keep track of every last little change of affiliation, title, session chairs, room, and booked time. If you’re attending the conference, it can be equally as challenging to find sessions, make notes, and get the paper itself from the ACM DL. SIGCHI has built a fair bit of infrastructure to help chairs and attendees in our two dozen conferences conduct all this smoothly. This included native mobile applications for iOS and Android and yes, I did just use past tense. These native apps are in sunset 🌅 and we froze development on them (so if you filed an issue in the past it won’t get fixed there).

The issue with native applications is they are quite expensive to maintain and test while being difficult to keep parity across devices. Every year a new OS requires a bit of a refactor. Then a retest. Then an accessibility check. Then a UI check. Then a push to the store. Then a rejection from the store (it happens!). It goes on and on for both platforms and requires a lot of engineering chasing fixes. Now, I’m six months into the role of VP of Operations for SIGCHI but I knew this was untenable; together with the SIGCHI Operations team and our developer team we decided to move to a Progressive Web Application (PWA).

Within a few months, we had a test application running and decided it was time to spend our engineering efforts on moving to 100% PWA and deprecate the native applications. As luck would have it, I had an in with the CSCW 2019 Paper’s Co-chairs and so, before the PWA was finished we decided to open up the beta also note the permalink structure because you’ll be able to get to any participating conference program the same way: For now, the best way to get to the app is to bookmark it or add it to your device’s homescreen.

A screenshot of the CSCW 19 PWA home page.

The SIGCHI PWA is responsive and consolidates our development under one easy test easy deploy HTML umbrella. Got an iPhone 📱, no problem. Big monitor 🖥, sure thing. There’s a lot of work behind the scenes going on to link this infrastructure with PCS and the DL (which will remove a lot of manual scripts and spreadsheets from the organizing committees). In fact, I spent all of 7 minutes total making the CSCW program (~50 sessions and 210 papers) with zero presenter conflicts. Last year was an order of magnitude more time. Very soon we’ll have direct links to the papers right in the PWA (and with the new ACM TAPS process the paper will also be responsive HTML5) and there will be a JSON endpoint for anyone to get a parseable version of the whole program.

CSCW 2019 Program listing on an iPhone

Keep in mind, we’re still in beta and we need your help. As a volunteer lead organization, we rely on our community for feedback and support. See an issue? Let us know! Have a suggestion? Just click (or tap) the Contact Us button in the bottom left of the screen. We diligently track and triage every request.

An image of the bottom left corner and the Contact Us link highlighted.

Right now many features don’t work (like adding a session to your schedule or exporting your reading list and notes) but as those interactive features come live, they will sync across all your logins (phone, tablet, web browser) as long as you’re logged in using your ACM login (we do a SSO bounce to the ACM just for authentication). We hope to be more so fully functional before CSCW 19 in a month. Other important non-visual features, like offline browsing, are already implemented.

The PWA provides more accessibility than the native apps which is fantastic and since it’s all HTML based, it’s faster for us to check for issues with screen readers and colors. However, those unit style tests only get us so far. A few community members have offered to help us test accessibility deeply (yay thanks!) and we’ll move in that direction soon after we collect more feedback from this CSCW beta test.

Finally, there’s the core UI. For the first launch, we decided to skin the PWA as close to the previous native app as possible. This allowed us to focus on the platform. I’d really like to redo the app’s design and flow in 2020 but it will take a lot (a lot!) of volunteer time. If you’re interested in helping, email me.

Thanks to everyone who’s submitted feedback to date, the SIGCHI Ops team, Julie Williamson (SIGCHI VP of Publications), and finally Karrie Karahalios and Eric Gilbert (the CSCW 2019 General Chairs) for letting me early beta test.

@ayman – SIGCHI VP of Operations