I went to the KDD 2006 (Knowledge Discovery in Databases) conference in Philadelphia last week. It was an interesting, if weird experience. The conference had been billed to me as the place where all the world’s great data mining/KDD experts gather. This turns out to have been old news; the conference has apparently fallen off some the past 2-3 years. What are left are an academic conference and a small trade show that seem to be only loosely coupled. Here’s what I experienced at each.
At the academic part, I didn’t actually experience all that much. In part, this was because of the accents. I don’t think I’ve ever been around as many people with Indian surnames whose English was so incomprehensible. And while one would typically be prepared for thick accents from Chinese-named folks, usually there are a LOT more exceptions to that stereotype than there were in this particular case. Even keynote addresses were not immune. So I didn’t actually attend very many sessions.
That said, I attended a few talks, browsed a lot of papers, chatted with a number of attendees, and came away with a few observations, including:
- Text mining is a big area of research.
- So is network/link/graph analysis.
- Knowledge is terribly stovepiped. Graduate students working on fast algorithms didn’t think about parallel processing. A Yahoo presenter with a small state-transition matrix didn’t think about Markov chains.
- Notwithstanding the stovepiping, there’s great interest in applying data mining to other disciplines, especially academic ones.
- The handwringing about our educational system has merit. Very few of the young people there were actually Americans, and the young Americans I did talk to seemed to have more personality than actual grasp of their material.
The vendor part consisted mainly of a few usual suspects, led by SAS, SPSS, and Oracle, and a few outfits there to hire researchers, led by Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo. I had the chance to talk for hours each w/ Oracle and SAS, which has heavily informed a column I just submitted to Computerworld. (Watch this blog for a link on or soon after September 11).