*** MOVED ***

NOTE: I have merged the contents of this blog with my web-site. I will not be updating this blog any more.



I received a mass-mailed letter this week from the ACM (Association for Computing Machinery) asking me to join it. The ACM is an organisation of computer scientists and professionals. It publishes several magazines, journals and newsletters related to computer science and engineering. It organises conferences, has several Special Interest Groups (SIGs), conducts programming competitions and provides a network for seeking jobs. The ACM Bangalore chapter in particular has been quite active in recent times.

The letter offered a discount for the first year on the annual subscription fee. It offered a "Professional Membership" for $84 (instead of $99) and a "Professional Membership Plus Digital Library" for $183 (instead of $198). These included a print subscription to the Communications of the ACM magazine as well as on-line access to the ACM Queue magazine. I found the offered rates a bit misleading because the ACM web-site offers the same memberships to professionals in India for just $25 and $43 respectively. At about Rs 1,850 for the full membership, it certainly looks attractive for someone seriously interested in computer science.

Despite all these benefits, I do not want to join the ACM because I hate two things in particular that the ACM does, which are at odds with its proclaimed status as an "educational society":

  1. It locks up valuable research in computer science behind its Digital Library even when the research is publicly-funded and the researchers are not paid for publishing their papers. If you are not a member of the ACM, it becomes quite expensive to refer to these papers.
  2. It sponsors conferences in such a way that non-members are charged exorbitantly for attending such conferences. The difference is quite often far more than an annual subscription to the ACM.

The ACM appears to be interested more in making profit than in promoting computer science. Kent Pitman elaborates on these and other reasons for pulling out of the ACM. The merits of such a membership was also discussed some time back on Joel on Software.

Before the advent of the Internet, organisations like the ACM provided an opportunity to meet your peers and a platform for sharing your research. This has now become much simpler due to the Internet (albeit with a far lower signal-to-noise ratio). The Internet cannot beat in-person interactions of the sort afforded by conferences, but even there "Barcamps" and "Unconferences" prove to be better and far cheaper.

In other words, there just isn't a compelling reason for me to join the ACM.


  1. I completely agree. I decided not to renew my IEEE membership, two years back, precisely for these reasons.

    Instead, may be you can donate the same money to organizations like FSF.


  2. Ramakrishnan: That's a good idea. Thanks.

  3. acm and ieee both suck on these fronts but usenix is worth supporting. the usenix digital library was recently made completely open and free and in general, they support practical and fun system-building.

  4. I completely agree.

    The ACM requires conference organizers to pay them between 15% and 20% of the operating costs of their budget ... so perhaps as much as 1/5th of your conference fee costs are going straight to the ACM over and above the cost of the conference.

    Moreover, through membership fees and institutional licenses, you pay again for access to the digital library.

    When you sign your copyright agreement forms, you agree that the ACM has republication rights, and that your rights in this respect are quite limited. And the actual conference volume editors have almost no flexibility. (**)

    So you essentially give them your property and then turn around and pay them ... not once, but twice for access to it.

    They assert ownership over all aspects of conferences they sponsor, including (and especially) the name. They partner with specific companies to handle things for you (e.g., pre-production and publication) who charge colossal and absurd prices, and they maintain a pretty consistent philosophy that the organizers can do it the ACM-way or they are on their own.

    In exchange they will front you the money for these events (as long you let them negotiate all contracts with whomever they prefer), taking on some very limited liability -- cutting you very little slack when your events are even mildly historically inconsistent in their revenue.

    ACM budget approval demands a 15% contingency line item (not a bad idea anyway, of course), so the only way a conference LOSES money for the ACM is if the event is well more than 30% over budget. So their risk is very minimal.

    But mainly, of course, we are buying reputation.

    It's a racket, pure and simple. The ACM is an IP leech. They produce nothing and consume our intellectual property. The entire process drives the prices of conferences and conference publications up and makes open academic scientific material harder to access.

    (**) Conferences organizers producing a volume for the event are forbidden from selling this volume anywhere other than the ACM store itself and may only use publishers who promise this, to make no IP claims of their own, to not incorporate the volume into any of their digital services, to format the volume according to their draconian style guidelines, and to provide electronic indexes for inclusion into the ACM DL. (Here's a hint, no publisher other than the one they partner with will agree to all these things).


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.