Lance Fortnow wrote a terrific op ed in the current issue of Communications of the ACM, arguing that the field of computer science should operate like most other academic disciplines and use journal publications as the primary measure of research contributions, freeing up conferences to serve a community role.
I agree (nearly) completely. The conference publication system is broken. Computer science papers are by and large not scholarly documents: many are sloppily written in deadline-driven haste with poor literature reviews, often blamed on page limits. Many reviews are rushed or cursory and decisions are safe at best, arbitrary at worst. The conference system encourages balkanization and discourages the emergence of a unified computer science conference.
Journals are better, as long as we move forward and not backward. We need open-access journals with fast turnaround times. Lance’s article itself underscores the point: it’s behind a pay wall, albeit a comparatively inexpensive and lenient one — Lance can distribute the near-final pre-print version on his own web page. That’s good but not good enough.