I created and ran both the C++ and Java tracks at the Software Development Conference for many years, and have spoken at numerous other conferences. Since discovering Open Spaces, my interest in "eyes-forward" conferences has waned.
So I've refused several years of speaking invitations from Stephan Janssen, the creator of Javapolis, but this year I finally went. The experience I had was far better than Java One, and I'm not the only one saying that.
Sun loses money on Java One, so that conference must produce marketing results, and it surely does. However, this means that it always has at least some of the feel of a company conference; presentations that don't support the company vision are not particularly welcome. Javapolis, on the other hand, is more of a mega user-group meeting (they sold out with 3200 people this year). As a result, they are more interested in talking about anything that Java programmers might be interested in, rather than only discussing what furthers Sun's agenda.
It's held in Antwerp's Metropolis theatre complex (thus the name: Metropolis => Javapolis, which causes pronunciation conflicts depending on how your culture says "metropolis"). Every session is held in a big theatre with a giant screen and really cushy seats. Stephan goes much further, because he has high-end video equipment in every session so that you see both the speaker and computer output in every session, even from the high seats. And each and every session is taped and ends up on the site http://www.Parleys.com. This actually happens (I've gone to far too many conferences that taped sessions and promised to put them up, but never did), so you can go there now and see presentations from past conferences, and those from this conference will be appearing over the next weeks and months.
The quality of Parleys.com is very impressive (much nicer video quality than YouTube), but Stephan showed at this year's conference how he and Benjamin Dobler are in the process of recreating the site completely in Flex. Stephan had wanted to use Swing on the front end, and he is still using Java on the server, but decided that Flex was the right technology to use for the entire user interface, rather than the current Ajax. At that point he got Benjamin involved, and the demo they showed was nothing less than smashing. The new site will apparently go online sometime in the first quarter of 2008. The most impressive thing about it was the sensibility of the user interface because it gave you much more information in a far more informative way than the typical web interface. If Ajax is Web 2.0, then this is Web 3.0.
You can see demonstrations of the upcoming site here.
In the opening keynote session, after Stephan introduced the conference and right before James Gosling spoke, I gave a 15-minute introduction to Open Spaces. If you haven't heard of these, my standard description is part of the JavaPosse Roundup 08 page. I've also modified the Open Spaces idea to create the concept of a Programming Jam, which you can read about on the page for the upcoming RIA Jam, which also has links at the top to other Jams and conferences.
Stephan had asked me to introduce and manage an experimental Open Spaces area at the conference and I'm always up for spreading the word on this revolutionary way of creating interactions. The presentation went well; I've taken to creating slides with lots of visuals -- mostly pictures -- and as few words as possible. Ideally, even if some of the audience isn't so interested in a particular topic, they'll at least have interesting things to look at (I try to minimize or eliminate bullet points).
Considering that there were 3200 people, my primary concern was that a room that maxed out at 150 -- we were using round tables with signs on each to show what the table was discussing, like at the Python conference -- would fill up, and that didn't happen. We had a few discussions, and it was nice, but the orientation of the conference didn't, I think, really focus so much on Open Spaces so it wasn't a hub of activity. I personally had some nice discussions so I count it as a success from my own experience, and one of the "Rules" of Open Spaces is "Whatever happens is the only thing that could have."
I will also be organizing Open Spaces at the upcoming CodeMash Conference, which takes place at a hotel with an indoor water slide park, which sounds goofy at first but turns out to be a surprising amount of fun. Last year we did a successful trial run of Open Spaces, and I expect this year's version to be even better. (Note that the RIA Jam happens right after CodeMash, which is why we are doing it in Ann Arbor, relative shouting distance in Midwest terms).
Dick Wall (of the JavaPosse) and I took the Eurostar high-speed train back from Belgium to London (Carl Quinn accompanied us to the station) and we had a great time catching up and talking about Java, programming languages and the industry in general. Dick will also be speaking at CodeMash in his capacity as Android evangelist for Google.