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JavaOne Review Madness

Posted by kgh on February 7, 2005 at 1:20 PM PST

The JavaOne call for papers ended last week. We received
over 1700 proposals and we're now deep in talk review.
Here are a few thoughts from inside
the Program Committee on what we're seeing in the submissions
so far and the balance we're working towards this year. We
want to deliver a great and useful conference for people,
so we're consciously trying to make sure we have the
right balance of topics.

What do people want?

There are some common strands in the feedback we receive
from JavaOne attendees. For example, most people want to
see increased technical depth and less introductory fluff.
But there are also a lot of differences in
the kinds of talks people want and the areas they want
covered. We try to be pragmatic in meeting people's needs,
and one of the criteria we use in balancing the conference
is to look at what kinds of talks people did (and didn't)
attend in previous years.

There tends to be very strong interest
in the practicalities of building real-world enterprise
applications, on both client and server and we'll make
sure those areas are well-covered. But there is also
a lot of interest in future directions and in emerging
technology areas. JavaOne is really the only event where
the full diversity of Java development comes together under
one roof and people seem to value being able to sample
that whole diversity, even if their main focus is more

Standard v non-standard technologies?

JavaOne is definitely the great annual festival of JCP
standard technologies. So we try to make sure we have talks
covering the latest key JSRs, especially on the main
directions for the core platforms. We'll definitely
have lots of "how to" talks on J2SE 5.0 (Tiger) and
J2EE 1.4, and forward looking talks on the
plans for J2SE 6.0 (Mustang)
and J2EE 5.0. We have a lot of good submissions here
(and we also know where to go hunting to fill in any gaps!)

But there are also lots of other technologies being
used by the community beyond JSRs. This year we're
making a deliberate effort to have more talks here.
For example, the track owners have been actively recruiting
talks on technologies such as Hibernate, the Spring Framework,
SWT, Tapestry, etc. So I'm expecting we'll see increased
coverage of non-JCP technologies.

Product talks

Product talks are a really sensitive area. We've had
some really grumpy feedback from attendees who feel they
were abused with a sales pitch. But other people have
told us they really like getting updates
on key products!

Our current thinking is to try to include a small
set of product focused talks, but with two big rules.
First, it must be really clear in the talk title
that the talk is product focused. (People seem to be
be much more tolerant of product focused
talks if they know the focus in advance.)
Second, the talk
must actually be technically interesting, not just
sales babble. So typically we'd like a talk from
a senior engineering lead on the product.

Last year Steve Wilson organized a great set of tools
talks with a common theme of "What's new in XXX" for
JBuilder, Eclipse, NetBeans, and other IDEs. That
seemed to work really well. We're planning to repeat
that again for tools. We're also working to
recruit a similar set of product update talks for
the main App Server products (Weblogic, Websphere,
JBoss, Sun App Server, etc.)

Vendor balance

There tend to be a lot of Sun talks at JavaOne. That
largely reflects Sun's role in leading many key JSRs,
especially for the core platforms.

But we consciously strive to include the whole community,
including all the leading Java product vendors. This
sometimes includes doing some deliberate talk recruitment
to fill key gaps.
Sometimes people who are working head down on products
forget about boring events like conferences!

This year I'm seeing a good set of talk proposals from most
of the main vendors. The one gap I'm noticing is that so
far I haven't run into many submissions from IBM, but we
are trying to recruit some specific talks (for example
on Eclipse and SWT) to help out there.

The Fashion of the Year

There often seems to be a Fashion of the Year. This year
it's SOA and we have received a vast host of SOA talk submissions.
That's the good news: the bad news is that many of the abstracts
are very similar!

Four years ago XML was new and hot,
and we had vast numbers of talk submissions on how to connect
XML into JSP or servlets. This was an important topic, but
there was only so much that could be said on it and many
of the abstracts were duplicative.

Similarly with SOA: it's an important topic and I'm sure
we'll include some key talks on it, but probably not in
proportion to the number of submissions.

"Practical Experience" talks.

Something weird seems to happen around "Practical Experience"
talks. We get told by attendees that they want to see more
talks based on real-world experience, but in practice average
attendance tends to be low and audience feedback is very mixed.

Part of the problem here is that these talks can easily
degenerate into "what I did on my summer holidays" kinds
of talks. The audience wants more than just a simple
narrative of what someone did in their project.

We will be accepting some practical experience talks,
but we are going to be more cautious in trying to make
sure there will be real lessons for the audience and
we will try to work more closely with the speakers in
preparing these talks.

Back to work

Well, this was a nice break, but now I have to get back
to reading more session abstracts...

- Graham