This year saw some changes in the conference. Most probably weren't apparent to attendees, but I'm sure some were (e.g., lunches). This blog entry talks about those changes.
From my point of view, the biggest change was that the printed program didn't contain a schedule of what was on when. We instead moved to a Just-In-Time schedule--at 3pm each day, Catherine (marketing queen for conferences) made a Kinkos run to print the long schedule for the coming day (the hot sheet). Hundreds of these were available in piles for attendees to collect, and a large copy was posted on a board in front of the main boardroom.
This JIT scheduling let me fill gaps far more easily than in years past. Previously, last-minute changes to the schedule (room swaps because topics were popular, cancellations, substitutions, additions) were hard to advertise and inevitably resulted in only a few people attending the delta'd sessions. This year it was hard to tell what was the result of a last-minute change and what had been in place since February.
Case in point: Friday. The Friday session schedule had had plenty of holes, right up until Wednesday. Suddenly a lot of great sessions came together and Friday morning turned into the strongest 90 minutes of the conference. I wanted to attend every single session on Friday morning--I joked that I made the mistake of laying them out horizontally instead of vertically. Disappointing though it might have been (that you could only attend one of the eight great simultaneous talks), it had two major benefits: it left everyone on a very high note, and it evenly distributed people across all the rooms.
Room distribution was important, because more of the rooms were smaller this year than in years past. The Ruby people noticed this--their track was scheduled for the smallest room because it was new and it had to be shown that anybody was actually interested in Ruby. Consider it shown! Every Ruby session I heard about was standing room only, overflowing into the hall. Next year, expect a bigger room for Ruby!
Other than room size, lunches were probably the biggest change noticed by attendees. Your conference registration did not get you lunches, except any that a sponsor wanted to buy. This, in addition to the new venue, let us lower the registration cost for OSCON this year (by $100, if I remember rightly). In return, we got complaints about there being no lunch
One of the big questions in my mind is whether in 2004 we should move the price back up to 2002 levels and offer lunches. Personally, I enjoyed being able to go downtown and eat. Ziggy, Lisa, Jesse, and a bunch of us found a nice teriyaki place within a few blocks, and every time I passed the Chinese restaurant diagonally opposite the hotel, it was empty. The predicted "two thousand people descending on downtown Portland for lunch" chaos never eventuated, that I saw. The worst I heard was "I'm looking forward to eating somewhere other than Quizno's!" on Friday.
And that's all I can remember about the mechanics of the conference