Open Source Computing and GIS in the UK

Travels in a digital world

AGI GeoCommunity 09 Day Two

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To keynote or not to keynote… I chose not, so missed out on the triumvirate of ESRI, Ordnance Survey and Pitney Bowes and instead watched a series of talks ostensibly on “the GeoWeb” instead.  By the time Andy Allen from Cloudmade finished his talk I felt like I’d been run over by an unstoppable OpenStreetMap juggernaut (in a nice way, you understand). I had a bit of an epiphany about their flexible data paradigm, after all, how could you tag a road in the West Bank as one-way if you’re Palestinian and two-way if you’re Israeli without it? More “Open” from John McKerrell from, talking about the OSM alternative to Google StreetView, imaginatively entitled “OpenStreetView”. It’s at an early stage but promises a lot, and they are addressing privacy concerns quite nicely.

Martin Daly of CadCorp won the award for the most interesting title (Human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together, mass hysteria), and of course gets points for showing the actual clip from Ghostbusters where that quote comes from. The main thing I took away from his talk about neo and palaeo was that it’s all still geography regardless of what label you put on it, and that it should be about what’s good, not what’s new.

Brian Norman from Earthware did a great talk about creating applications for Real Estate and Travel, hampered only by the fact that he had to do a live silverlight plugin installation. I hadn’t really thought explicitly about the way Estate Agents would want to censor mapping data (showing you the nice park nearby, but not the nightclub). I also hadn’t considered their need for more detailed, up to date imagery to ensure that, as the visitor, you’re not put off by out of date pictures of half-built extensions, or the dreaded grey box telling you to zoom out.

Winner of the best presentation, as voted by the punters, was the BBC with their Story-telling on Maps. It’s amazing what you can do with the might of the BBC R and D department, and lots of help from the Ordnance Survey! To be fair, what they have produced is a very slick API for tying movement on the map to actions in a video, and it’s incredibly well presented. There was a collective gasp from the audience when they rotated a piece of raster mapping, and the text stayed at the correct rotation… (a gift from the OS and not something us mere mortals can do).

I thought it was a little unfair that the afternoon’s sessions from Ed Parsons and Peter ter Haar were changed on the hoof from simple back to back presentations to some sort of boxing match. Ed got to deliver the presentation he had prepared, whereas Peter had to ad lib responses whilst trying to give his own talk. Having said that, Ed’s demonstration of the idiocy of derived data was an absolute masterpiece and Peter didn’t stand much of a chance. This is a shame as he was trying to launch some fairly innovative (for the OS) new products including (finally) OS on Demand- a service based delivery system for data.

The concluding plenary put a lot of the previous presentations to shame. 15 and 17 year olds from Leeds Grammar School, along with two of their teachers, presented on the use of GIS within all aspects of their curriculum, not just geography. It really was great to see GIS being used so innovatively, and though there was some unease on the twitter back channel about the ESRI influence, that shouldn’t detract from their achievements.

On to the concluding remarks and prizes.  Steven Feldman stepped down as conference chair, and seemed genuinely sorry to go. Everyone, in fact, seemed genuinely sorry to see the end of the conference. I think the organising team got the “community” aspect just right this time round, even more so than last year.

My own take on the trends from this year- OSM, all over the place, and in particular Walking Papers. The neo/palaeo debate, even amongst people who claimed not to care. Frustration about Ordnance Survey derived data and licensing. Twitter as a valid conference tool. All things beginning with geo. Roll on next year…