Open Source Computing and GIS in the UK

Travels in a digital world


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On Friday and Saturday I attended the inaugural WhereCampEU “un-conference” in London.  The short review: if one comes anywhere near you- go for it! It’s well worth it and I enjoyed every minute.

The slightly longer review: since there were no themes or papers organised beforehand, I guess it was a good opportunity to take the temperature of a certain part of the UK/EU geospatial community. So we got lots and lots of OpenStreetMap papers and iPhone apps! Don’t get me wrong, that’s not a bad thing, but personally, the papers that stood out for me were Steven Feldman’s talk on Business Models and how we are all f*cked without one, and, as always, Bob Barr’s talk on the true cost of “Free” data.  That particular talk was timely, coming just before the deadline for the consultation on freeing Ordnance Survey data.

On business models- Steven gave the talk twice due to popular request (one advantage to the un-conference format), and got remarkably different responses. The gist was whether you could come up with a one-minute elevator pitch on your business, your customers, and your prices. If you can’t do that, then you should be able to. There was quite a split in the audience.  On one hand there were people who are genuinely trying to make a business out of what they do- who have mortgages to pay, employees to pay, and kids to feed, who can see the point in a business model, and on the other hand there were people with well-paid day-jobs and a lucrative sideline in making iPhone apps who couldn’t see the point. That’s an over-generalisation, but I have work to do, so forgive me. I did start musing about doing a 140 character “tweet-pitch” too but maybe that’s just jumping on the bandwagon!

Overall, at the end of the two days I didn’t feel like I’d been at a conference, even though it was just as packed and even more fast-paced than usual. It was just more relaxing and informal, and the lack of corporate salesmen helped too! The venues were fantastic, as was the food, and the evening geo-beer was much appreciated. The team were keen to point out that next year’s “un-conference” (if it happens) should be somewhere else in Europe. At the time there weren’t that many takers, perhaps because there was a UK bias to the attendees, but I’m sure the enthusiasm and positive feedback will percolate around and we’ll get some volunteers.

After that I spent a couple of days being a tourist in London and catching up with old friends. As a test, I did my London navigation with a zoomable paper map, which I can say works very well and is pleasingly analogue (no batteries or data costs). Crikey though- who needs that many Starbucks, Costa and Caffe Neros?