Open Source Computing and GIS in the UK

Travels in a digital world

AGI Geocommunity Day One

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Yesterday was the first official day of AGI Geocommunity 2010 (second for those that attended the W3G unconference the day before).

A lot has happened in the UK Geospatial Industry since last year- when one of my highlights was Ed Parsons talking about the ludicrous situation of data ownership in the Ordnance Survey. Now, we have lots of free data to play with, and indeed one of the over-riding themes yesterday was how we use this data properly. The poor old Asborometer was highlighted not once but twice as an example of what we shouldn’t be doing.

Recession has clearly focussed people’s minds- there was a lot less worrying about “palaeo” and “neo” in the sessions I went to, and a lot more worrying about raising our game and increasing the profile of GIS across the public sector and in business. We all know how useful GIS is, and how it can improve efficiency and save costs, but we have to convince others of that fact too. We do, however, need to focus on solutions to problems rather than the technology itself.

Of the keynote speeches my personal favourite was from Andy Hudson-Smith of CASA, maker of Talesofthings and MapTube. Anyone who’s mantra is still “wouldn’t it be great if…” amongst all the doom and gloom and budget cuts is alright with me.

Steven Feldman’s paper on Cocktails on the Titanic presented open, free, and the cloud as the proverbial icebergs that traditional GIS vendors need to steer round or crash into. Personally I’d prefer a life-raft analogy, but it was good to hear open source and data being highlighted in this way.

Lunch time saw an informal get together of OSGeo:UK, developments around which are worthy of a blog post on their own asap!

Matthew Perrin of Envitia presented a great paper on the use of open source software and open standards at the Welsh Assembly Government. This is an example of open source and proprietary solutions working well together- it doesn’t have to be an all or nothing approach.

Gary Gale talked about silos of geodata being collected by, for example, foursquare, facebook and gowalla, in an entertaining talk about the four horsemen of the geocalypse. There are attempts to create global, open, databases of places- like Geonames, so perhaps what we now need to see is the big players rallying around these existing efforts rather than re-inventing the wheel…

I talked about the opportunities that have grown from the transition to open source at Oxford Archaeology- slides and my paper will appear on slideshare asap. The usual questions about “risk” and “costs” came up- so I think there’s room for a blog post on those points fairly soon too!

The last session I attended was a panel on the AGI’s Foresight study that I contributed to last year. The discussion did dwell a little on issues of open data and transparency- reinforcing my feeling that this is the key point people are concerned about this year.

Roll on day two…

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