Open Source Computing and GIS in the UK

Travels in a digital world

AGI Geocommunity Day Two

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Day Two of AGI Geocommunity kicked off with some heavy-weight (in the nicest possible sense of the word) speakers in the shape of Lai Wah Co from the CBI and Vanessa Lawrence of Ordnance Survey. Lai Wah Co gave us an economic perspective to hang our insecurities onto, focused mainly on the impact on public sector jobs. That kind of thing makes my head all fuzzy, so I’ll bow to the wisdom of the twitter back channel- and say that some people’s mortgages are going to go up, some people’s will stay the same, and we’re looking at about 2 more years of hardship before getting back to the same sort of state we were before.

Vanessa Lawrence probably enjoyed her talk much more this year, after all she stayed for the full two days rather than making a quick escape. Again quoting from the twitter back channel- at least there were no angry mobs burning maps in the car park this time! The key point of interest was on the new licensing and derived data rules, that have subsequently been released and are much simpler than before (though still not perfect).

Bill Oates showed us some very pretty maps and apps that his team at the Welsh Assembly have been delivering- making the point that “maps are our best sales tool”. This does hark back to the point made a number of times on Day One- that we as an industry need to provide solutions to problems rather than just talking about the tools. He was followed by a value-for-money talk from Ian Painter of Snowflake Software on how exactly you go about doing this whole “open data thing”. ┬áHe made the really good point that to the rest of the IT industry, GI is just a tiny pimple, and our shape files and georeferenced tiffs are pretty much unknown outside our own little community. So when we talk about making our data open, we can’t just go around giving people shape files, we need to focus on the xml-based web formats that other IT people will actually understand.

In the afternoon I attended a frankly perplexing talk on cartography for the 21st century, that made me feel like I’d stepped back 10 years. I was expecting to be shown some really pretty maps, perhaps with a dash of MapNik or similar, but what we got was an ode to rasters and a total confusion about the difference between data and display. Oh well…

The Plenary session was clearly chosen to keep as many bums on seats as possible! Nigel Shadbolt delivered a rapid-fire discussion on open data, and the rationale behind it. Finally, the prizes for best paper as voted by the committee, and by the delegates, both went to Lisa Thomas of the Coal Authority, which I’m sorry I missed!

There have been a number of comments about this year’s conference, and the dislocation between the energy of the preceding W3G unconference and the main conference itself. Perhaps it was a mistake not to include a geoweb stream in the main conference, or perhaps W3G should have followed on afterwards, who knows. From my totally uninformed position of not having attended W3G, I wonder whether there has been a game change since last year though? We’ve got our free data to play with, and Ordnance Survey is officially not so evil. There are less things to rant about, and quite frankly when people are worried about their job, less justification for shiny web apps and cool things…