Open Source Computing and GIS in the UK

Travels in a digital world

Conferences: A Different Perspective

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September is clearly conference month in the geo world. FOSS4G in Denver, which I didn’t go to, was closely followed by the AGI GeoCommunity in Nottingham, which I did. I participated FOSS4G vicariously, following twitter and starring lots of posts in my google feed, and it’s only now that I’m having chance to catch up on them all and assimilate them. Seems like there was a lot of soul-searching going on, about the future of the organisation, the conference, and the geospatial industry in general. Seems also like there was a really good vibe to the event, perhaps related to a really good choice of venue, which kept people together for socialising, networking and whatever. Perhaps these two factors are related? Get a bunch of conference-goers together over some geo-beers, and no doubt a lot of discussion will take place.

One of the key questions that seems to have come up as a result of the success of this year’s event has been whether or not there should be an annual North American event alongside the global event. Personally, not being in North America, I can only see this from the international perspective, and to me it looks bad. Diluting the FOSS4G brand has to be a bad thing. How many of the big players will choose to come to the international event when they “know” everyone “important” is going to be at the North American event? However, from the perspective of raising cash for the foundation, perhaps it’s a good idea because it’s probably more commercially viable. I don’t know, but I kind of wish the idea hadn’t been brought up…

With my new directors hat on, I’m sure there’s going to be a lot more discussion about this, alongside the organisational changes necessitated by dissolving the Executive Director’s post. I’m not going to go into that at all, but I would just like to say that I think Tyler did a fantastic job for OSGeo, particularly on the international scene- here in the UK he “was” OSGeo and things won’t be the same without him.

Over to the AGI GeoCommunity event. Having been on the working group helping to organise the event this year, again I had a different perspective on things to normal. Being on the working group is quite easy in the run up to the event as the AGI team do most (nearly all) of the hard work. However, you’re expected to help with exciting things like bag packing, chairing streams, and generally being around and visible throughout the two days. No sleeping during not so interesting talks! Attendance was good in the end, after a rush of late registrations, the new venue (the East Midland Conference Centre at the University of Nottingham) was a big success, and in the end even the last minute substitution of two plenary speakers (for perfectly good reasons) didn’t upset things!

I chaired the session on Open Source and Open Data on day one, which included some really worthwhile papers. Standing out (a couple of weeks after the event) are Antony Tuffour’s paper on Open Source Software Stack and Standards- Integration and GI for Everyone- about introducing a FOSS web mapping system at the London Borough of Hackney, and Mark Iliffe’s talk on When Gov 2.0 doesn’t exist- Mapping Services in the Developing World. I’ve seen Mark’s talk a couple of times now and it’s always inspirational. All the papers are available on the AGI website, so go take a look.  The famous soapbox event in the evening was won by my new(ish) boss. His talk was in reaction to the great FUD debate from a few weeks ago, excellently shown up for the absurdity that it is at the time by Paul Ramsey, and again here. Catch the YouTube video while you can!

Other things of note include the relaunch of the Technical Special Interest Group again. It’s easy to be cynical about this, as even I have now been around the AGI long enough to have seen the previous attempt lose momentum and stall, but enthusiasm is everything, and there is a lot of interest in the group as a relatively neutral umbrella under which both proprietary and open source vendors can talk techy without the sales pitch. Look out for events towards the end of the year.

There was plenty of soul-searching at the AGI GeoComm as well as at FOSS4G. While the two organisations are quite different, the same basic questions come up around providing best value, what the organisation is actually for, and how best to retain sponsorship and income in difficult financial times. Let’s just hope everyone pulls through in the end…

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