FOSS4G 2016 – the bar gets higher and higher


Apologies, there may be a bit of gushing in this post.

© Jurate Jablonskyte-6

Over 900 geogeeks party on a Rhine cruiser at FOSS4G

Last week the German Chapter of OSGeo hosted the annual FOSS4G event in Bonn. Each year the Local Organising Committee of FOSS4G wants to make their event the ‘Best FOSS4G Ever’, in 2013 the Nottingham team adopted that mantra as one of our hashtags on twitter. This year the Bonn team have really raised the bar and set an incredibly high standard for those that follow them.

So why am I singing their praises so much? Well first and foremost I had almost nothing to do with the organisation of the event so I could just be an attendee and enjoy the whole thing (apart from speaking a couple of times and chairing a committee meeting). Bonn was a perfect city for a FOSS4G, easy travel from within Europe, not too large, great public transport system which was free if you booked a hotel through the conference links, fantastic weather which definitely helps even if the LOC can’t claim the credit for that and of course the two main venues.

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The conference centre was the parliament building of Germany before reunification and the return to Berlin. It is a spectacular, open building full of curves and light. The plenary sessions and the largest stream of presentations were held in the main parliament chamber with speakers speaking from the podium where the politicians used to stand. I can tell you that standing to present in this historic building (and sitting in Chancellor Kohl’s massive chair) was a moving experience for most of the speakers old enough to remember.

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Wearing shorts in the Parliament chamber? It was super hot all week

The second venue was the BaseCamp where the codesprints were held and where quite a few of us were lucky enough to stay. The BaseCamp is an indoor caravan park with about 30 retro caravans and camper vans and an old railway sleeper carriage, when I was told about it I wondered whether it was for oldies like me – it absolutely was. The BaseCamp is a magical quirky hotel/hostel with plenty of space to support all of the codesprint teams, have a look around and see what I mean.

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Enough about the venue, on to the event. The conference agenda combines workshops, presentations and keynotes – in the past almost everything was developer focussed, that seems to have changed over time. The streamline was “Building bridges” and the agenda reflected a desire to connect with other communities (users, open data, other technologies). You can look at the Conference Programme to get an idea of the range of topics.

Inevitably there is discussion within the community about the costs of attending the event (delegate fee, travel, food etc) and whether they excluded some of those who we seek to reach. The LOC managed to find the most fantastic video team to film every single keynote and presentation (up to 8 simultaneous sessions) and live stream them. There were hundreds of people around the world logged on to the stream and it held up! Now you can view all of the presentations in the archive – that will keep you busy for a while.

A few personal thoughts on the programme

QGIS is the poster child of FOSS4G. Everyone knows about QGIS even if they don’t use it regularly. It now has about 120 developers contributing code on a regular basis (many are near to full time), 3 releases per year including a Long Term Release which is back supported for at least 12 months and a growing list of sponsors and supporters. There were a lot of QGIS presentations, what’s new, roadmap, teaching with, field data collection, use in humanitarian capacity building etc. Clearly the project has matured, version 3 will address the technical legacy accumulated over the last few years and set the foundation for the future. Watch the videos to get a better understanding.

I was keen to see what was happening with GeoNetwork, given my involvement with Astun in their enterprise metadata services. There was a triple session that covered what’s new, the roadmap and the potential for metadata to be the 6th V (for visibility) in Big Data

There was a session devoted to vector tiles – I thought it would be a good idea to get a bit more understanding of this neat technology and how you can use them to deliver OSM data and how to host it on your local machine/server.

The keynotes were of a very high standard with talks from Copernicus, The European Space Agency and Munich Re. What struck me was that organisations of this significance were presenting to FOSS4G, this is evidence of the widespread recognition and adoption of OSGeo software.

A final thought

FOSS4G is much more than the amazing software projects, it encourages innovation and novel ideas, like Ivan Sanchez’s new wacky project GeoHaiku (here at 30:15), it enables education and outreach and it is a heck of a lot of fun. Most important of all FOSS4G is a community of committed, friendly, kind, generous people who love maps, love technology and believe that they can make a difference by combining the two. I am proud and grateful to be part of that community.

Next year the global FOSS4G will move to Boston and I know they are going to raise the bar even higher.

If travel to Boston is a little too costly for you, there will be a FOSS4G Europe in Paris next year as well (details soon).