A tale of 2 crowds at 2 conferences

No expense spared on graphic design at these unconferences

An eventful week with both W3G “the unconference” and Everything Happens Somewhere (the National Land and Property Gazetteer Awards).

W3G at the newish Google Campus near Silicon Roundabout, was loosely themed around the question “Is Open the New Black”  and a lot of the talks (including mine) were about open data. The presentation of the day for me was Lawrence Penney (@lorp) talking about 1 dimensional maps (or strip maps) with an enormous, amazing collection of ancient and modern map images to illustrate his point that these simple representations (sometimes without any map graphics) were a highly effective way of communicating. With something like 280 slides in his deck, he had to break for lunch and then resume in an unscheduled after lunch session (the flexibility of an unconference). The  attendees were a cross section of the geocommunity, a while ago they might have been described as paleo and neo, but now I think we would just call them geogeeks.

At the end of the afternoon there was a panel discussion or as Gary calls them a fireside geochat. The topic that most interested me was around the long term sustainability of crowd sourced data particularly OSM. Several panellists suggested that even if there was a decline in the level of activity of individual contributors that passive crowdsourcing (contributions when you use services that sit on top of OSM such as navigation applications or checkins would continue to add to the map). I’m not sure, I wonder if it will take a more managed approach to process this kind of ambient information into useful map data or to target mappers to respond to change intelligence from passive sources. There is a discussion just starting to evolve within the OSM community (well at least the Foundation) about the role of companies within OSM, should they be members, can they have influence etc? I think that businesses who have a commercial interest in the ongoing success of OSM need to play a more active role in contributing to the infrastructure and also have a way of expressing their needs in terms of the scope and spec of the data. The OSM-GB project that we started at Nottingham University was prompted by some similar thoughts.This is a topic that you will hear a lot more about in the next year if you follow OSM developments.

If you haven’t been to one of these free AGI events before then you have missed out on some stimulating talks, some first sight of some new tech like the fabulous Recce app from eeGeo which renders detailed 3D mapping in a compelling games style environment and some crazy moments when Mark Iliffe talking about his Taarifa mapping project launches a helicopter aerial photography drone and flies it around the room. Big thanks to Gary Gale, Rollo Home, Ed Parsons and Ed Freyfogle for putting the event together.

Next day another event but very very different. Everything Happens Somewhere is GeoPlace’s annual gathering of local authority gazetteer managers at the Quaker Friends Meeting House in Euston (a weird venue for a conference). Pretty dry stuff you might think and there were a lot more ties in evidence than at W3G and the slides had more bullet points but gazetteers can engender quite a lot of passion amongst people whose job is to maintain them to exceptional degrees of accuracy and currency. There were a good number of common faces from the previous day’s unconference now getting down and dirty in the detail of addressing. When the open discussion kicked off, the hot topic was Royal Mail’s proposed PinPoint product, it seems that GeoPlace management and local government reps were as perplexed as I am at this needless competition in the addressing space.

I hadn’t thought that I was attending a crowdsourcing event until I listened to a session where the local government reps were calling out the quality achievements region by region. There are over 300 local authorities compiling a national gazetteer using a single data model, common data entry conventions and signing up to some highly challenging data quality standards for accuracy, completeness and currency. The national data set is being used by a lot of central government departments including DWP, Tell us Once, DEC, DfE, Electoral Registration etc. I know the circumstances are different and this is centrally managed by GeoPlace but I would have to describe this as Professional Crowdsourcing and very successful too. Of course there are issues regarding the openness of the data and relations with Royal Mail but I am sure they will eventually be resolved anyway those are for another day/post.

At W3G I may have coined a couple of new labels

To which I replied

Maybe the OSM discussions in the “hippy geo world” could learn something from the LPG Custodians in the “straight geo world” and long may the two continue to interact, I’m happy to have a foot in both camps.


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