FOSS4G – it’s getting better all the time


FOSS4G just gets better and better, perhaps it’s the delight of being on a geobusman’s holiday rather than being the conference chair?

I’d been in conversation with Michael Terner and Guido Stein, the co-chairs of FOSS4G 2017, for over a year in my role as a past chair and member of the OSGeo Conference Committee. I know how much passion and effort they and their team put into bringing FOSS4G to Boston, their vision and attention to detail paid off in spades with the largest FOSS4G ever.

So where do I start in describing this feast of open source  geo to folk who weren’t there and may never have attended a FOSS4G? Here is a snapshot of my personal experience punctuated with some tweets that give a flavour of the event.

Before the event I had helped to organise the FOSS4G Travel Grant Programme. I wrote about “Paying it Forward” before the event, with support from OSGeo sponsors, a generous donor and a big crowdfunding campaign we were able to bring 10 people from all over the world to Boston. What an amazing pleasure to meet these people, hear their stories and know that we had done something good that would ripple through their lives and impact the communities that they would return to. We also did a tiny bit to promote diversity which is definitely an ongoing topic for OSGeo and most of the tech world. I’ll post some more on the grantees experiences in a few weeks time once they have written back to me.

If you missed all the noise about the TGP for 2018, we are trying to raise $50,000 to really make a difference next year and support a lot of people coming to FOSS4G who wouldn’t otherwise be able to make it, you can (and should) chip in here.

Monday was spent working with Marc Vloemans on our Sales and Marketing 101 workshop and familiarising ourselves with Boston, a very cool city, and finding the conference venue.

And meeting up with old friends that I hadn’t seen for a while.

Tuesday was workshop day. An early start to get a stack of donuts to energise our delegates and we are off.

The workshop seems to “work” well and the feedback has been very positive so I am planning to run the workshop again in London (and anywhere else that wants me), you can read my write up on S&M101 and view the slides

Tuesday night brought the first party of FOSS4G, loads of friends all gathered together including Vasile and Maria who both told me that they would be submitting proposals for Bucharest and Seville respectively to host FOSS4G 2019. We haven’t even kicked off the main conference and the competition is on for 2 years time!

Wednesday morning and the main event opens, Michael Terner in his welcome, remarks that it is 25 months since they started writing their proposal to host FOSS4G. Why would anyone do this?

The quick summary of sessions I attended

  • Paul Ramsey is a superb speaker, his keynote “Why we code” is a must watch when the videos are uploaded. You can view the slides here
  • “Wikipedia maps” was a session about how data from wikipedia and OSM can be merged to provide better multi-lingual labelling, some smart stuff going on. Worth checking out.
  • “Breaking up is easy to do” was a pretty regular case study from a small not for profit but articulated the ease and savings of migrating from ArcGIS to QGIS – sadly the NFP had no policy to contribute back some of their savings to the QGIS project
  • “What’s up with diversity?” by Maria Arias de Reyna was one of the only talks on diversity (that I have heard) that did not turn into an anguished wail. I encourage you to look out for the video when posted, if not for the important content then for her amazing slide decks

  • “Making money & building a business with open source” was a panel discussion. Not very customer focussed but there was one great line that I am sure I will borrow to use in a presentation

“Users may come to open source for the wrong reasons, we hope they will stay for the right reasons”

  • “Google Earth Enterprise goes open source”  Ed Parsons gave a fascinating explanation of how Google acquired Keyhole, why they went enterprise and why they stopped. And he had a great slide about enterprise sales people!

  • “The Utility of beautiful geovisualisations” by Laura Tatesosian demonstrated some amazing techniques for visualising massive multivariate datasets (heat mappers eat your hearts out), one for the cartographers
  • “Critical Cartography” – Mathew Cloyd – maps and algorithms have bias (even when we think they are objective) some great examples – this was thought provoking and one of the best talks I attended – look out for the video
  • “Non cartographic visualisations of geographic data”  by Andrew Turner. Esri have developed an open source library called Cedar which incorporates Vega  – incredible potential for custom charts plus an enormous library of out the box stuff – if you have apps that need charts you should look at this. It’s good to see a company like Esri, who are often demonised within the open source community (unfairly IMO), making a commitment to open source and sharing something really useful.
  • “Free Software: Freedom, Privacy, Sovereignty” was the afternoon keynote by Richard Stallman, the founder of the Free Software Foundation and the/a developer of GNU Project. This wasn’t my cup of tea but the purists seemed to enjoy it, all 90 minutes of it!

Stallman had a great, great quote

  • “State of QGIS” was the annual round up of new features and plans for QGIS. There will be masses of goodies in QGIS 3, better, faster, more stable, watch the video as soon as it is up.
  • “Towards an improved metadata management in QGIS: Vision and Roadmap” by Joana Simoes, GeoCat – exciting stuff coming integrating metadata across QGIS and GeoNetwork. One for the metadata geeks to watch. On which note my favourite metadata slide

  • Lastly, a highlight for me was presenting my riff on “#FAKEMAPS, very dishonest” to a packed room. I’ve written about that and posted the slides here. There is a chance that I will do this talk again in London before the end of the year.

If there was a prize for the best bit of conference swag, I modestly think it would have been a run-off between my #FAKEMAPS badges & stickers and the awesome painting by numbers map T shirts from Boundless. Let’s call it a tie.

The conference finished with a closing plenary and the now traditional handing over of the FOSS4G torch to the organising team of the next FOSS4G. Next year FOSS4G will be in Dar es Salaam. Mark Iliffe (who was on the Nottingham FOSS4G team) and Msilikale Msilanga gave an emotional and inspiring introduction to the Geo Savannah as they called it

Msilikale’s English was better than Mark’s Swahili but no doubt Mark will improve by next year.

On Saturday I helped at the code sprint tightening up messaging and text on the new OSGeo web site and added OSGeo:UK. I got a very prized T shirt 🙂

This was the best FOSS4G yet for people like me who don’t write code, there was a mass of stuff about what people are doing with open source geo, community building and, of course, t shirts.

The best thing about FOSS4G is the friendship, the sense of community. You meet up with old friends from around the world, you make new friends, you learn stuff, you bicker a bit, there’s a lot of banter – it really does feel like a giant geo-family. If you haven’t been to a FOSS4G you should try it.

And that feels like a good place to leave it with another music video. Sit back and enjoy, you deserve it if you have made it to the end of this post!