GeoCommunity 08 – the Chairman’s Cut

Well AGI GeoCommunity is over for another year leaving me both relieved and disappointed. A lot of people work and worry very hard to get the conference together and to make things run smoothly throughout the event (e.g. the moment when one of our hotels phones up on Monday to say they had double booked a number of rooms!) So when it is over there is an almighty phewwwww but also a sense of realisation that it was great fun and it is a long wait for the next one.

I was going to write about the content and the keynotes but that has been done very eloquently by the professionals at APB and Vector1 and here so I am going to focus on my personal overview of the event and why I think it was a success. But before I do I want to recognise that not all of the comments that people have blogged since the conference closed are overwhelmingly positive, here is a list of the links that I know of, no doubt other will add more links via comments:!7D3454CCB58F20E3!129.entry

My view

The GI industry in the UK is a mature community that is adapting (like many others) to some massive change brought about by technology and societal change. They are not as Ed Parsons has suggested “Paleotards” or the “Association of Empire Telegraph Operators” instead they are people who work with geo-information and systems on a daily basis supporting important and sometimes vital services such as urban planning and management, emergency services, flood defence and risk reduction, crime analysis, emargency planning and disaster response and (whether we like them being there or not) our soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan – not quite as exciting as a buddy finder or personal tracking application on an iPhone I guess. The community is taking on board the immense opportunities that Google and others have opened up and are seriously debating how they can become part of their mainstream activities. Those who are surfing the wave of cutting edge may bemoan the fact that some of us are only just coming to grips with the basics of geotagging but I would suggest that the achievement of the conference and of our Geocommunity is that we are getting to grips with this stuff and not fighting it or ignoring it. 

Enough of the debate between the traditional and new communities. Let me summarise some of the conclusions that I drew from the conference. 

  • Not withstanding a bit of sniping from a few neo geo-luminaries there was a real sense that a community is developing that wants to learn from each other, engage in discussion and debate and reach out to the wider world.
  • INSPIRE implementation is gathering pace. It represents a challenge for many public sector organisations but the initial resistance in some quarters seems to have been overcome and there was massive interest in this stream with the room overflowing. This is very paleo I know but it happens to be important.
  • There was a strong attendance at all of the sessions that had a neo theme. The fact that the GeoCommunity may be a bit behind the early adopters does not diminish their interest or enthusiasm to embrace cloud and crowd. I would hazard a guess that it won’t be long before we start to see crowd sourcing being used by government as a means of building new data sets and encouraging participation in policy forming discussion.
  • The term “place” is starting to evolve. I think we are going to need some form of fuzzy geography to allow a more individual definition of place and locality. I was impressed by the CLG presentaion on their Places Database there is a long way to go but this site provides a framework for drawing together information from across government that relates to place without neccessarily having a geotag.
  • Most of the presentations were about what people are or could  be doing with GI, the Geoweb or whatever you wish to call it rather that how they are doing it (the technology track of former years has gone). That for me is enormously exciting.
  • As a number of speakers pointed out Google et al have made 100s of millions of people map savvy. Devices are increasingly becoming GPS enabled or location aware. The opportunities are unlimited, we just have to use our imagination and go for it. Exciting times and the UK GeoCommunity can be at the heart of it.

600 people attended this year’s conference an increase of 20% which is impressive when you consider the current economic climate and tight budgets in public and private sector. I haven’t had a chance to analyse the delegate list yet but based on the many conversations that I had I would guess that the majority of the new delegates came from the traditional community rather than the neo. Could be that the content just doesn’t appeal to the neo community or it could be that there just aren’t that many of them in the real world. That said there were quite a few more than last year so we must be getting something right, I wonder what the trend will be next year.

Mark Bishop’s (I was his manager before I left MapInfo) presentation “The hype of Web 2.0” was voted the Best Paper by the delegates. Despite the title this was not an anti neo-geo or Web 2.0 paper, it did show less “at the edge” delegates how the web was changing and how a traditional comapny serving a very traditional market (Local Government) was adopting these new concepts. And why did the delegates choose it above the other presentations? Because Mark is a bloody good presenter and the presentation was lively and entertaining – not because they are luddites.

My favourite quotes

People can think we know more than we do because of the elegance of the visualisation.

Charlie Pattinson, Environment Agency CIO on 3D visuallisations

We are the last generation who will ever know it means to be lost

Sean Phelan, Multimap Founder

Best case – things are going to get worse. Worst case – things are going to get a lot worse.

Charlie Pattinson, Environment Agency CIO on areas predicted to be at risk of flood in 2080