GeoCommunity 2011 – 2 more days of Love, Peace and Maps, Pt 1

So another GeoCommunity has been and gone, the format has evolved, the new venue at Nottingham is a big improvement and I have to admit to a slight sense of paternal pride that successive conference teams bring fresh energy and ideas. This was my second year as a plain participant, well a presenter participant rather than an organiser or conference chair – no responsibilities, no worries, just the opportunity to sit back and enjoy which I certainly did.

Thanks to

Despite the cuts in the public sector and the pressures on the commercial participants, attendance held up very well and the mood of the delegates seemed to be pretty positive. About 450 delegates were here to talk geo, meet old friends and make new ones (hiya @markiliffe) learn stuff and enjoy parties, soapboxes, quizzes and of course the twitter backchannel.

Day one opened with a changed pair of plenary speakers as both of the advertised candidates had to drop out at short notice and what a great pair of standins we got, no second besters here! Cheryl Miller (on behalf of Sir Ian Magee, Chair of the GI Group) gave a confident and spirited presentation on the role of the GI panel in representing government as the customer of the PSMA in its relationship with Ordnance Survey. There was an almost audible gasp when the phrase “hold Ordnance Survey to account” appeared on a slide and the backchannel went into feverish overload with mental images of two geodames slugging it out.

Next up was Jamie Justham of Dotted Eyes who was talking about the creation of the new parliamentary constituency by the Boundary Commission. I was surprised that the team had chosen this for a plenary, I thought it was going to be a dry and rather geeky topic. Wrong, wrong, wrong! Jamie Justham’s almost schoolboy like enthusiasm for his subject combined with his almost encyclopaedic knowledge made this presentation absolutely rivetting. If Jamie ever gives up geo he could replace Peter Snow and the Swingometer. Dotted Eyes have released a dataset of the proposed boundaries as OpenData for anyone who wants to investigate and contribute to the consultation, well done guys.

The final keynote from Amanda Turner of ESRI UK (one of the Platinum Sponsors) was an interesting review of the challenges facing our community from a newcomer’s perspective. When she questioned the complex and varied language that we use to describe what we do (GIS, Geography, Location, Spatial, GI) I think many agreed with her.

A quick mention of the food at the East Midlands Conference Centre which was exceptionally good and a massive improvement on the old venue. Culinary delights at a geoconference – unheard of.

Collect all 6 stickers and win a prize

For a day and a half I had been stickering everything that moved in a guerilla marketing campaign for the launch of the OSM-GB project that I have been working on with CGS at Nottingham and 1Spatial. This was to ensure that I had a full room for my session on “How authoritative can the crowd be?” which mused on what constitutes authority in geodata and what might be done to increase trust and confidence in OSM to encourage public sector to use OSM, become contributors helping to increase coverage and attribution and identify use cases for an alternative (not a replacement) to other base maps. You can read my paper on the OSM-GB blog and the slide deck is here.

The response was very encouraging and you will be hearing more from me about this as we get our researcher in place and start.

I also did a soapbox that gave a quick preview of the project, slides are here if you want them. Day one finished with a superb presentation by Mark Iliffe, a PhD student at UoN who looks to have a great future. Mark talked about mapping in the slums of Africa, it was a massive reality check for many of the audience, he  was immensely quotable and my favourite was describing toilet trenches as “Open Defecation Areas with tag=’land use’ value=’shit'”. Not surprisingly he got one of the biggest rounds of applause at the end of it and subsequently won the delegates vote and award for the best paper at the conference.

The Soapbox has become an established feature at the end of day 1 of GeoCommunity. It is a combination of georant and geostandup comedy in 5 minute blurts to an autotimed slide deck. Not easy at the best of times but when the beer is flowing (courtesy of Star Apic) and the audience are barracking and throwing virtual rotten tomatoes via twitter this is a tough place to be. Not satisfied with standing up for OSM-GB I managed to be persuaded by Ken Field (who is now based at ESRI in California) to do a second transatlantic soapbox where he prepared the soapbox and I did the chat bit (unseen!). Stupid? Yes, but persuading Gary Gale to join me in a chaotic double act was the only smart thing I can claim about this fiasco. You can judge for yourself with a warning about the occasional profanity for those of a sensitive disposition.

Thanks to Ken for the slide deck and a great idea and a big thanks to Gary for standing up with me on this. The undoubted champion of this year’s soapbox following in the footsteps of previous winners Ian Painter and Thierry Gregorius was Mike Saunt of Astun Technology debunking some of the myths of Open Source Geo with a great surprise about 90 seconds into the video.

I particularly like the concept of the “software tax” I bet that Ian painter and others will be back soon to respond to Mike’s thoughts. I think he is spot on.

The least said about the evening’s festivities is probably the better, more food, a free bar, scalextric, a surfboard thing to fall off, loads of new people to meet and quite a bit of whisky.

24 hours later I am starting to feel the strain, so this will be Part 1 and some thoughts on the second day’s speakers and the overall event will follow in a couple of days (some proper work to be done tomorrow)


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