The return of #W3G the unconference

For the 2nd year AGI’s GeoCommunity kicked off with an informal preconference unconference day, W3G. I had a lot of fun at this event last year but this one topped it.

Jonathan Raper starts W3G. Why do they call him the Mad Professor?

The morning started with a small panic as @MadProf (aka Jonathan Raper) had not appeared by 9.45, Gary Gale and Rollo Home are starting to reorganise the schedule when Jonathan strolls in wearing full evening dress and muttering about people thinking he was on his way home on the tube at 4.45 this morning. The guy has style (or a busy social life and an appointment at a black tie dinner in the evening).

Jonathan started off the day with an outstanding overview of the current state of the Open Data movement in the UK laced with humour (almost obligatory at an unconference) and laden with outrageous quotes including “we are a nation of data huggers”, “I’ve burnt my academic career”, “I’m not a complete raving lunatic” and “Boris Johnson has his own lexicon he described TfL is a Hittite sect” and more. Hopefully you can get the flavour from the tweetdoc.

After people had recovered from the early morning shock jock of OpenData we moved into the unconference sessions. To be honest I think a few people had cheated and prepared quite intensively for these “unplanned” sessions.

The room I was in featured Rich Rombouts of Snowflake talking about areoGML or something like that. It was witty, technical stuff about the use of XML schemas within flight control with lots of side jokes about French ATC being on strike lightening a serious talk. At the end there was an interesting conversation about why we and the aviation industry still consider paper charts to be an essential safety backstop (it could be because computers fail and rebooting an aircraft might not be a good idea, aerogeeks will pile in here “you don’t know what your talking about” – of course I don’t , that’s why I trust paper). Last year Rich had one of the best slides of the day with porn and cheese (don’t ask, I can’t remember) and he may have bettered that with this year’s gem simulating a heads up display incorporating aeroGML:

Woops, I think we need to change runways

Brian Norman followed up with a brilliant talk about building cross platform mobile web applications. This was really simple advice, well presented. It’s amazing how much you can learn in 20 or 30 minutes.

Finally Ed Boiling came on talking about talking about Dinosaurs, Concorde and web interfaces. You have to love a presenter who works for ESRI and opens by saying that “I bat for the dinosaurs”. This was a really well thought through talk about the perils of trying to replicate familiar desktop interfaces in web applications, you had to be there to understand how Concorde and the space shuttle got in there.

For me the event had kicked off the night before hand with a long overdue catch up dinner with Gary Gale, who has created this event and placed his unique humorous and insightful stamp upon it. I somehow allowed myself to be talked into to dropping the short talk I had prepped and sprinting through my History of Web Mapping in 40 minutes after lunch. When part way through my drastically abbreviated talk I suggested that the MapInfo and ESRI had missed a massive opportunity before Google launched their Maps API and subsequently added that some people’s business models had gone down the toilet, Andy Coote (formerly a director of ESRI UK) leapt up to argue with me that I was talking rubbish. I like a bit of controversy and at least he was listening, anyway I still think those were fair comments.

All in all a great day that finished up with a fireside chat (without the fire) between Gary, Ed Boiling, Matt Toon and me about whether geo was a business or a feature and the convergence of enterprise and consumer mapping.

One moan from me, this was a free day, full of great content (ignoring my bit) with excellent food and geobeers. Why oh why geopeeps weren’t there more of you there? Maybe next year?

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