Tuesday, 1 October 2013

The final one of the #Maptember ‘big three’ – FOSS4G

As I’m sure you all know FOSS4G was in the UK for the first time ever last week, taking place in Nottingham directly after GeoCommunity ’13. The conference itself lasted three days (19th – 21st September) but was preceded by two days of workshops and a hackathon. Unfortunately as these first days ran consecutively with GeoCom I wasn’t able to attend any of it so all I can say in review was that there seemed to be a lot of people happily coding away. Even if I had been able to go to the workshops I imagine they may have gone over my head a little anyway.

The main event kicked off with the icebreaker party on the Wednesday night straight after GeoCom ended (with a break of a few hours in which we frantically registered delegates). Due to back to back parties at the AGI conference I sadly left the icebreaker early but by all accounts it was a fun evening.

The serious business began the next morning with opening speeches from Jeff McKenna and Chris Tucker reviewing the state of OSGeo and looking at the Open sector in general. There was a lot of focus on the F in FOSS4G and whether it was now more realistic to talk about Freedom (from licensing) than just Free. This became somewhat of a continuing theme throughout the conference both in keynote’s and informally at the bar and perhaps signifies a growing to maturity of the Open community and the acknowledgement that just because something is non proprietary that doesn’t mean money will not be made from it in some way.

Anyway, business philosophy aside the main sessions of FOSS4G were extremely varied offering presentations ranging from the technical and detailed (mobile development, versioning guidelines) to higher level case studies (The Met Office’s Open Journey). Fortunately the organisers had helpfully marked up some sessions as being for newbie’s so I managed to enjoy the conference without feeling like a complete idiot. It even inspired me to download some software and have a go myself (results of my map mapping foray may me on the blog at a later date...).

One thing that looking across the conference programme trying to decide what to go to really brought home was the ubiquity of Geo Information. Now I realise that I was already aware of this to an extent and have even written a blog post about it but I had never really thought of GI as a potential tool for helping indigenous communities in the Amazon contest their land rights or a variety of other humanitarian applications. Similarly prior to GeoCom I had never really thought of GI as a tool for experimental scientific research (beyond simply mapping a hurricane or ice sheet loss).

Anyway again I digress but hopefully that gives some picture of how informative the conference was. One final piece to mention that follows on from my comments about the opening speakers is Esri’s presentation to FOSS4G. I understood that there can be a tension between the open and proprietary camps but it was only when someone described it as ‘Darth Vader presenting to the Ewoks’ that I realised that it was actually a pretty big deal that they had come out and presented to a very tough crowd. Again this seems to show a change in attitude and recognition that both open and proprietary solutions have their place in the market.

I realise this review isn’t as much of a review as I would like but if I had spent all week attending sessions and workshops I wouldn’t have been able to help register people and point the way to things. One amusing observation is that given it was an open source mapping conference an awful lot of delegates needed directions...

Anyway if anyone has the chance to attend more workshops and talks than I did and would like to post up their own review that would be most welcome and the same goes for GeoCom ’13 attendees.

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