So once again quiet Stratford-upon-Avon can return to tending to the needs of Shakespeare chasing tourists having survived an influx of almost the whole UK GIS industry attending last weeks AGI GeoCommunity Event. Under the direction of Steven Feldman this conference has continued to evolve always attempting to find ways to both sustain its core user base while also trying to develop new themes that would interest a wider audience.
This year of course the big news was the arrival of the Neogeographers accommodated in the “Geoweb” track organised by Christopher Osborne. The increased numbers attending GeoCommunity this year (an amazing feat when you consider the economy) are a direct result of the influx “non-professional’ users of Geospatial Information.
As to be expected this was much discussion of the appropriateness of labels, does “neo” or “paleo” really matter, are we not all geographers ? It was pleasing to see that below the surface there is much that is common between the two communities and plenty of opportunity for both old and new users to learn from each other. However there remains a clear distinction between the two communities not in terms of tools used or the number of words on each powerpoint/keynote slide, but in the fundamental approach to using Geospatial information.
The traditional GIS industry remains a technology focused niche characterised by relatively large centralised projects funded by government, while the new users of geospatial technology develop more user focused distributed projects fully exploiting the network effect on the web to create communities.
Perhaps the most useful way to view the neo/paleo debate is to look at the different approaches as two ends of a spectrum rather than two separate communities, both ends result in the creation of products and services that demonstrate the Value of Geography, and both approaches are valid.
I have used this analogy before but I think it works… think of the geospatial industry as a microcosm of the music industry, at one end there are the Operas of Mozart performed by huge choruses of highly trained singers and large well (often government funded) orchestras that perform to small select audiences at a few Opera Houses around the word. The other end, and a relatively recent development, are Rock and Pops bands of mass market appeal, often without formal training producing a music that has the power to impact the lives of hundreds of millions of fans.
It’s all Music !!
To get some sense of the activities and presentations visit http://www.GeoCommunityLive.com, a blogsite put together to host in near real time content from the conference, and the product of heroic contributions made by a number of “paleo” and “neo” geographers just hours before the conference started.. Pat on the back to John Fagan and Martin Daly !!
GeoCommunity this year was the first conference UK Geospatial conference to feature an active back channel on Twitter, which provided an amusing is not always comprehensive commentary to events..
Key developments from my perspective included the increasing influence of collaborative mapping, very few presentations failed to mention OpenStreetMap (OSM) in one way on another, Ordnance Survey actually paid OSM the ultimate compliment by introducing a competitive product their first for a few years in the form of OS Vector Map Local.
This was the first GeoCommunity following the publishing of the new OS strategy and the OS are clearly focused on Innovation now, in the same way a drowning man is focused of a lifejacket.
By far the most interesting and potentially most significant paper if its recommendations were to be adopted was the paper by Bob Barr and Christopher Roper calling for the creation of public funded “Core Geography” data sets including a single national address database and administrative boundaries.
They suggest the creation of such universally accessible data sets is key to the economic benefit of the UK, and would allow competition in the creation of other data sets including topographic mapping.
With the emergence of UKMap at least part of this is already happening.
Lets hope the advice been given to the UK government on the use of public sector data sets by Tim Berners-Lee and Nigel Shadbolt is influenced by this type of clear thinking.
Congratulations to Steven and the team for organising the conference, what a difference a year makes…
Written and submitted from the Qantas Lounge, Bangkok Airport (13.693N, 100.746E)