AGI Thoughts

GeoCommunity – A transfusion of ideas !

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, 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)

5 replies on “GeoCommunity – A transfusion of ideas !”

“the OS are clearly focused on Innovation now, in the same way a drowning man is focused of a lifejacket” – like it!

Enjoyed the presentation at GeoCommunity Ed, thanks for lifting the mood and setting up the most feeble, stuttering ‘response’ I have ever seen the OS produce.

Shame the discussion couldn’t have been better managed as I think the topic warranted much further exploration -a bit of a cop out in my view. In particular Peter ter Haar’s bizarre attempt to define derived data in 30 seconds as a matter of ‘not copying features directly’ seemed somewhat at odds with your ‘incompatibe licensing terms’ for point features captured against M/Map.

I await the promised ‘clarification’ of derived data definitions with interest…

Thanks Ed

You could expand the music industry analogy to include the arrival of new delivery channels that have radically altered the business models of the established parties (artists and record labels) and lead to the growth of independents and self publishing.

Maybe as Simon Doyle suggested (or hinted anyway) this GeoCommunity was our Woodstock moment.

Good to go out on a high, looking forward to be a delegate next year (even if I have to pay for the privilege)


Very thoughtful post Ed. I like your analogy to the music industry. I am also interested to hear about evolving competition to Ordnance Survey in the UK. I wonder whether we will see Ordnance Survey become more creative in the packaging and distribution of geospatial data in response to new competition?

Sorry if I sound like a broken record 😉 in any of this…

The music industry is a good analogy to choose as this is where “mashup” came from – putting the vocals from one track over the backing (instrumental) of another. Sometimes this worked, other times it didn’t – a bit like GIS mashups.

More importantly though, I don’t recall music ever being used as the basis for serious decision making and this is where the analogy falls down. Music doesn’t have to be accurate, up-to-date, validated, etc. “1999” by Prince can still be played today, but 1999 spatial data is no good if it’s out of date and you need current data.

Mashing up GIS data from different times or with different accuracy is likely to producing misleading information. Good data + bad data = bad data? Even GIS professionals don’t get it right all of the time so how do non-GIS professionals manage the subtleties of spatial data (or any data for that matter)?

The role of the GIS professional is not to lock everything away, but ensure that good data is presented appropriately to enable people to make good decisions. Did you update your foot and mouth protection zone Google map as the area changed? If yes, what was the time lag between the zone change and you publishing the update?

On Google Maps, what date was each map and aerial photography layer/tile last updated? Can I click on a location to find out? If not, the only way I can get an idea is if I can see something I know is wrong. Even if a map layer was updated on a particular date, that doesn’t mean the map publisher knew about all the changes on the ground and edited the map accordingly. Subtleties.

If Joe or Jane Bloggs has recorded the locations of recycling bins, I have no way of knowing how accurately he or she has done it (e.g. was their GPS configured badly?). They may not even tell me when they did it (publish date doesn’t equal data date). Official organisations are not necessarily going to be any better but they have a responsibility to be. Joe and Jane are just doing me a favour. If Joe and Jane record the locations of recycling bins, why not send that to their local authority, instead of publishing it themselves?

I think I’ve wittered on enough for now!

PS nice to see you’ve dropped the “tard” bit of “paleotard”. That’s one bridge built 🙂

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