A tale of two days in Stratford-upon-Avon

This evening I find myself in Dublin, Ireland looking at my glass of Kilkennys and reflecting on the past two days and the W3G and AGI Geocommunity events in Stratford upon Avon.

Is this glass half full or half empty, is the UK GI industry on the way up, or doomed to go the way of the CD-ROM encyclopedias ?

Depending on your attendance of the conferences in Stratford your answer to this question would be different. Attendees of the  W3G unconference on Tuesday would have experienced considerable energy, lively debate and optimism around the use of open data, free and open software and the potential of “neogeography” ( yes I know is just a label, but you all know what it means) There is huge potential to extend the use of geospatial information  in the UK efficiently and cheaply using the web platforms of today, and for people to create businesses around this new ecosystem.

This optimism survived all the way until about 11am today at the AGI Geocommunity conference and included the excellent upbeat presentation by Andy Hudson-Smith one of the few real innovators in the UK GI industry at the moment. ESRI UK’s presentation really turned optimism into despair once again introducing the tired old whinge that GIS should be a strategic necessity and central to how government works, but it is largely ignored by the powers that be…

Rather than learn the lessons of the last five years and concentrate on creating simple technological solutions that mean real user requirements quickly and cheaply, ESRI put the blame squarely on the GIS industry for not communicating the benefits of GIS and concentrating too much on complex technology.

Maybe somebody should buy Richard Waite, ESRI UK’s MD, a mirror ?

Talk about a contrast, the difference between the two days was extraordinary, and why  two separate days?

Last year the geomob stream brought much of the energy and frankly new people to the AGI event, this year most of the neogeo’s went home before the AGI conference started. This was a mistake, the future of the GI industry, if it is to have a future, is with the poeple who attended the w3g conference, the sooner the AGI realise this fundamental shift in the industry the better.

BTW when was the last time you attended a conference where you were told to Tweet responsibly and to be careful walking using your mobile device ? seriously..

Written and submitted from the Grand Canal Hotel, Dublin (53.338N, 6.237W)

18 Replies to “A tale of two days in Stratford-upon-Avon”

  1. I’m sorry I missed the conference this year – at least the #w3g. Particularly the discussions about the future of neogeography (given that it’s become the establishment now 🙂

    It is unfortunate to hear that there is a slide backwards of AGI – last year the conversations and presentations were compelling – GeoBingo poking good fun and valid criticism of schisms and the industry behaviour with the presentations themselves showing interesting innovation.

    The traditional GIS industry needs to get over itself and embrace evolution – realizing the value it has, but also how it fits into new paradigms and engagement models.

    Cheers to the Kilkenny

  2. Not invited to keynote this year then Ed? Beware the dog that bites the hand that feeds it.

    I hear ESRI UK have sack director of sales Mr Plews, you wanna through you hat back in the ring for what you always done best – sell shit.

  3. I didnt go this year. I sounds like that may of been a good move, it all sounds abit too predictable, GeoBingo and the aged debates about which technology is better for doing basically the same thing. The bottom line is clients want solutions that fit their problem, the “GIS” community confuse and spin what’s possible and get carried away and wonder why “its ignored”. In my experience people want to embrace is but it needs to done in an un-complicated way. From these types of conferences I want to come away feeling enthused and positive. It sounds like W3G would of achieved this.

  4. A fair summary of the energy difference between days one and two Ed.

    I think that the dread cloud of the CSR may have been hanging over the largely public sector community (suppliers and users) at GeoCommunity day 1.

    I very much hope that next year the W3G strand and energy is rehoused within the main conference

    If I thought before I tweeted I suppose that would be responsible but it would also be boring and pointless



  5. Ed

    Just to correct one fact – the reason for asking for responsible use of the wifi was to give more people to have chance to use it – NOT to restrict comment.

    Andrew T – Please be aware Ed’s view of the conference has to be set against a lot of very positive feedback.

    BTW – neither Steven or Ed were there for day 2.


  6. A few words about the event ‘separation’ and the tweeting etc., which you mention:

    1) The GeoWeb stream of 2009 attracted geomob/neogeos in terms of speakers not delegates. I have the records. AGI W3G attracted both. It also allowed an unconference format which has very well executed by Rollo Home and Gary Gale. It was an interesting project because the whole thing was intentionally publicised and arranged using social networking tools. This was an exciting new venture and one where AGI welcomed in these new people at not insignificant cost. I’m pleased you enjoyed it.

    2) Actually, both subject matter and speakers from the neogeo community were also found threaded right thorough AGI GeoCommunity over the following two days as well. You could argue that a lot of what would have been regarded as GeoWeb content last year was actually merged into the main programme rather than be ‘compartmentalised’.

    3) As for your comments on the messages about tweeting and mobile devices, unless I’m getting the wrong end of the stick, this was aimed at a) ensuring WiFi resources could best serve everyone well by not leaving sessions running when not in active use and b) being mindful to the noise of hammering at the keyboard and juggling around gadgetery during speakers presentations that could prove a distraction to those around you. It is no different to the calls made during a cinema or theatre presentation. There’s the old saying “manners maketh man”…

    4) In overall context, AGI needs to deliver its main annual conference that is mindful to the broad interests of members from a huge range of backgrounds and sectors. The neogeos are an important part of the picture but not all.

  7. I probably live within the ‘neo’ camp, and I was disappointed with the AGI. Many of the talks (I attended) were flat, and simply not very well disguised sales pitches, rather than talks that prompted discussion and interest. Only Ian Painter’s pitch on OpenData on the second day managed to save the event for me.
    There was a bias towards the public sector and as Steven said, the threat of the CSR would have been looming throughout, and that was evident.

  8. Every year I ask myself, why do I bother with AGI?, but every year I go back. I will be back in 2011 too. I can’t quite explain it, but it is a bit like business meetings or uni lectures you think you can skip but then learn the hard way that you can’t.

    You can never predict where the gems might appear at these events – but invariably they do. For example on Day 2 the Open Data keynote didn’t quite meet my (perhaps unfairly) high expectations, but instead I was really impressed by the Coal Authority’s talk (the Coal Authority!?) which deservedly ended up winning a prize because it wasn’t so much about the How but about the Where, What and Why… ie W3G.

    If I had one criticism of both AGI and neo-type events, it is that end users & customers are always under-represented, so both type of events end up being geo-enthusiast gatherings rather than meaningful industry events. But like I said, ignore them at your own peril.

  9. I was very surprised by the presentation by Richard Waite, I couldn’t help but think “we’ve been here before”, and he didn’t offer anything we didn’t already know: GIS is useful, but the people that need to know, don’t know. Excuse my french, but ‘No Shit Sherlock”.

    @Rob – I think there needed to be a Public Sector focus this year as the next 2-3 years for the industry are going to be heavily influenced by the impending spending review. Budgets will get tighter, and it is up to the public sector agencies and private companies to be workig closly together to provide the innovation and drive to promote GIS and develop services that deliver on more for less.

    Coming at this from a local government perspective I think the main challenges are on getting data consolidated, working harder and making it open. All of these can require assistance from the private sector and I think a few of the presentations (including Ian’s presentation on Open Data) allied to this.

  10. Continuing on as there seems to be a limit on the comments!

    I thought the AGI conference was very good, Chris and the team work incredibly hard to put on such a polished event, and should be applauded for their efforts.

    I’m slightly dissapointed to hear that the conference is moving to Nottingham for next year, being down on the South Coast, it is possibly going to be a bit too far to go to.

  11. I think those commenting negatively on Richard Waite’s keynote speech need to consider the following points:

    1) Yes, for a long time now the industry has been communicating the benefits of GIS by a number of routes and this has not been without success. That said we’ve also focussed quite inwardly at times on issues that have created friction and division and have made work in the ‘outside world’ much harder. In an earlier period of economic stability and growth that didn’t really matter quite as much as it does today when after a major downturn, the problems we all face are extremely significant and much bigger. I believe it is the current circumstances and challenges that led to Richard’s call to action.

    2) We must also realise our political masters change frequently even in a long-lived government, Ordnance Survey ministers, for example, have changed frequently over the last decade. Establishing the highest level recognition for the benefits of GI/GIS is a constant, never ending exercise. Just because we in the geocommunity know the benefits doesn’t mean those outside do, or even stick around when they do. The current state of the nation’s finances mean that more than ever geospatial data and technology has a role to play in delivering ‘more for less’ and supporting economic growth. The fact that we can and should all help with articulating that message and that was one of Richard’s fundamental points.

    2) Whilst many in the audience, as time-served members of the geocommunity, may have been conversant with the logic of Richard’s clarion call – not everyone in the room was. I know, for example, we had some important figures from government who were at the conference for the first time. They were not from a geospatial background, yet have a role to play in fostering the better use and innovation of GI/GIS. Afterwards they felt Richard’s points were very convincingly made.

    3) Richard made his point about solutions being more important than technology when effectively communicating the benefits of GI/GIS. Again as industry insiders we can all say that’s a given, but saying it is easier than sticking to it in practice, especially if we work in the industry and HAVE to know our products well. Cool tech and functions can sometimes be solutions looking for a problem and if we work closely with tech it is easy to forget that a non-specialist user may not care about functionality; switch off and certainly not grasp the positive likely outcomes that could be achieved. I think Richard wanted us to watch out for that trap we can fall into.

    Later on I saw some tweeted criticism of the mapping examples used by Prof. Nigel Shadbolt – the ‘we’ve seen it all before’ type comments. Remember this, Nigel Shadbolt is not focussing on doing the rounds of geospatial conferences, he is communicating to the wider world including government. In being focussed on data transparency at the top of government thank goodness he values location! Plus would you honestly expect him not to be using the classic (and thus in some eyes predictable) examples of the effective use of geographic information? No, I thought not…

    In the current climate I think that the geocommunity should be pleased that influential and senior figures are keen to drive forward the benefits of GI/GIS. Even more so that they see us all having a role to play in getting the message out about the benefits of what we work with.

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