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)

The Weasley Clock and Google Latitude a mashup waiting to happen

In the UK there is a saying about waiting ages for a bus and then two come along at the same time. In the world of location based or context based computing it’s not exactly the case that there is little happening, but yesterday produced two interesting stories.

I had the pleasure on presenting at the AGI North Where2.0now event in Harrogate. It was a great event, but there was much joking from those who travelled from London and Southern England how far we had travelled.

Well now it’s possible to track exactly how far if you should choose too, as a Google Latitude user I can look at my history and see where I have travelled over a period of time.

As you would expect this is a service you need to opt in to, and by default your history will not be kept. But if you chose to store you history is makes a fascinating record of your travels here for example is my trip to Harrogate yesterday.


Tracking and storing you location is nothing new, John McKerrell has been doing so for a couple of years using his mapme.at service.

At the conference yesterday he showed the coolest piece of geo hardware seen since the Garmin GPS45, a location clock powered by mapme.at

If you have ever read any Harry Potter you will be familar with the idea of the Weasley Clock, a magical clock owned by the Weasley family which shows not the time but the location of members of the family and if they are in “Mortal Peril”.

Visit Johns blog to read how he has built a working Weasley clock using a Arduino kit, mapme.at and great imagination.

So cool !!

Written and submitted from my home (51.425N, 0.331W)

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 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)

Being Digital means being interactive.

Next week I will be joining a panel on the “value” of Location at Being-Digital ’09 at Centre Point in London.  The topic of course is an interesting one, but for me the event format is perhaps more notable.

bd-logo-square-mdBeing-Digital is a “conference without PowerPoint’s”, instead there are round-tables of industry experts discussing hot topics and short demos. The focus is much more on debate and discussion; both via traditional questions from the room and via SMS and Twitter feedback (Hashtag is #bde). 

This level of interaction is important and in not uncommon in broader web conferences especially those accross the pond, but it’s less common in the UK.

Hopefully the reinvigorated AGI GeoCommunity conference with its new Geoweb stream, will bring some of this different approach to the world of GI conferences.


Written and submitted from Teddington Swimming pool, using my home 3 UMTS modem.