FOSS4G 2013 Conference


Well, that was good.

September this year was Maptember with numerous conferences with a geographical flavour taking place in the East Midlands. The undoubted highlight for me was FOSS4G 2013, the annual conference for OSGeo which travels around the world, this year it was conveniently in Nottingham, so I was able to make it along relatively easily. FOSS4G is Free and Open Source Software for GIS and as such the conference is a good mix of open-source technology and geography.

As I will be spending some time this month writing a book chapter on open source GIS, the conference was an unmissable event for me, even though a clash with another conference (ECCS) abroad meant logistics were tricky – in the end, a 6am wakeup call necessitated and lots of freshly ground coffee (very big thumbs up to the conference for that – a first) helped me out.

Just over 800 people attended the conference and there were up to 9 parallel streams. With many talks sounding very interesting it was often hard to pick a track to follow, not least as there was a 10 minute walk between the two main conference venues. I had brought my bike up from London, which helped.

Highlights of the conference for me were:

  • A keynote by Ben Hennig of Worldmapper fame on the need for the Open Source geospatial software community to remember about the cartography – the gist being just because you have the tools to map, doesn’t always mean you jump straight in without thinking about the better picture.
  • IMG_4959Keynotes by the two top sponsors at the conference – the Ordnance Survey and the Met Office. Both sponsors knew who they were talking to, and pitched the technical level appropriately. At both organisations, the open source ecosystem is pushing in from the sides and slowly becoming a core asset. Both also have large open datasets ready for crunching in your open source GIS of choice.
  • QGIS 2. This was launched at the conference. I’ve always been a fan of this open source GIS in particular (there are others available, including the venerable GRASS, uDIG etc), in no short part because of its excellent integration with PostGIS, that it works well on the Mac and that it is extendable and drivable with Python. Also, excitingly for the project in the longer time, the developer time and effort has ramped up recently – it’s reassuring to be using an open source application with a large and enthusiastic team beside it. Also – it’s not called Quantum anymore, although it’s going to take me a while to stop accidentally still calling it that.
  • OpenLayers 3. The first beta of this was also launched at the conference. I have long been a fan on OpenLayers, having regarded it as a richer and more powerful web mapping API than the Google Maps API, and have used its vector styling capabilities extensively. However, it has somewhat had its lunch stolen from it by Leaflet and by Google Maps continuously innovating, so it was due a rewrite – and OpenLayers 3 looks to be that rewrite!
  • IMG_4956PostGIS/PostgreSQL. There were a number of PostGIS talks, almost all of which were massively oversubscribed – not sure why they were in one of the smallest venues – one even got a representation later! PostGIS is another enormously impressive bit of open source technology, and the rapid-fire demonstration of what was new made me realise I really need to move forward and update my old version! (& do more cool stuff with it.)
  • The final talk before the closing session was by a tech person at ESRI. He had an awful lot to say in 20 minutes, and consequently overran, but had numerous interesting things to say on JavaScript geo libraries, many of which he lamented hadn’t been covered much (or at all) in the conference – I agree, but the conference did have to pare down nearly 400 submissions to under 200 at the event – such as TopoJSON, Node JS, JS Topology Suite, Shapefile.js, or D3. He did bash QGIS a bit which didn’t go down very well, but to be fair some of the QGIS talks had previously bashed ESRI a lot, which wasn’t called for… Good for ESRI for making the effort to come, even if (or indeed because) QGIS is rapidly becoming a serious competitor.
  • The conference food – it was excellent.
  • Catching up with a bunch of people in the community, not just the OSMers – e.g. Rollo (OS), Addy (Edina), Andy, Ben. Andy showed me some new OpenStreetMap renderings which use some advanced cartographic techniques in Mapnik and look great. Mapnik was another topic that I missed from the conference.
  • Evening tour of Nottingham by SK53 (actually just the leg from the curry house to the Ye Olde Trip To Jerusalem, but we went an interesting way.) SK53 has also written up in detail a blog post based in part on a comment I made!
  • IMG_4944The CASA iPad Wall (which was the other reason I was there) was showing, Ken Burns style, the various submissions to the map competition. In the end, the wall pretty much ran itself, thanks to careful stewardship by the Ordnance Survey who had requested it, and some high quality code that had been written for the display. Interestingly, Wired covered the conference, and focused on the iPad Wall, which really was quite a minor, albeit cool, part of the conference.
  • Winning a green glass globe paperweight for my submission to the aforementioned competition, namely the global version of my Bike Share Map – “Best Web Map”. This was completely unexpected, indeed I was already on a train back to London, having left just before the announcement, and found out through Twitter. “Singing” legend Gregory is, I hope, keeping careful stewardship of the globe and I will grab it in due course.

There’s a lot I didn’t get to see – Cartopy/Iris, more CartoDB, plus lots of interesting sounding papers presented on the integrated academic track.

This could have been the best conference I’ve ever been to. Ever. Well done to the organising team – I know they worked incredibly hard to deliver, but it was very definitely worth it.

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High quality lithographic prints of London data, designed by Oliver O'Brien

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