Conferences OpenStreetMap

State of the Map 2009 Review


Just back from StateOfTheMap, the OpenStreetMap community’s international conference. I missed the first two conferences but made it along to this year’s in Amsterdam. I skipped the “business day” on Friday and joined the conference for the Saturday and Sunday, when it reverts to being a community conference.

My favourite talks were:

  • Andy Allan showing off some advance cartographic techniques that make “other” maps beautiful and how we could apply them to OpenStreetMap’s default renders.
  • Muki Haklay’s talk on measuring data quality and completeness – turning the “unknown unknowns” into “known unknowns” is something that is becoming increasingly important as the community starts to “market” its data to a wider audience.
  • Mike Miguski’s Walking Papers was very well received and is a brilliant way to make mapping POIs and simple areas easier, without using a GPS. He also showed off some of the lovely looking Stamen map designs.
  • Richard Fairhurst’s lightning talk on Potlatch. Some people might have tried Potlatch a year back, thought “urgh” and gone back to JOSM, but the editor has come a long way recently. Version 1.1, released last week, allows drag-and-drop placement of POIs. Version 2.0 is also on the roadmap and promises a closer look to the Mapnik “default render”.
  • The “State of Japan” talk, while not revealing anything particularly innovative, was very funny and well presented – a simple “nice picture, map before, map after” sequence of slides for each of several shrines and castles in the country. The mapping is very high quality too and shows that OpenStreetMap is more about streets. As an aside, there seems to be a bit of an international “contest” to get the most detailed zoo mapped on OSM at the moment. Amsterdam’s zoo has the individual cages on it, as do several others. London’s is way behind, don’t even have the perimeter on yet.
  • Some of the international lightning talks, from people who had won scholarships from far-off places to come to the conference, were great. I particularly liked Abdel Hassan’s talk about OpenStreetMap in Cairo. GPS receivers have only been legal in Egypt since March!
  • Jorgen Topf’s primer on “proper” GIS and using OpenStreetMap data with it. A topic which the OSM community needs to know more about! It was only the tip of the iceberg, although there’s only so much you can say in 15 minutes.
  • Martin Lucas-Smith’s CycleStreets – attractive looking solution and with a good routing engine that will only get better as the data gets more complete.
  • There was a talk on browser-based rendering of OSM data, which looked pretty exciting.

It was also interesting, for me, to be able to compare with the OSGIS UK conference I also went to, last month.

What I liked more about StateOfTheMap was:

  • This was far and away the most social conference I’ve ever been to. Admittedly already knowing quite a few of the delegates, thanks to UK mapping parties and the London mapping marathon pub trips, helped break the ice, as did being in a city like Amsterdam which naturally lends itself to post-conference relaxing at a canal-side venue. Being stuck in a Travelodge on the edge of a town in the Midlands, or in a modern university campus when the students aren’t around, is never going to have the same opportunities.
  • The full-scale use of technology – not really surprising for a conference by a technology community of course, but it was good to see it being used well, e.g. the Twitter Wall on one of the big TV screens.
  • The conference venue was really nice! New, bright, colourful, with a view of the city. Very Web 2.0. The food and drinks were also excellent. The catering staff even got invited onto the stage at the closing session to be thanked for their good work.

What I liked about OSGIS UK more was:

  • The talks were more consistently high quality. SoTM’s talks were very variable in quality, some of them needed hooking off the stage with a walking stick!
  • All the speakers turned up to speak. Sounds obvious really, but at least two of the SoTM talks were skipped due to speakers not being present. Particularly disappointing was that one of them was the talk I was most looking forward to (about Processing.)

Noticeable about both conferences was:

  • More people than I expected from the big commercial players in the field, despite them in some ways being “rivals” to the concept of open source and OpenStreetMap.
  • Presentations were always short – never longer than 30 minutes and frequently never longer than 15 minutes (or 10 minutes in the case of the “State of Country X” talks, or even 5 minutes for the lightning talks). Even the keynotes were short. This is, by the way, a Good Thing.