geo

Cold thoughts on WhereCampEU

What a shame having missed last year’s WhereCamp. The first WhereCampEU, in London, was great and I really want to be part of such events more often.

WhereCampEU is the European version of this popular unconference about all things geo. It’s a nonplace where you meet geographers, geo-developers, geo-nerds, businesses, the “evil” presence of OrdnanceSurvey (brave, brave OS guys!), geo-services, etc.

I’d just like to write a couple of lines to thank everyone involved in the organisation of this great event: Chris Osborne, Gary Gale, John Fagan, Harry wood, Andy Allan, Tim Waters, Shaun McDonald, John Mckerrel, Chaitanya Kuber. Most of them were people I had actually been following on twitter for a while or whose blog are amongst the ones I read daily, some of them I had alread met in other meetups. However, it was nice to make eye-contact again or for the first time!

Some thoughts about the sessions I attended:

  • Chris Osborne‘s Data.gov.uk – Maps, data and democracy. Mr Geomob gave an interesting talk on democracy and open data. His trust in democracy and transparency is probably quintessentially British, as in Italy I wouldn’t be that sure about openness and transparency as examples of democratic involvement (e.g. the typical “everyone knows things that are not changeable even when a majority don’t like them“). The talk was indeed mind boggling especially about the impact of the heavy deployment of IT systems to facilitate public service tasks: supposed to increase the level of service and transparency of such services, they had a strong negative impact on the perceived service level (cost and time).
  • Gary Gale‘s Location, LB(M)S, Hype, Stealth Data and Stuff
    and Location & Privacy; from OMG! to WTF?. Albeit including the word “engineering” in his job title, Gary is very good at giving talks that make his audience think and feel involved. Two great talks on the value of privacy wrt location. How much would you think your privacy is worth? Apparently, the average person would sell all of his or her location data for £30; Gary managed to spark controversy amidst uncontroversial claims that “£30 for all your data is actually nothing” – a very funny moment (some people should rethink their sense of value, when talking about UK, or at least postpone philosophical arguments to the pub).
  • Cyclestreet‘s Martin Lucas-Smith‘s Cyclestreets Cycle Routing: a useful service developed by two very nice and inspired guys, providing cycling route maps over OpenStreetMaps. Their strenght is that the routes are calculated using rules that mimick what cyclists do (their motto being “For cyclists, By cyclists“). Being a community service, they tried (and partially managed) to receive funding by councils. An example of an alternative – but still viable – business model.
  • Steven Feldman‘s Without a business model we are all fcuk’d. Apart from the lovely title, whoever starts a talk saying “I love the Guardian and hate Rupert Murdoch” gains my unconditional appreciation :-) Steven gave an interesting talk on what I might define “viable business model detection techniques“. As in a “business surgery” he let some of the people in the audience (OrdnanceSurvey, cyclestreetmaps, etc…) analyze their own business and see weaknesses and strenghts. A hands-on workshop that I hope he’s going to repeat at other meetings.
  • OpenStreetMap: a Q&A session with a talk from Simone Cortesi (that I finally managed to meet in person) showing that OSM can be a viable and profitable business model. Even stressing that they are partially funded by Google.

Overall level of presentations: very very good, much better organised than I was expecting. Unfortunately I missed the second day, due to an untimely booked trip :-)

Maybe some more involvement from big players would be interesting. Debating face to face about their strategy, especially when the geo-community is (constructively) critical on them, would benefit everyone.

I mean, something slightly more exciting than a bunch of Google folks using a session to say “we are not that bad” :-)

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