Picked Up Pieces That Have Settled Out Since the FOSS4G North America Conference

By Michael Terner (@mt_AppGeo), Executive Vice President

Here in Boston, we are privileged to have some of the greatest sports writing in the country on the pages of the Boston Globe. This blog is written in the style of, and in homage to both Dan Shaughnessy’s (@Dan_Shaughnessy) “Picked Up Pieces While…” columns, and Bob Ryan’s (@GlobeBobRyan) “Cleaning Out the Desk Drawer of my Mind…” columns. Here is a recent example from Shaughnessy.

  • The second-annual Free and Open Source Software for Geospatial (FOSS4G) North American conference, aka FOSS4GNA, was held in Minneapolis, Minnesota, in late May. After many bitten fingernails from the host committee, the conference drew almost 400 people as the notoriously late-registering “open source crew” came through over the final three weeks leading up to the event. This very respectable attendance came in spite of two significant hurdles. First, unlike the initial FOSS4GNA conference last year in Washington, D.C., there was almost zero attendance from Federal employees due to the sequester and associated travel restrictions.  Second, and unlike last year (when the international conference scheduled for Beijing was cancelled) there will be an international FOSS4G conference in Nottingham, England in September, and undoubtedly some had to choose between the two events. The success of the Minneapolis show fully validates the health of this community and the ability of this continent to support its own FOSS4G gathering.  
  • Next year, North America is slated to host the 2014 international FOSS4G event, which should have no problem exceeding the 2013 North America- only attendance figure. After heady competition with Washington, D.C., OSGeo recently announced that Portland, Oregon won the bid to host the international FOSS4G conference. This leaves open two questions:
    • Will this year’s international conference in England outdraw the Minneapolis show, and if so, by how much?
    • Where will FOSS4GNA 2015 be held, and how many people will come?

  • More than one person said/tweeted that this conference reminded them of the “energy and feel of a mid-1990s Esri user conference.” Having attended many of those 1990s shows, I strongly agree with those sentiments. Palpable energy. A show that feels like community and presents what the community (i.e., attendees) wants to hear.
  • The FOSS4GNA conference continues to show some growing pains, and there was a noticeable dichotomy between the developers and techies who started these gatherings, and the “new users” and businesses that are increasingly adopting the open source tool sets. To these eyes, the sandbox is big enough for all comers to play, and the program had plenty to offer for both communities. There were many deeply technical talks about coding and many excellent case studies of how FOSS4G tools are being used to solve real-world problems.
  • I couldn’t help but notice that the Esri guys looked a little lonely in their booth, but props to the firm for signing up as a conference sponsor. I greatly respected Esri’s Andrew Turner (@ajturner) for courteously and patiently talking through “issues” with a semi-irate customer who was venting at him.
  • There was a noticeable increase in the number local government participants over years past. Some kicking the tires on the new technology; others more firmly committed to the hybrid world and sharing their positive experiences.
  • All four keynote speeches were out of this world and by far the best I’d seen at a conference in years. Erek Dyskant (@edyskant) explaining the fascinating story of the 2012 Obama campaign’s use of FOSS4G driven geospatial tools to their advantage. Paul Morin of the Polar Geospatial Center (@polargeospatial) describing his geospatial polar research and the unique challenges of those latitudes. Eric Gundersen (@ericg) leaving no doubt why MapBox is rocking it: energy + vision + honesty = ~400 slack jaws. And finally, Bibiana McHugh of Portland TriMet (@trimet) documenting the “how and why” of a large public agency placing a FOSS4G bet and reaping big rewards.
  • The understated Vladimir Agafonkin (@LeafletJS, or bilingually in Ukrainian, @mourner) – the author of the widely adopted and respected LeafletJS framework – made the trip from the Ukraine and seemed to be the “rock star” of the event with two presentations that were widely acclaimed and packed to the gills.
@AppGeo's Director of Development, Peter Girard (on the right), with Vlad.

@AppGeo’s Director of Development, Peter Girard (on the right), with Vlad.

  • Hats off to the Minneapolis crew who support a strong local chapter of OSGeo and came together with hundreds if not thousands of volunteered hours to pull off a fantastic and well-organized event. Conference Chair David Bitner (@BitNerd), and Program Committee Chair David Fawcett (@DavidFawcett) deserve particular thanks from all who attended. In spite of the volunteers pulling off this conference, and partly due to the financial success of the event (it finished modestly “in the black”), I can’t help but wonder if it’s time for FOSS4GNA to seek professional support in conference administration? It would be money well spent and a conference of this size can support it.
  • Here’s wishing the Nottingham crew great success on the International FOSS4G next month! Regretfully, I will miss it while attending (and talking about FOSS4G approaches) at the inaugural Geospatial Conference of the West (aka GeCoWest). And, can’t wait for Portland, Oregon in 2014!!!

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