Where 2.0 2010 (Shallow Thoughts)

Akkana's Musings on Open Source, Science, and Nature.

Mon, 05 Apr 2010

Where 2.0 2010

Last week I had the opportunity to go to the Where 2.0 conference (thanks, Linux Pro Magazine!) Then, on the weekend, the free WhereCamp followed it up.

I'd been to WhereCamp last year. It was wonderful, geeky, highly technical and greatly inspiring. I thought I was the only person interested in mapping, especially in Python, and after the first couple of sessions I was blown away with how little I knew and what a thriving and expert community there was. I was looking forward to the full experience this year -- I figured Where 2.0 must be similar but even better.

Actually they're completely different events. Where 2.0 was dominated by location-aware startups: people with iPhone games (Foursquare and others in a similar mold), shopping apps (find the closest pizza place to your location!) and so on. The talks were mostly 15 minutes long, so while there were lots of people there with fascinating apps or great stories to tell, there was no time to get detail on anything. I think the real point of Where 2.0 is to get a sketch of who's doing what so you can go collar them in the "hallway track" later and make business deals.

Here are some highlights from Where 2.0. I'll write up WhereCamp separately.

Ignite Where

The Ignite session Tuesday night was great fun, as Ignite sessions almost always are.

The Ignite session was broken in the middle by a half-hour interlude where a bunch of startups gave one-minute presentations on their products, then the audience voted on the best, then an award was given which had already been decided and had nothing to do with the audience vote (we didn't even get to find out which company the audience chose). Big yawner: one minute isn't long enough for anyone to show off a product meaningfully, and I wasn't the only one there who brought reading material to keep them occupied until the second round of Ignite talks started up again.

Best Ignite talks (Ignite Where 2.0 videos here):

Wednesday talks

Patrick Meier gave a longer version of his Ignite talk on Mobilizing Ushahidi-Haiti, full of interesting stories of how OpenStreetMap and other technologies like Twitter came together to help in the Haiti rescue effort.

Clouds, Crowds, and Shrouds: How One Government Agency Seeks to Change the Way It Spatially Enables Its Information, by Terrance Busch of the US Defense Intelligence Agency, was an interesting look into the challenges of setting up a serious mapping effort, then integrating later with commercial and crowdsourced efforts.

In Complexities in Bringing Home Environmental Awareness, Kim Balassiano of the US EPA showed the EPA MyEnvironment page, where you can find information about local environmental issues like toxic waste cleanups. They want users to enter good news too, like composting workshops or community gardens, but so far the data on the map is mostly bad. Still a useful site.

Thursday talks

There were a couple of interesting keynotes on Thursday morning, but work kept me at home. I thought I could catch them on the live video stream, but unfortunately the stream that had worked fine on Wednesday wasn't working on Thursday, so I missed the Mark L. DeMulder's talk on the USGS's National Map efforts. Fortunately, they were at WhereCamp where they gave much more detail. Likewise, I missed the big ESRI announcement that everyone was talking about all afternoon -- they released some web thing, but as far as I can tell they're still totally Windows-centric and thus irrelevant to a Linux and open source user. But I want to go back and view the video anyway.

There was another talk on Thursday which I won't name, but it had a few lessons for speakers:

Base Map 2.0 was a panel-slash-debate between Steve Coast (OpenStreetMap), Timothy Trainor (U.S. Census Bureau), Peter ter Haar (Ordnance Survey), Di-Ann Eisnor (Platial), and moderated by Ian White of Urban Mapping. It was fabulous. I've never seen such a lively panel: White kept things moving, told jokes, asked provocative and sometimes inflammatory questions and was by far the best panel moderator I've seen. The panelists kept up with him and gave cogent, interesting and illuminating answers. Two big issues were the just-announced release of Ordnance Survey data, and licensing issues causing mismatches between OSM, OS and Census datasets.

Community-based Grassroots Mapping with Balloons and Kites in Lima, Peru by Jeffrey Warren was another fabulous talk. He builds balloons out of garbage bags, soda bottles and a digital camera, goes to poor communities in places like Lima and teaches the community (including the kids) how to map their own communities. This is more than an academic exercise for them, since maps can help them prove title to their land. Check it out at GrassrootsMapping.org and build your own aerial mapping balloon! (He was at WhereCamp, too, where we got to see the equipment up close.)

Visualizing Spatio-temporal War Casualty Data in Google Earth by Sean Askay of Google was just as good. He's built a KML file called Map the Fallen showing US and allied casualties from Iraq: the soldiers' hometowns, place of death, age, gender, and lots of other details about them with links to tribute pages, plus temporal information showing how casualties changed as the war progressed. It's an amazing piece of work, and sobering ... and I was most annoyed to find out that it needs a version of Google Earth that doesn't run on Linux, so I can't run it for myself. Boo!

Overall, a very fun conference, though it left me hungry for detail. Happily, after a day off there was WhereCamp to fill that void.

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