WhereCamp EU – The Geo Unconference Experience for 180 People

51° 31′ 36.8364″ N, 0° 7′ 44.0466″ W

Entering the longitude and latitude above into one of the many online mapping sites on the web will  show you the St. Pancras branch of wallacespace, close to London’s Euston and Kings Cross St. Pancras rail termini and seems a fitting and apt way to write a blog post about WhereCamp EU, the first geo unconference to be held in the United Kingdom and in Europe.

WhereCamp is traditionally held in California’s Silicon Valley after the Where 2.0 conference and is based on the BarCamp unconference ethic to be a counterpoint to the expensive and corporate outlook of Where 2.0. Last year, both myself and Chris Osborne were at both Where 2.0 and WhereCamp and both came up with the idea of “wouldn’t it be great to bring WhereCamp to Europe?

Tyler Bell, myself and Aaron Cope

Just under a year of planning, organising and wheedling cash out of sponsors, Chris and myself, with the support of the rest of the organising team, welcomed 180 people to Europe’s first WhereCamp.

I was both proud and privileged to kick start things off with an introduction to how WhereCamp EU came to be, explaining to the slightly bemused but thoroughly enthusiastic audience just what an unconference is and how it all worked.

I’d decided that a good way to introduce the event would be to define where, unconference and WhereCamp EU:

  • where – the question asked by people when they try and work out how much it will cost to get to Where 2.0 and WhereCamp in Silicon Valley.
  • unconference – a conference without all the things you hate about conferences, such as massive corporate involvement, sales pitches and formality
  • WhereCamp EU – a two day, free unconference about all things geo, place and location

I then handed over to Chris who totally upstaged me with a gorgeous visualisation of how OpenStreetMap mapped Central London, courtesy of his day job with ITO.

The key to WhereCamp EU, just like any other unconference is “the wall“, which is where the days of the conference are marked off in half an hour slots. An unconference is a user or participant driven conference; if you want to see what’s going on, you check out the wall, if you want to participate, you grab a PostIt note, write your name and the talk title down, find a free slot on the wall and make sure you turn up on time. Participation is usually a brief talk followed by a, sometimes passionate, Q&A session, but it can also be an open forum discussion, a demonstration or some good old fashioned hacking.

The Wall

Unconferences are common in the US, where the concept originated, but less so in Europe, so the organising team made sure that we seeded the wall with initial talks to get things started and to show people how it worked. Our initial fears that the wall would remain empty were quickly quashed as a sea of yellow PostIts took over the wall, fuelled by a melee of talk proposers, anxious to get their talk into a free slot, and participants who wanted to see what the next session was all about.

My initial talk in the main room was on Location, LB(M)S, Hype, Stealth and Stuff and provided a series initial thinking points around the LBMS hype, around gathering stealth data and on how my Theory of Stuff validates the success and failure of location based ventures.

Yet again I was upstaged by the (err) creative and passionate talk titles which appeared on the wall.

The Problems With Metadata

After a totally exhausting day we retired to a local bar for geo-beers, courtesy of one of our sponsors, and to review the day. I wasn’t able to make the second day of the unconference due to family commitments but my sources tell me it was an equal success.

High points for me were standing in front of a room full of people at the kick off session, a lot of whom had travelled a significant distance to be there; watching the ladies toilets being used furtively by the men; seeing the youngest participant in a conference I’ve even seen (3 months) and watching Hal Bertram from ITO produce jaw droppingly gorgeous data visualisations.

Out of all the things I’ve done in the geo industry, being involved with putting WhereCamp EU together has got to be a personal and professional high. It would be good to do it all over again next year wouldn’t it … ?

Written and posted from home (51.427051, -0.333344)

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