On September 20th, with a new venue and a new tag line, the second W3G (un)conference kicked off the annual three day UK geo-fest that is formed of one day’s worth of W3G followed in quick succession by two day’s worth of AGI GeoCommunity.
After last year’s inaugural geo-festivities in Stratford-upon-Avon, this year W3G grabbed firmly onto the shirt-tails of its big brother, in the shape of GeoCommunity, and relocated to the East Midlands Conference Centre on the grounds of Nottingham University, which is aptly located in, err, Nottingham.
Benefitting from a purpose built conference centre with great in-house catering, great sized conference rooms with massive projection screens, industrial sized quantities of coffee and working wifi, W3G 2011 was a very different beast from 2010′s. Except for the bit about the working wifi as half of the time it didn’t. Work, that is.
Some things remained the same. A couple of invited guest speakers to kick the morning and afternoon sessions off. The unconference wall, which fellow organiser Rollo Home and myself fretted over filling with sessions but which miraculously was filled with offers of talks before the morning coffee break was over. The inevitable geobeers and geocurry to wrap the day’s proceedings up. The aforementioned conference wifi dropping out on a regular basis. The irreverent session titles, which always turned out to be fascinating when you listened to them; ”Dinosaurs, Concorde & the Wedge of Geo” anyone?
But some things were different. Firstly the venue. Despite the inevitable wifi issues W3G was for the first time in a purpose built conference venue rather than in a hotel than happened to host conferences and events and the EMCC was a big hit with everyone. Also the ties with the AGI were made much clearer this year with W3G featuring on the reverse of the GeoCommunity swag bag and also meriting a double page spread on the printed GeoCommunity proceedings. It also didn’t go unnoticed that a far greater proportion of the W3G audience were spotted at GeoCommunity the following two days. This is no bad thing and merely reaffirms the desire of the W3G organisers to use W3G as a channel into the wider scope of GeoCommunity and to increase awareness of the existence of and relevance that the AGI has to offer.
The second difference was, to put it bluntly, the number of attendees. I’m lucky enough to attend a lot of conferences and across the board numbers are down and sponsors are harder to attract. This year’s W3G was no exception to the general trend but despite this there was an upside; the level of interaction, engagement and closeness between speakers, both invited and unconference and audience were simply unprecedented in my somewhat chequered conference experience. But this didn’t only happen in the sessions themselves, this spilled over into between-session coffee breaks, across lunch and into the obligatory geobeers and geocurry.
The third difference was the strap line for the event. Last year we used the 3 W’s of Geo as a theme and, for a first conference, it worked well. This year we used Because There’s More To Geo Than Just Maps And Checkins as a theme and it worked, but only halfway. Checkins were pretty much nowhere to be seen other than the inevitable fight over the Mayorship of the conference and the venue on Foursquare. Maps on the other hand were pretty much everywhere, from Steven Feldman’s abridged History of Web Mapping talk (run, don’t walk over to SlideShare to see the whole slide deck) through to all of the other unconference sessions. Despite the much predicted death of the map, the map, it would seem, is very much alive, well and positively thriving.
So will W3G be back next year? All the signs are that it will be. Will it be bigger and better than W3G 2011? Only time and the economy will tell if it will be bigger but after this year’s event I think it’s safe to say it will be better, thanks to the time, effort and overall geo enthusiasm that everyone put into the event.