After a year’s break, I’m back at O’Reilly’s Where 2.0 conference, now rebranded as simply the Where Conference. This year, the conference has slipped north from its Valley roots and taken up residence in the Marriott Marquis hotel in the heart of downtown San Francisco. The view from the window of my room on the hotel’s 25th. floor is simply …
… geographically stunning.
More on Where, plus a write up of my session’s talk in a later post.
Written and posted from the Marriott Marquis, San Francisco (37.7581, -122.4056)
You can argue that it’s cheating or you can argue that there’s a vague degree of ecological-friendliness but sometimes you just end up recycling and repurposing a conference talk deck for more than one conference. So it was with my keynote at GeoCommunity in Nottingham last month and my keynote at the Location Business Summit in San Jose. One deck, two audiences. As it turns out, taking this approach can yield unexpected benefits.
Firstly there’s the UK audience at GeoCommunity, the Association For Geographic Information’s annual get-together and all round geo shindig. GeoCommunity is probably the closest the UK has to California’s Where 2.0, but with a very different audience and a very different accent. The AGI still draws the bulk of its membership from the GIS heartlands of the GI community, although in recent years the association has dramatically expanded its reach into the web, mobile and neogeography domains.
The Location Business Summit, on the other hand is firstly in San Jose in the heart of Silicon Valley and secondly has a very pronounced American accent and draws the bulk of the audience from the Bay Area where web and mobile, both from a developer and from a business perspective, hold sway.
As previously mentioned, the GeoCommunity audience hails, in the main, from the GIS heartland. A talk which deals with context, with search, with relevance, with LBS and with maps and mobile got a great reaction and fitted well with the other closing keynote from the British Library’s Kimberley Kowal who put together a gorgeous deck full of beautiful maps, ancient, old and not so old. Steven Feldman has put together a list of these cartographical wonders, if you’re interested. Following up old maps with new, digital maps seemed to be a good segue and bridge between printed maps and digital maps. After the talk, people came up to me and said nice words and overall, the reaction seemed to be that this was an area of geo and location that didn’t normally appear on their professional radar. That’s a sweeping generalisation of course but it was also immensely gratifying.
Fast forward to today; not in the UK but slap bang in the middle of San Jose. Same talk. Same deck. Same sentiments. But a vastly different, though equally good, reaction from the audience. This time the questions and comments focused not on the map, not on LBS but on what the next major step in sensors would be after GPS and on what sources of data LB(M)S needs and lacks.
One deck, two audiences. Even in the same industry, albeit the vague and nebulously fuzzy grouping that we call the location industry, two very different audiences can give two very different reactions. One day, reaction will probably be the same, but today, geo and location really is a very broad church indeed.
Written and posted from Location and Navigation 2011, Convention Plaza Hotel, San Jose (37.3301, -121.8916)
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.
Written and posted from home (51.427051, -0.333344)
Although it’s a sweeping generalisation, conferences tend to polarise to one of two extremes. On the one extreme, there’s the lecture approach, where the audience sits in quiet appreciation whilst they listen to people on stage talk at them. But there’s another sort of conference. Where the emphasis is very much more on debate, on discussion both before, during and after the event, and where views are aired both verbally and online.
lecture (lec-cher), noun, an instructive speech
I’ve participated in conferences which exemplify both ends of the spectrum and pretty much all points in-between as well and the events I get the most out of most definitely fall into the debate category rather than the lecture category.
debate (dih-beyt), noun, a discussion involving opposing viewpoints
This was very much the case earlier this year with WhereCamp EU in Berlin and it will be very much the case, and hopefully even more so, at W3G in Nottingham in just under a month’s time.
After last year’s first tentative steps, W3G is back, a little bit older, a little bit wiser and a whole lot more provocative under the banner of “Because There’s More to Geo than Just Maps and Check-Ins”
We all know that there is more to geospatial information than just ‘check-ins’. We all know that the free Web 2.0 map services offered are generally little more than ‘push-pin’ maps.
Yet the potential for the technology being developed within this environment offers so much more….and we aim to expose some of those applications. We also want to provoke and provide a way to discuss and debate some of the barriers to those applications being taken forward.
Be it open data, open APIs, or, as the recent Apple and Android “tracking-gate” showed, too open location technologies, we hope to see all this and more discussed, debated, critiqued and pored over.
But to avoid being merely a lecture, a debate has to be a two way thing and to blur the boundary between audience and between speaker.
And, as it’s an unconference, W3G needs you.
So head over to the official W3G web site and start the debate and the dialog. Suggest session topics or even start the unconference wall with a pledge to do a talk, moderate a discussion, or put together some slides.
If you’ve even been to an unconference, even one without a Geo flavour, then I hope you’ll agree that to Geo debate is far far more fun than to merely Geo lecture.
Written and posted from Villa Stone, Javéa, Spain (38.7836, 0.1285)
Regular readers of this blog will be aware of my comfort zones when it comes to speaking at conferences. If there’s maps, geography or location involved, however tenuous the connection, I’m well within my comfort zone. But speaking to a room full of seasoned communicators, such as Public Relations professionals? That’s way outside of my comfort zone.
Nonetheless, on Monday of this week I found myself at the Chartered Institute of Public Relations, in London’s Russell Square, at the CIPR Social Media Conference 2011, allegedly talking about something called The Smartphone Web, to just such a room full of seasoned communicators.
I say allegedly talking about The Smartphone Web, as that was the theme and title that the conference organizers asked me to opine on. But as is so often the case, when I sat down to start to write the talk, it morphed into something slightly different.
There’s been a meteoric proliferation in social media over the last few years, driven not only by increased awareness and availability of social networks but also by the increasing use of smartphones and the sensors that these devices have built into them. Whereas before, social networking was chiefly about sharing thoughts, comments, views and links, social networking now also allows the sharing of photos and videos, the sharing of location and checking-in to locations. You’ll note that I cunningly managed to work location in there, thus retreating ever so slightly to my comfort zone. And so it was that what started out as The Smartphone Web, ended up as The (Geo) (Mobile) (Smart) Social Web.
After a brief introduction and displaying my own set of social media credentials, I looked at the history of social media, of smartphones, of the sensors within these devices and of the convergence of all of these factors into the social media experience we now know and use on a daily basis.
As so many times in the past, writing this talk was an education in itself, and my initial assumptions that social networking and media was a relatively recent, post Web 2.0 bubble, phenomenon, were quickly disabused as I traced the forebears of today’s social web as far back as the late 1960’s when CompuServe was founded.
I also touched on some of the side effects of today’s social web; how social media accounts have become the single-sign-on for lots of online services, bypassing contenders such as OpenID and how you can build web presences entirely from existing social media content with a few simple lines of PHP code. How social media acts not only as a social broadcast medium but also a social conversation medium. How our own social media interactions can form a valuable aide memoire (where was that bar we went to two weeks ago?) and provide insights into our own lives.
I finished the talk with a brief look to the future; how the next billion people getting online are predicted to do so via a phone and not via a laptop or desktop computer and how social media has drawn attention to some of recent time’s tumultuous events, such as recent natural disasters and events in the Middle East.
Due to pressures of work I wasn’t able to attend the entirety of the one day conference but was lucky enough to arrive in time to see Euan Semple give a fascinating (and at times highly amusing) talk on What Wikileaks Has Taught Us About The Web. I’ve always liked reading Euan’s Twitter stream and to finally meet a social media contact face-to-face was a great way of rounding the day off.
Making predictions is not an easy thing. There are very few opportunities to get predictions right and a myriad of ways to get them wrong. At least if you make predictions in private then you’re able to keep the horrible realisation of just how wrong you were to yourself. But making predictions in public just increases the scope for public humiliation.
Bearing this in mind, it was with a not insignificant amount of trepidation that I set out to predict some location trends for 2011. The mashup* team had asked me to talk and be part of a panel on Digital Trends and there was really no way I could extricate myself from some public location prognostications. So along with Dan Howe, Steve Kennedy, Laurence John, Andrew Gerrard and James Poulter I threw caution to the wind and came up with how I see location panning out over the forthcoming 12 months.
Trend the first is that privacy will matter. Privacy is one of those things that no one really thinks about, until it’s too late. Most users of location based services either don’t know or don’t care about what the information they’re giving up is being used for. This is the current state of affairs and will continue until something happens. What that something will be is impossible to predict, but when it happens, it will end up being reported and sensationalised by the mass media. Far better if we as an industry make location privacy simple to understand and easy to control.
Trend the second is sensor convergence. Look how much gadgetry is crammed into today’s smartphones and in more and more feature phones. But A-GPS will only get us so far. Expect to see more sensor technology, such as NFC, appearing in our mobile and nomadic devices to help for those situations where A-GPS just doesn’t work.
Trend the third is location is a key feature, not a business. For all the startups and established companies that have jumped on the LBS bandwaggon, only a small handful will survive. Location on its own just isn’t enough, you need a solid business model and a way to give your user base what they crave the most … relevance.
Trend the fourth is a continuation of trend the third, more contextual relevance (and maybe less apps). The cliche of the Internet being an “information hosepipe” is more true today than it ever was; people are looking for ways of finding what they need, where the need it from the morass of data available over a ‘net connection. Location is but one of the key technologies that can help increase relevance. This probably means less apps but more useful work being undertaken by those apps.
Trend the fifth is geofencing and would have been seen as incredibly prescient if only Digital Trends 2011 had been 24 hours earlier. I was going to mention geo-fencing and automated check in and check out of Places. But then I woke up the morning of February the 2nd. only to discover that Google had beaten me to it and updated Latitude to do geo-fencing, automated check in and automated check out. Thanks Google!
Digital Trends was the fifth mashup* event I’d been asked to be part of. I like mashup* events, they always have a lively and engaged audience and tend to be beers and networking, followed by short talks and finishing up with a panel discussion. Yesterday’s event, hosted at the British Computer Society’s headquarters in London’s Covent Garden was more of the same, with the odd exception of a distinct lack of anything remotely beer or wine shaped, just lots of tea, coffee, fruit juice and biscuits. Luckily, usual service was resumed after the event with a visit to the Coal Hole on The Strand for a swift pint of London Pride, followed by that staple of any location related event, a visit to the local curry emporium.
To be filed under the “slightly self promoting” department, earlier this year I was invited to speak at the Society of Cartographers Summer School in Manchester, UK. It’s always great to be invited to speak at a conference but I was particularly excited by the SoC. The geo world I inhabit is one of data, APIs, platforms and data mining and aggregation techniques. Sometimes the map gets lost in all of this. So it was an honour to speak at an event where it was all about the map. The Summer School was written up in November’s edition of the SoC Newsletter which is only available to society members, but with permission I’ve reproduced below the sections of the newsletter which cover my involvement.
Welcome to the world of the geo data silo: where closed data is open and open data is closed – Gary Gale (Nokia)
Inspired by London Transport maps, various historical maps and his son, Gary has been involved with maps and mapping for many years. His entertaining, informative and well-illustrated lecture took delegates on a short trip along the route taken by location-based communications from smoke signals, pigeons, the compass, maps such as the Mappa Mundi, radio signals and triangulation through to today’s maps as seen in smart phone with GPS-based mobile devices. He then turned his attention to data, silos of data and the “geo-industry” where the map doesn’t seem to be important any more; it’s all about the data and the map is often strangely absent.
Gary then took delegates on another trip, this time into the dark world of ‘Geo-Babel’, where we have data, lots of data, wide and varied, some commercial (Navteq and Teleatlas), some authoritative (Britain’s Ordnance Survey) and some of it crowd- sourced and growing aggressively (OpenStreetMap), some from unlikely sources (Flickr) and some from location-based social networking services (Foursquare and Gowalla). All this data, often available and free, a cartographer’s dream, but wait, Gary explains that there is now a darker side to data. Much of this ‘free’ data appears to be locked in its own private little data silos, ironically at a time when previously proprietary data becomes unlocked and open (Ordnance Survey), crowd-sourced data becomes locked behind a well meaning but restrictive license, the question is posed to delegates, how can we, as part of the geo-industry, dig ourselves out of this hole?
Panel discussion: “All this data is good but what about the cartography?”
The last session of the conference was setup as a panel discussion, with the theme of “All this data is good, but what about the cartography?” In order to start the ball rolling the preceding presentation was by Gary Gale (Nokia/Ovi Maps). His grandly entitled presentation – Welcome to the world of the geo data silo; where closed data is open and open data is closed – certainly resonated with me, particularly “the four horsemen of the geopocalypse”. Gary sat aside to allow his fellow panelists a short rant-space each. Richard Fairhurst concentrated on his vision of carto-goodness. He made an interesting analogy between industrial carto (Google), Boing Boing carto (retro 8-bit games style map) and Artisan carto (cartography with care). For a laugh (I presume!) he proposed a figurehead for web cartography and then flipped up a slide with three figureheads – Jobs, Gates and Chilton. He was followed by Bob Barr with a wider view of maps and quality. I then tried to propose some questions to the panel (eg: you have shown examples of good/bad design – but what are you exactly looking for when you are making those choices?) – and then opened it up for audience participation and questions/comments. We really should have recorded this session as there was a wide- range of points made, few of which I can now recall! You really needed to be there to get the full impact of the panelists’ views and the lively discussion that ensued.
Steve Chilton SoC Chair
When I last wrote about my theory of GeoBabel I seem to recall saying I was retiring it. That’s still true but seeing as I didn’t actually write the newsletter my geoconscience is clear on this point.
Written and posted from home (51.427051, -0.333344)
With GeoBabel firmly put to rest, I was looking for inspiration when Andrew Larcombe asked me back to the British Computer Society’s Geospatial Specialist Group to speak. After a week of drawing a blank, with Andrew sending gentle messages of encouragement via Twitter Direct Message (OI – GALE. TITLE. NOW!!) inspiration finally arrived from a variety of sources. Firstly there was Mashable’s History of Location Technology infographic. Then there the brief history of location slides I’d used in a few of my previous talks. There was the rather fine 3D visualisation of geolocation history that Chris Osborne used at W3G and at GeoCom 2010. And then there were two questions that kept cropping up when speaking to people at conferences … “this location stuff’s only recent isn’t it?” and “I can’t keep up with this geo stuff, it’s all moving too fast, where’s it going?“.
So I started to research this. I knew that location had a long history but I was taken aback to find out just how long that history was. I’d tended to think of the human race using longitude and latitude to work out their location sometime in the 1700’s, about the same time as the race to make a working, reliable marine chronometer. It came as a bit of a shock to find out that longitude and latitude were first proposed in 300 BC and were first used to locate a position on the surface of the Earth in 200 BC. Focussing on use of location, on location sharing and on LBS/LBMS and putting GIS to one side I came up with A (Mostly) Complete & (Mostly) Accurate History Of Location (Abridged).
The first 15 of my slides takes the story of location from 3200 BC, with the first use of celestial navigation to 1960, with the launch of the first navigation satellites. That’s not the first GPS satellites, they didn’t come along until 1969.
And then things really start to accelerate with the headlong rush to the internet, to smart phones, to PNDs (Personal Navigation Devices), to online maps on phones, to LBMS (Location Based Mobile Services) to attempts to own the “Place space” from Facebook, Foursquare and Gowalla.
I finished my talk with an illustration of how services are frantically adding “check-in” facilties and how the early adoptors in the location sharing and check-in space aren’t necessarily the leaders now, some 4 years after they were first launched. 4 years is an awfully long time in technology and an awfully large amount has been launched, been shuttered, succeeded and failed over that time.
Post talk, a lively and pointed Q&A session ensued and I was asked to make some predictions for the location space in the coming year. As I’ve written about before, predictions are notoriously hard to make and even harder to make them correctly. Having said that, I can’t believe that check-ins are the nadir of the location space. The more services that add them, the more time it takes for the end-user to get a relevant experience … check-in fatigue. The end goal has to be increasing relevance in your online and mobile experience and that has to mean less fragmented apps (more GeoBabel) and more integration of location as a feature and not a business in itself.
Finally, an hour and a half after we’d started, the talk and the Q&A was over; there’s only one thing you can really do after that and that’s head out into Covent Garden in search of geo-beers and a geo-curry. Which is just what happened.
Written and posted from home (51.427051, -0.333344)
You’re invited to speak at a conference. Great. The organisers want a talk title and abstract and they want it pretty much immediately. Not so great; mind goes blank; what shall I talk about; help! With this in mind, my first thought is normally “can I adapt, cannibalise or repurpose one of my other talks?“. This sometimes works. If there’s a theme which you haven’t fully worked through it can serve you well.
But a conference audience is an odd beast; a percentage of which will be “the usual suspects“. They’ve seen you talk before, maybe a few times. The usual suspects also tend to hang out on the conference Twitter back channel. Woe betide if you recycle a talk or even some slides too many times; comments such as “I’m sure I’ve seen that slide before” start to crop up. Far better to come up with new and fresh material each time.
I’ve written about GeoBabel before; it’s the problem the location industry faces as we build more and more data sets which are fundamentally incompatible with each other. This incompatibility arises either due to differing unique geographic identifiers, where Heathrow Airport, for example, is found in each data set, with differing metadata and a different identifier, or due to different licensing schemes which don’t allow data to be co-mingled. We now have more geographic data than before but each data set is locked away in its own silo, either intentionally or through misguided attempts to be open.
The slide deck, embedded above, is the one I used in San Jose. The ones for Manchester and for Stratford-upon-Avon are pretty much identical but are on SlideShare as well.
As another way of illustrating the problems of GeoBabel, I came up with what I’ve termed The Four Horseman Of The Geopocalypse. All very fin de siecle but it seemed to be understood and liked by the audience at each talk.
The first Horseman is not Pestilence but Data Silos. All of the different types of geographic data we have, international and national commercial data, national and crowd sourced open data, specialist and niche data and social network crowd sourced data each live in isolation to each other with the only common denominator being the geo-coordinates each data set’s idea of a place has.
The second Horseman is not War but Licensing. Nowadays in the Web 2.0 community we’re used to having access to data but we’re not willing to pay for it. Licenses vary between closed commercial licenses and open licensing. But even in the open license world there are silos, with well meaning licenses becoming viral and attaching themselves to any derived work.
Which segues neatly to the third Horseman, who’s not Famine but Derivation. Each time you create something from data, you’re deriving a new work in the eyes of most licenses and that means the derived work often has the original license still attached to it. You do the work, but you don’t own the work.
Finally, the fourth Horseman is not Death but Co-Mingling. There is no one single authoritative geographic data set, you need to find the ones which work for you and for your business or use case. That means you need to mingle the data sets and frequently the licenses you have for those data sets explicitly prohibit this.
For almost as long as there’s been conferences there’s been conference back-channels. The precise medium which forms the back-channel has morphed over time, from quickly scrawled notes passed amongst delegates, to SMS messages, to IRC (Internet Relay Chat for those of you old enough to remember what this is). With IRC, the back-channel became a conversation, recognisable amongst conference goers. Witty, informative, scathing, irreverent, the back-channel provides near real time information on how the conference is going and on how the current speaker’s presentation is being received.
Which brings me to Twitter. These days Twitter has all but supplanted almost every other form of back-channel communication. Not every conference venue and conference organiser likes this. I was recently at a conference which provided no network connectivity in the conference hall at all. When questioned, the excuse was that “using laptops distract from what the speaker is saying“. Ignoring the fact that 3G data dongles and smart phones are pretty much ubiquitous these days, it does make live demos and live blogging just a tad challenging. At the opposite end of the spectrum, some conferences actively encourage the Twitter back-channel, going so far as to publicise the official hashtag to be used and providing large screens running Twitterfall to provide immediate feedback to speaker and audience alike.
For the vast majority of conferences, use of Twitter is accepted and welcomed, somewhere in between the two extremes in the previous paragraph, but despite this I was a bit taken aback to be reminded in the opening proceedings to “Tweet responsibly“; judging by the instant flurry of Tweets on this topic, I wasn’t the only one. Granted, the Twitter back-channel isn’t always complimentary and can be harsh but then again, not every talk at a conference is excellent either, with barely disguised sales pitches masquerading as informed industry insight and frequent death-by-Powerpoint slides with the speaker insisting on reading out every single one of the damned bullet points.
Thankfully, the vast majority of the audience took the concept of responsible Tweeting and ignored it, providing the usual lively back-channel. Some of the audience, like myself, felt strongly enough about it to blogabout it after the event. Telling an audience, most of whom have paid good money to be there (either personally or through their employer) to Tweet responsibly isn’t a good thing, smacks of a mother telling her child off (for something the child might do) and underestimates the audience’s intelligence. I think the best way to take this is to view it as well meaning but ultimately ill worded. Tweeting responsibly was a first in my experience. Hopefully it’ll be a last as well.