GeoCom 2014

GeoCom 2014

Last week I attended Geocom – The changing face of Geo (otherwise known as the AGI annual conference). I was involved in helping with a small group of people (the events action working group) to help with organising the conference this year, and so my review might be biased!

I arrived the day before to help with the setup of the icebreaker welcome dinner – where we had 100 people listening to the amazing career of @mara_yamauchi. Mara gave some great tips to the budding runners in the audience and likened the marathon to projects you may have in the workplace. I should also mention that we started off with a brief intro from Rollo, the conference chair, and Abi, who told us about the Geo Big 5 events series and the plans for next year. Following a brilliant dinner we started the networking bingo. Here’s the card we gave to people!…

The winners of the networking bingo each received a map courtesy of SplashMaps. Thanks to David for these prizes!

Day 1 of conference* started with some interesting keynote speeches from Tim Broyd of UCL (formerly of Halcrow, Atkins etc. and Vice President of ICE) who talked about the built environment and gave some interesting insight int megacities, the London infrastructure plan and also obesity! And after that we heard Richard Waite from ESRI UK talking about the GIS industry and early pioneers to North America. Following a short break in the main exhibition hall (where the sponsor stands were located), where I visited Roger on the MapAction stand, we broke out into separate sessions. I was hosting Stream 5 which saw two interesting talks on GIS and the Olympic legacy and the use of Geographic Information in the construction industry.

The first presentation on the Olympic legacy was really interesting and Dan from Civica and Danny from LLDC talked about the huge quantities of data which was handed over from the ODA including 3500 borehole locations. The team set about creating different GIS viewers for different purposes including planning and land use. There was also talk of future plans for the park which included the term ‘Olmpicopolis’!.

Nick Humes then talked about GI for the construction industry and how BIM is helping regulatory requirements. Nick also mentioned that 80% of planning applications are filled by non-professonals – a startling figure!

After lunch, I attended some sessions on drones, followed by a presentation by Ian Coady on the ONS workplace zones. These cover England and Wales with 53,578 zones encapsulating where people work. I think this data is incredibly useful and it was surprising to learn that ONS initially struggled to get the commercial sector to provide case studies for the use of the data. This has changed since the release of the data last year.

After some more networking and meeting with people I’ve seen only at AGI Conferences and plenty who I see more regularly (!), we went into the final plenary for the day. This was started by Neil Ackroyd, acting DG of Ordnance Survey who talked about a number of things including the Government site, resilience direct, where OS mapping is used. He also mentioned that the Ordnance Survey data in Minecraft was more successful (in terms of number of downloads), then any of the other OS Open Data products put together! Next it was time for a very brief break, which was followed by the AGM. After the AGM we started the party to celebrate 25 years of the AGI. Past Chair’s of the AGI talked about the main issues of interest in the geographic information industry when they were at the helm of the AGI. Roy Wood, pictured below, gave us his insights – Roy is currently the Chairman of MapAction.

The morning session of Day 2 began with Sir Mark Walport, Government Chief Scientific Advisor talked about the evolution of mapping (from John Snow and cholera to the mapping of the Ebola crisis today), and an interesting case study of using fitness bracelets (think Strava) to look at how widely the recent Napa earthquake in Northern California was felt. He also talked about the work the FCO are doing to map threats within different countries, and mentioned that a recent Oxera report that estimates the revenues from global Geo services at $150 billion to $270 billion per year. Next up was a fascinating talk by Professor Sanjeev Gupta, who is a basically a Mars explorer! He gave an enthusiastic presentation on how NASA are using the Curiosity rover to look at rocks on Mars, and how they are planning day-to-day which areas of land are best to ‘survey’. Future missions will look to take borehole samples from Mars’s surface but to collect those samples will involve a 3-stage mission. Prof Gupta talked about the societal benefits from the various space missions, and it was a really great talk with some amazing images from Mars.

After the key notes we had Harvey Lewis from Deloitte in Stream 1, the session I hosted, who talked about opportunities for Big Data and ways to unlock value. This was an interesting talk with Big Data being such a hot topic at the moment, and Harvey also covered some of the concerns around privacy.

Next was Denise McKenzie from OGC (Open Geospatial Consortium) who talked about open standards across communities. Denise talked about the history or the OGC, this year celebrating it’s 20th birthday, and how the organisation grew out of the defence industry. She described how standards organisations are working in closer collaboration to ensure interoperability between standards. And how the UN-GGIM and it the vision documents are helping to set the role of standards for Geographic Information now and into the future.

Following a lunch break it was into the afternoon sessions, where somewhat regrettably I ended up missing the talk by Doug Specht on how social movements are using participatory GIS – he won best paper at conference. Instead I helped prepare for the evening awards which I actually couldn’t attend(!). After another break, it was onto the final plenary session which saw Graphic (the team behind Guardian Data) talking about digital storytelling. This was a really interesting session and showed some amazing uses of visualisation (maps and other devices) to help provide easy to understand information from data including a mention of the work of Nathan Yao (@flowingdata). And then Anne Kemp, AGI Chair, and Rollo Home, conference chair, rounded off the conference before the AGI awards began. Does anyone want to write a report on the AGI awards?!

*Full conference schedule available here

Open Government Partnership 2013

Today and tomorrow, the Open Government Partnership London Summit 2013 is happening.

See this map for some tweets about it all (using hashtag #ogp2013)

MapBox publish 2013 OpenStreetMap Data Report

MapBox have published a very slick looking 2013 OSM data report. It looks like it uses HTML5 to show some lovely looking animations (timesliders etc.) of different aspects of the OSM data (data updates etc.). The stand out stat for me is that about 40% of changes are made by 0.1% of users! There are some very dedicated OSM people out there and we should say a big thank-you to them! There are also over 1 million users now, helping to bring better data to OSM every day. Yippee! P.s. thanks to Nick for this info.
without OSM
(thanks to XuRxO for the image from Flickr)

The 3 Opens

I know it’s been done before but I hear again and again people getting their use of the word Open (Source, Data, Software) mixed up. Most usually there is confusion between the meanings of Open Source and Open Standards. So here are some definitions……

….but before that here’s a nice image of the 3 Opens (data, source, and standards) interacting with each other!

Open Source Software – the source code (the programming code which was used to develop the software) is available to all. Usually there is a collaborative aspect to this type of software and a developer community is actively adding to the code behind the software. An example in the GIS world is the GIS software You can also find much Open Source material at The key organisation behind open source geospatial software is Quite often Open Source software is free (but not always!). Also see often Open Source software makes use of Open Standards……

Open Standards – covers the development of a set of data standards which allows different software (both proprietary and open-source) to transfer data easily and quickly. In the GIS world, the Open Geospatial Consortium maintain a set of geographic information standards such as WMS, WFS and KML (you know as in Google Earth KML). Open Standards should allow easier extraction, transfer and loading of data as it follows a defined format.

Open Data – is free data essentially. There has been a big move in the US, UK and throughout most of the western world to open up data to the general public, especially data which governments collect (see and In the UK, the Ordnance Survey has released OS Open Data which is a set of freely available geographic information including terrain data, place data, postcodes, roads, buildings etc.

I might add to these definitions over time. Let me know what you think!