Some words on AGI GeoCommunity 2011

Better late than never (!), here is my run-down of what happened at AGI GeoCommunity 2011……

It all started the day before at w3gconf (which is a free event before the main AGI GeoCommunity event). See my thoughts on w3gconf here. The paid conference itself started off with an introduction from the AGI Conference Chair, Jeremy Morley. He gave us a run through of Nottingham Uni and info on the Centre for Geospatial Science (CGS) formed in 2005 (the year after I completed my MSc in GIS at Nottingham – I just missed out!). The CGS have some very interesting partnerships, one example of which is a recently started project involving CGS and 1Spatial to create a quality assured version of OpenStreetMap for the UK. Also some news is that the CGS and IESSG (they do the traditional surveying stuff) are merging to form the NGI (Nottingham Geospatial Institute) – watch this space I guess!

Then we had some keynotes from Cheryl Miller CBE on the Public Sector Mapping agreement, Jamie Justham from Dotted Eyes on proposed electoral boundaries changes in the UK, and Amanda Baker from ESRI UK on how geography has influenced her life. These were a very diverse set of talks with Jamie’s in particular providing much food for thought on the processes and checks needed to make sure each proposed constituency aligns with the rulebook. You can download the proposed boundaries in various GIS formats from the Dotted Eyes website

So after the plenary the event began proper. I started off in the session on Cloud Computing by Informed Solutions (paper here). This was a good presentation showing the highlights and lowlights of hosting and serving geospatial data in the cloud. Disadvantages include the physical loading of very large amounts of data – an example given of having to send a USB Drive by courier (!) to the data host to load the data manually. Some advantages though including less down-time, lower costs and better security. Then it was break/lunch time; except it wasn’t really as I went to help out Roger on the MapAction stand. MapAction were exhibiting in the refreshment hall, along with a number of other organisations including Oce, ESRI, Cadcorp, Pitney Bowes, amongst others. MapAction were there to promote what we do and also look for potential fundraising opportunities. I’d given a presentation on MapAction the day before (you can view it here). After the break I went to watch a very engaging talk on Open Source Software and Standards by Anthony Tuffour of London Borough of Hackney. He gave some great examples of the application of Open-Source GIS technology in a Local Authority. By going open-source the council have saved quite a large amount of money (always a good thing in the current economic climate). You can see more of Map Hackney 2.0. (the application developed by Anthony and his team) here . I then went to look at a presentation on the 2011 Census and output geographies. This wasn’t quite what it said on the tin being more of an overview of the UK Census data collection and collation process (which was interesting in itself). The big news was that Census workplace zones will be available from July 2012. This could be quite useful information I think for transport planners/modellers amongst others. Another break followed and I was back to the MapAction stand where I met many people interested in what we do.

After the break I went to the first half of James Cutler’s presentation on the new economy and then sat in Steven Feldman’s presentation on the crowd which is always an entertaining affair – you can get his paper here. After this was a great session by Mark Iliffe on the use of OpenStreetMap (amongst other things) to help map Kibera slum in Kenya. This was a really great presentation and shows how mapping was used to engage the local community. It also made the audience think a little. Arguments about open data and access to digital data pale in significance when compared to the basic services which Kibera inhabitants don’t have (water, sanitation, healthcare etc.). You can see Mark’s presentation here. Next it was onto an entertaining soapbox. You can read more about this on Steven Feldman’s blog (and see a video – watch out for the swears!). After soapbox it was time for the AGI Party which was fantastic. I then took an early night to prepare for my presentation on Day 2.

Day 2 started with a great plenary from Danny Dorling on the geographies of inequality and some lovely cartograms. BTW according to Wikipedia (the source of everything?!) a cartogram is “A cartogram is a map in which some thematic mapping variable – such as travel time or Gross National Product – is substituted for land area or distance. The geometry or space of the map is distorted in order to convey the information of this alternate variable”

Following the UK riots back in the summer this was a good time for him to revisit some of his previous work, one example is where the parts of a face represent different variables. This image gives an example of what I’m talking about.

(image source:

You can read more about the process here. Danny is planning to update the faces to study social inequality in London and the UK, especially interesting given the events of the summer. The whole presentation was visually spectacular and some of the cartograms produced by Danny and his research colleagues were mind-blowing. You can see some of the cartograms here. See the especially amazing world population cartogram below.

(image source:

Next up was the first lady of Geospatial, Vanessa Lawrence of the Ordnance Survey. This was a good talk on how far the UK Geospatial industry is when compared to other countries. Vanessa talked about how she has recently helped the Australian government to plan the setting up of a national centre for geographic information. The current situation has many regional bodies taking care of geographic information. Later on in the presentation, Vanessa mentioned the growth sectors of insurance and financial services for geographic information. This was very interesting for me, given my day job working for Aon Benfield. The power of up-to-date mapping and located based situation information is huge and many people in insurance do not yet see the benefit.

After a short break, it was time for my presentation on Spatial Uncertainty in Catastrophe Modelling. You can see my presentation here. Also the paper I wrote here which gives a good introduction to reinsurance, catastrophe models and spatial uncertainty. My talk was attended by about 30 people and there were some great questions at the end – thanks to those that came along! I then saw Charlie Poate from Iracambi give an inspiring presentation on the benefit of GIS to the conservation charity. They are starting to use ESRI to host spatial data and make it available to their stakeholders. One thought though – could they donate their data to Open Street Map? I think yes. Some of the data is very useful topographical data in a region where very few maps exist. Next up was lunch at the MapAction stand and then a presentation on Linked Data by Richard Duffield. This was a good talk about (for some at least) a dry subject. Really I think Linked Data to the Ordnance Survey and other government bodies in the UK is essentially the DNF (Digital National Framework) re-incarnated. Actually there’s a post on linked data the DNF website “Bringing together DNF and Linked Data“. The opportunities for linked data are huge but it’s getting a ground-swell of people using linked data which could be the problem. There’s an upcoming AGI Technical Special Interest Group (SIG) on the subject on the 22nd November 2011. Then I caught up with the OpenData debate. This wasn’t as good as I expected but did cover many important issues free vs. paid, quality, usage etc. The debate sometimes wandered into issues of data privacy. I can’t quite remember much else – it had been long but fruitful day!

Finally was the closing plenary session. This was like chalk and cheese but in a good way! The first session was from Kimberley Kowal, Lead Curator, of the British Library. Kimberley took us all on a cartographic journey through the ages with many beautiful maps from history. I would really love to see the presentation again. Here’s some news from the British Library’s Magnificent Maps blog which contains some of the map images that were shown. The final presentation was by Gary Gale of Nokia Ovi Places. This was an interesting talk on modern geo and the need of making things simple to use. Gary gave an impassioned critique of the clunkiness of some mobile applications and a view of how it could be better (with location added!). There were some funny stories like the statue of Yoda. You can see Gary’s presentation here.

All in all, a very useful few days of networking, listening (and presenting!). I’ll be going next year and hope it’s still at the EMCC, at the University of Nottingham – a really great venue.

All presentations (and papers where submitted) from the 2 days of GeoCom are available on the AGI website at


my thoughts on w3gconf 2011


I’ve been planning to write this for a while but didn’t have the chance. This was my first w3gconf/GeoCommunity (I had been to some AGI exhibition/conferences back in 2003/04/05 but that was many moons ago!). So first my comments/thoughts on w3gconf. You’ll be able to read my thoughts on GeoCommunity 2011 in another post coming soon.

w3g (Tuesday 20th September 2011) was unlike any geospatial event I’ve been to previously. I arrived a bit late and unfortunately missed Jonathan Raper’s (@madprof) plenary on OpenData (a theme which pervaded throughout the following days of GeoCommunity). By all accounts Prof Raper’s was a lively and enjoyable session. I managed to make the last of the morning sessions and saw Rich Rombouts from SnowflakeSoftware give an interesting presentation on the many different data standards present in the aviation industry. This included a shot of some raw XML data (I will not sully these pages with how this was described by some!). Snowflake are helping to design some common data standards to help with the sharing of flight and plane information and are trying to reduce the paper trail which currently exists. You can see Rich’s presentation here.

Next up was Brian Norman (@gingemonster) who gave a great overview of designing cross-platform map applications for mobile phones. A very pretty presentation it was – you can see more of it here. In terms of mobile applications XML is generally bad as it’s too data heavy. Brian suggests compressing data or using JSON to transfer data as it is less verbose (but very difficult to understand!). Other topics included the use (or abuse) of pop-up windows in mobile map apps. Lots of thought required and some UX testing (now that’s User eXperience for those that don’t know and I guess similar to UAT (User Acceptance Testing) but probably less formalised).

Next was Ed Boiling (I think!) and his presentation on dinosaurs and the wedge of geo! This was a presentation about the difference between complex dinosaur GIS (mentioning no names!) and newer mapping applications. The key thing from Ed’s presentation was the phrase “Simplicity does not mean fewer features”. I guess that can be true and his argument went along the lines of why do something the same way it’s always been done (e.g. “the new application needs to have button x,y,z”, “why?”, “because all our mapping applications have button x,y,z!”). The alternative is to design something which is as functional but isn’t such a headache to use…that term UX came up again!

After a short lunch (where I met some geo-friends and geo-colleagues both old and new) it was time for the afternoon session. This was from Stephen Feldman and was on the history of web mapping. This was the first time I’d seen this presentation live and very good it was too! It’s amazing to think how long web mapping has been going and the number of applications and software houses that have been and gone. We were treated to a screenshot from the original Multimap website – very 90’s! You can see Stephen’s presentation here.  

After this I gave a presentation on MapAction which was briefly interrupted by a fire alarm! After the fire alarm (fortunately a false one) there seemed to be more people in the room – so maybe it was a good thing! I gave an overview of what we do in MapAction and promoted our Humanitarian Mapping Field Guide (available for FREE from the MapAction website). Incidentally 50% of advertising revenues from go to MapAction – so please click those links!). You can see the presentation I gave here.

The final session was a geo-debate on whether geo itself is a business or a feature of a business featuring Matt Toon from Google, Stephen Feldman from KnowWhere and Ed Boiling from ESRI UK. I think perhaps the topic was a wee bit too general but some good geo-debating ensued. Then the day was over and it was time for the Ice-Breaker event! All in all a great day and really amazing that it manages to be free (thanks to the sponsors for that!).

Also see other blogs on the w3gConf event at:
Stephen Feldman –
w3gConf –
Gary Gale –