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An outbreak of open mindedness at FOSS4G!

2011 September 20

FREEBlogging during FOSS4G seemed a serious waste of time to me; there are just too many interesting people to meet with and too many topics to discuss. So I left the blogging up to the professionals among us (…). I thought FOSS4G was a great event and it will take some time to absorb all of what I observed. I have a few critical comments in the making, but for now this is a first and early personal retro perspective…

For and foremost: a great many compliments for the local organizing committee. I know what is takes to organize events of this scale and I am sure the organizers are all glad (and disappointed at the same time) it is all over now. There probably were a few glitches, but apart from the wireless in some rooms it was hard to notice. Although I had some clear intentions, not all of them actually worked out. I did not listen to all keynotes, caught as I was in real conversations. And I tried to be in the listening mode as much as possible.

Peter Batty, one of the brains behind the Denver connection, opened the event. Peter mentioned how FOSS4G has grown throughout the years and that Denver was the highest number of participants ever (more then 920, I believe). Peter also mentioned that he is rather neutral to the choice of technology for his work. He looks at functionality, costs, support, terms and predictability and then decides. I concur with that message.

Paul Ramsey’s talk was intriguing and a bit <sarcastic>. I know the 2008 report he quoted. I don’t mind calling a model a tactic (or vice versa). I like to use a definition I once found on FOSSWiki tweetfeed: “Free source is a life style, open source a business model.” “ ESRI exists because their software costs money” is a bit of an odd statement to make. In my opinion, Esri exists, because it incorporates knowledge from the wider geo ecosystem in standard software products, which support that same ecosystem, and users/customers value that effort.

A third keynote to mention is the one by Mike Byrne (US Federal Communications Commission). I thought he was quite moderate about what they have achieved. Come to think of it: when a website crashes because of too great a demand, isn’t that just the greatest compliment you can get? What if the opposite would have happened (meaning no hits). If the video is available, it recommend watching it.

Mixed, free or open?
FOSS4G clearly has room for a mixed environment of systems. Open Source products are being connected to social media platforms through open api’s (e.g. to Twitter, Flickr; correct me if I am wrong, but they tend to be all closed source). Some FOSS products are build on the Windows platform. And the preferred computing platform was Apple. I have not seen as many Apple products since my last visit to an Apple store.

During the presentations and in discussions, I had a problem with some of the terminology (like what is open technology? and what is GeoBI). Also, free source and open source are interchangeably used, whereas they have very different meanings. OpenStreetMap licensing appears to be difficult to understand. I connected with a few people and intend that make that difference clearer.

Biggest surprise
Many presentations were very technical, (tip: maybe mark some with advanced?) as I would expect at an event like this. Very interesting for me were topics like the JTS Topology Suite – by laureate Martin Davis -, Advanced cartography for the web and Tuning GDAL. GRASS I had not seen since 1986.

I was most surprised by the attention given to topics like marketing, business models, branding, value chain. A large group of the audience were developers. Are those topics that interest developers or users of FOSS4G products? I ended up explaining about these topics several times. But at least I had a chance to have a few good conversations about open innovation and open business models.

What did I miss?
The word innovation was not mentioned until the Thursday (by Peter ter Haar). I know that even mentioning it sometimes kills any innovation activity, but I had expected that a bit sooner. How do we see certain topics and products on an innovation roadmap?  (one of my personal areas of interest is open innovation systems.)

With all the business terminology, business cases are only a small step away. There is a great need for business cases using open source GIS. FOSS4G somehow gave me impression that there are no problems with FOSS what so ever. In a true and open spirit, a session on the limits of free and open source products (and were they have failed) might be interesting. Also, I missed a list of attendees. I thought that was common practice for these kind of open vents.

Challenges ahead
It was great to meet some people who I only knew by their avatar. Meeting up with people in real life makes a real discussion possible, which goes beyond the one-liner tweets. I really appreciated the openness at display at the end of the event. OSGeo as an organisation clearly has some interesting challenges ahead, and choices to make.

The musical with Captain Geo, the stand-up-comedy, the Wynkoop (meaning buy wine, but it is more of a beerplace). This outbreak will not go away. Looking forward to a next step of open mindedness.

4 Responses leave one →
  1. September 20, 2011

    Off topic: Wynkoop probably has the same origin as Boskoop? ‘Cope’ is a plot of land in an drained marshland.

  2. Bart van den Eijnden permalink
    September 20, 2011

    what was your opinion on Brian Timoney’s plenary talk? For me this was the highlight of the conference.

    • Jw permalink*
      September 20, 2011

      I missed that (had a phonecall), but will listen to him (I least like some of the writings).

      • Jw permalink*
        September 20, 2011

        sorry, het tweede deel had ik wel gezien. Ik denk dat Brian zegt wat gezegd moet worden. De relatie met de gebruikte technologie is met niet geheel duidelijk.

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