Touchdown! FOSS4G 2007 A Resounding Success


I feel as if I've been in orbit for the last week, flying high above the Earth, floating through a sea of ideas and latent energy. Metaphors aside, the FOSS4G event has left me both overwhelmed with admiration and bubbling with enthusiasm.

The most powerful memories I am taking away from the event are about conversations with other attendees. I greatly admire the many people I met and the various ideas and philosophies they presented -- these will surely echo in my mind and in our community consciousness for a long time to come.

Overview

For me, the week started with one of the most productive board meetings we've had in a long time. The OSGeo Board of Directors doesn't get to meet face to face very often, but sure took advantage of it last Sunday. There was fruitful discussion about promotional priorities, financial management initiatives, a rough budget was sketched out for 2008, and more. It was also a good time to welcome our three new board members Bob Bray, Jeroen Ticheler and Paul Ramsey.

On Monday, Jeff McKenna and I led an intro to MapServer workshop. We missed our usual co-presenter Perry, but it still went over fine. I didn't get to see any of the other workshops or labs, but heard they were all packed full and very productive. Attendees will, no doubt, provide the usual feedback asking for more or larger workshop spaces. It seems our attendees are always hungry for more hands-on workshops. Perhaps local chapters can consider how to address some of those needs.

That evening we held the first ever OSGeo Annual General Meeting. Over 200 people attended to hear Local Chapter updates, software project updates and committee reports. It was a fast-paced presentation format that helped us to meet each other and to learn about activities and the people behind them. Thank you to all the presenters who participated in the meeting - it was a great success.

The OSGeo booth got underway on Tuesday. Our space was large and quite open, and always filled with people. We had lots of brochures, advertisements and other material to hand out; it was all gone by the end of the week. As usual, I came away with specific ideas for improving our presence at these kinds of events. And, as usual, they were the same ideas -- we need to revamp our brochures and get some professional print quality design as well as prepare some animated self-running demos of our software. The excellent GeoNetwork brochures are a good example of the kinds of product we could use. Thank you very much for those who stayed around the booth answering questions. A special thanks to Mateusz who camped out there for most of the week.

During my time in the booth I spoke with dozens of people from several countries and projects. The overwhelming questions were from groups or individuals who have an open source project, or who want to turn a project into open source, and want to know where to begin. This ties into the recent Discuss list thread about supporting small/start-up projects. People wanted to know how they could get the word out about their project and/or how to get it under the OSGeo umbrella.

The closing plenary session was interesting, with Adena helping to provide a review/summary of her observations at the event. There was also an eclectic group of people on the closing panel that helped to stir up some further thinking and discussion. Perhaps the most memorable part of the panel discussion was Tim Bowden elegantly describing that GIS is dead, as it becomes increasingly consumed by I.T. in general.

It is a tradition to give the Sol Katz Award to recognise a member of the open source geospatial commnunity. This year's award was given to Steve Lime, the father of the MapServer project. So many of us were introduced to open source through the MapServer that the award is more than well deserved. Congratulations Steve!

Summary

The whole week feels like a bit of a blur. I'm sure it was the same for many attendees who wanted to see more presentations than was humanly possible, or who wanted to keep talking with colleagues until the wee morning hours. I don't think I was alone for more than 5 hours the whole week, whether it was chatting at the booth, talking over dinner or debating with my roommates. During all these discussions about projects, events, promotional ideas and more, a couple recurring themes popped up. Here are just two of them:

Collaboration -- Projects and people seem more willing to work together than ever before. While this has always been a cornerstone of OSGeo projects, the momentum continues to build. There was a lot of discussion about projects that could potentially work closer together, share code, etc. Similarly, local chapters will continue to develop as people in common areas or languages work together to promote our projects.

Cartography -- Not too long ago cartography used to refer to printed maps, which many recognise as a weak area in open source. This is a continual discussion point for our communities: how to produce high-quality printed maps. Fortunately we have a lot of expertise on this topic within our communities. Last week I spoke to several people about filling this need by having a separate project focused on the problem. There was general agreement that a project built on standards like SLD and other XML data/configuration items could really help us focus. The main benefit being that other projects could output to this engine instead of each writing their own. I'll write more about this in the near future.

Thanks, thanks and more thanks

My talk on Thursday was about OSGeo as a "Community of Communities". You've probably heard this before, but it was never so obvious then when at FOSS4G. 700 people speaking many different languages, from dozens of countries, using or representing dozens of projects -- all contributed to the sense that you were at a global technology bazaar. As others have noted, this wasn't just a great OSGeo event, or even just a great geospatial event. It was just a great conference. Period.

Thanks to Paul Ramsey for taking the lead to deliver such a high-quality energy packed event. Thanks to the conference sponsors for helping make it happen. Thanks to all the attendees for participating to make it a most memorable week for all who attended.