I’m now on my flight back to Ecuador after a week spent in New York where I attended the US State Of The Map (sotm) 2015 conference (http://stateofthemap.us) (and did a bit of tourism).
I went to the French SOTM last year in Paris and it was a great experience. This year, being in Ecuador, I couldn’t attend SOTMFR 2015 in Brest and decided to go to New York instead.
The US version is much larger than any other SOTM. There were circa 800 attendees and more than 70 presentations. It was held at the UN headquarters which made it very special. Also, something which was surprising to me, was the number of countries represented: 41! A very international conference indeed.
The sheer number of people, stories, projects, experiences, conversations is amazing but it can be overwhelming at times. I was there from Friday 5th and so went to the kickoff party at NYC Surrogate Courthouse which provided a nice introduction to the weekend.
A key goal of attending the conference for me was to meet people with a connection to Ecuador or at least Latin America as I’m based there for a few months.
By chance, the evening of day 1 I was working in the common room (I had skipped the social event because I was sick) and met two guys with whom I shared a connection to Latin America.
I met Javier, CEO at geosensos (an NGO networks in Latin America and the Caribbean formed by a community of experts in geo-information, technology and innovation).
I also met Travis, who lived for 7 years in Bolivia where he worked on transparency in the water sector in Cochabamba) and is now back in the US (Portland) working on geocensus, visualizations, mapping and public service delivery topics.
I had a great conversation these two, proving once again that sometimes the best conversation occurs “on the margin” of a conference.
You may know that OSM is a database rather than simply just a map (this is something often discussed at conferences/meetups but is, I think, misunderstood by the general public). Consequently, data is very much at the center of everything OSM. Data analysis and visualisation go hand in hand and are often part of a projects using OSM in one way or an other.
The OSM world is very vast and there are numerous projects which although they are linked to OSM may have no other connection whatsoever between them. The subject of the talks (recordings of all talks are all available here) varied from the OSM foundation, and the architecture of its servers, from the OSM communities and its diversity (or lack thereof), to routing, applications built around OSM, data analysis and of course international development and humanitarian purposes. A diverse ecosystem!
Here are my personal highlights of the conference (in no particular order):
– The panel on Peripheral Data in OpenStreetMap was informative and entertaining. A never ending debate.
– The Introduction to Quality Assurance by Wade Crump was very informative and entertaining. Quality Assurance is crucial to the viability of OSM, a most important topic.
– A Statistical Analysis of OpenStreetMap by Nicholas Marinakis and Erez Cohen from Mapsense was excellent in scope and details.
– The Missing Maps presentation by Drishtie Patel of the American Red Cross. Missing Maps has been doing great work in a very short period of time. I’m very keen to participate in this project in whatever way I can, starting by helping with some of the tasks listed on the task manager, for example mapping Dar Es Salam.
– The work being done on OpenMapKit is also very worthwhile. You can watch Dale Kunce’s presentation here.
– O.S.M.B.A. The history and future of companies in OpenStreetMap by Randy Meech of Mapzenwas one I really didn’t want to miss. The subject of business built on top of OSM is a hot controversial topic. I personally think it’s great that some businesses use and contribute to OSM. As long as it remains a piece of the (diverse) puzzle that is the OSM community rather than an end it itself, it’s all good. Also not all businesses exist solely to make money for their shareholders, social enterprises could do great work by using and contributing to OSM.
I also very much enjoyed the ‘The State of the Map’ presentations (Saturday and Sunday) and lightning talks concluding each day (Saturday and Sunday). A great way to hear about projects in a concise way. One of my favorite was ‘Mapping India A Complex Idea’ by Arun Ganesh of Mapbox. He started mapping India 10 years ago and has achieved A LOT since then.
I missed the talk on ‘Improving Diversity in OpenStreetMap‘ by Kathleen Danielson of Mapzen and OSMF but was told it was very very good. I’ll watch the recording.
Following SOTM at the UN, a hack day was planned. I focused on attending workshops (Extracting interesting data from OSM (here and here), transit.land and Overpass API). All three were very informative and useful, very much hands-on demos diving into more technical discussions. No recordings available but I invite you to check out the sites, some great applications and tools there.
Also OSM Fundraising drive 2015 started in earnest at the SOTM. Please donate, It’s upgrade time!
All in all a very good experience. It’s great to see such a diverse and creative ecosystem and a vibrant community built around OpenStreetMap.