What I did at my first FOSS4G Conference

While writing this blog my wife said to me, “Isn’t it too late to write about that conference in Denver?”. My boss — who paid my way to FOSS4G — felt the sam way. He would have liked to have seen this come out a bit sooner.

I contend that waiting a few weeks, letting ideas and thoughts distill and take shape, produces a better summary than the flurry of blog posts written immediately following the conference. I have the advantage of harvesting more of the links and videos as they make their way to the web. It’s also nostalgic now; remembering together the “good ole days in Denver”.

This year was the largest FOSS4G conference to date, with over 900 attendees from 42 different countries. If you just now happened to hear about FOSS4G 2011 Conference and OSGeo yesterday, this post is as fresh as the ones posted the day after the conference ended.

Some highlights…

Paul Ramsey’s keynote Why do you do that? An exploration of open source business models about open source business models was excellent and set a great tone to be looking at open source GIS software for the week. Paul founded the PostGIS spatial database in 2001, remains an active developer and is on the steering committee. He is a geospatial architect for OSGeo and is also the clever elephant for the Clever Elephant consultancy.

He started out telling us that that, “as a practitioner of the absurd I’ve been asked to come and talk about ‘open source business models’.” How can you have a business model built on giving software away? He goes on to explain open source as a way of combining software development and distribution with a licensing tactic. He provides good examples of strategies for extracting value from open source.

He gives Google as an example of a company extracting considerable value from the open source system. They would not have been able to ramp up their business as they did without Linux and Apache deployed on their miles and miles of generic boxes. Google’s model was simple: organize the world’s information and then paste little ads all around it. They do it very, very well. They also contribute code back to the wild and improve on current open source projects.

Imagining an Internet without open source, according to Paul, is to see an Internet run by Microsoft, IBM and Sun. Ack!

The final moral of his whole story is that you need to figure out what your open source biz model is and how best to add value via open source.

There were many, many great presentations, which really left my head spinning! However, the one that got me really excited to test my map design skills was Turning Data into Beautiful Maps; in which Tom MacWright gave a wonderful demo of Tilemill and how easy it is to style maps with Carto, a CSS-like language. The TileMill workspace lets you edit the Carto text file and see immediate feedback. TileMill outputs to a format called MBTiles and this format is becoming another standard in the FOSSGIS world. You can pay for hosting via the Mapbox site or you can install your own MBTile-compatible server and host it yourself.

I’m looking forward to trying it out. TileMill is brought to you by the the wonderful folks at Development Seed.

For an introduction to the OSGeo universe, watch Arnulf Christi’s plenary presentation The State of OSGeo. In addition to all the things OSGeo does to support open source, you will get to see a bunch of historical t-shirts from various conferences of the past.

Arnulf Christi: The State of OSGeo

From Brian Timoney’s talk (no clear title):

Our proprietary software problem is also part and parcel of an IT problem because the outrage is not only that these services do not provide nearly the value we spend on them, the outrage is that in our industry, there is no outrage. Our expectations are so low we shrug and just assume that’s the way it is. If that’s not the definition of vendor capture, I don’t know what is.

He provided excellent examples.

If you’re in the government sector and are considering using open source and opening up your data, watch Peter Ter Haar’s talk called Open Season: Open Standards, Open Source and Open Data in Ordnance Survey.

Peter Ter Haar: Open Season: Open Standards, Open Source and Open Data in Ordnance Survey


Peter Batty’s Vimeo account has high quality video of some of the talks. Many more talks are at the FOSSLC site and I think more will be coming.

The OpenGeo site has reports and links from FOSS4G including a daily “diary” by Paul Ramsey.