The extent to which Washington, DC has become a hub for emerging location aware technologies was underscored last weekend (10 – 11 June) with the occurrence of WhereCampDC. The two-day event kicked off on Friday night with a series of lightning talks (20 slides in 5 minutes) that served to highlight both applications of geospatial technologies and techniques for manipulating location data. Highlights included:
- Sean Gorman’s talk on humans as sensors;
- Eric Gundersen’s how-to on the ease of making maps with TileMill;
- Andrew Turner’s demonstration of using GeoIQ to find and purchase a house;
- Eric Wolf’s overview of activities at USGS/CEGIS, of personal interest to me because of Eric’s leadership working on how governments can use, and contribute to OpenStreetMap.
Two presentations stood out as crowd favorites. First, Sophia Parafina challenged the crowd by asserting that WMS is dead, arguing that newer, web-friendly methods have rendered WMS obsolete. (Hopefully the video will be posted soon, because the slides aren’t the half of Sophia’s very lively presentation.) Sophia’s essential point is that while WMS has up-to-now been very successful, it has become comparatively difficult for configuration management.
Second, Javier de la Torres provided an example of a very successful citizen science application in Old Weather. As Javier explained, the purpose of the project is to document climate observations from a century ago by digitizing the weather observations from old British navy ship logs. Javier talked about providing incentives, measuring errors and accuracy, as well as an overview of the input process. The really cool part was the visualization created from digitizing the locations of voyages from 100 years ago. Most of the presentations have been posted to the WhereCampDC website and all are very informative.
Saturday was the “unconference” portion of WhereCampDC. An unconference differs from a regular conference in that there is no set agenda. Rather the agenda is determined by the participants at the start of the conference. Ideas are solicited, time slots are assigned, and people roll in and out so that the day resembles a series of continuous birds-of-a-feather sessions.
The advantage of the unconference format is the eclectic and serendipitous subject material. And without a pre-set agenda, people get right into the nuts-and-bolts conversations without any preconceived ideas of how the discussion should go. For example, I participated in a session on crowd-sourcing data transcription from historical sources and another on collecting field data using mobile devices in 3rd world countries. Other sessions touched on topics ranging from environment, humanitarian assistance, and spatial databases. For my part, I instigated a session on addresses and addressing schemes in OpenStreetMap. A small, but focused group including Katie Filbert , Thea Clay, Travis Pinney, and Brian DeRocher contributed to the discussion, which pointed to some tangible next steps for improving the quality of OSM addresses in the US, such as address relations, an address type tag, the need for the US chapter to sponsor an Address working group, and methods for implementing dynamic segmentation in OpenStreetMap.
WhereCampDC easily equaled my best professional conference experiences. The quality of each and every Ignite talk was very high and each of the presenters did a marvelous job of making their subject material fascinating. Also, the participants, many of them local to the Washington, DC area, represented a broad cross-section of innovators in the field, which makes the unconference a great forum for idea exchange. And as a measure of the level of local interest in continuing this idea exchange, the conference has spawned GeoNerds DC meetups to act as an ongoing forum for the community. The conference organizers and sponsors deserve immense credit for not only organizing this event but for bringing the DC-area geospatial community into sharper focus.