Day one of the AGI Geocommunity 2008 conference began with the Keynote Speeches from Sean Phelan of Multimap, Vanessa Lawrence of the Ordnance Survey, and Geoff Zeiss of Autodesk. Sean Phelan had some really interesting insights based on his experience of founding multimap and surviving the dot-com boom, through to the recent acquisition by microsoft. He coined possibly the stand-out quote of the conference: “We are the last generation who will ever know what it means to be lost” , referring to the rising ubiquity of location-based technology and GPS. What I liked most about Sean’s talk was the bigger picture outlook exploring the rise and take-up of new ideas and technology, and his predictions for the next few years. Reassuringly, he thought that there was still a place for big and small companies, and that no single company would lead.

Vanessa Lawrence also used a good term (new to me)- the idea of the “Prosumer”, someone who takes ownership of data and interacts with it rather than simply consuming. This is not a new idea (in fact it’s quite Web 2.0) but it’s nice to have a term for it! Most interestingly, Vanessa talked about a new Ordnance Survey service for delivering mapping data by WMS. While we have been an age waiting for this to actually happen, and we don’t know what the licensing/pricing model will be like, it’s still great news.

Geoff Zeiss of Autodesk, as always gave a very thought-provoking talk, with lots of very striking visuals, about building for a sustainable future. This focussed on how new GIS tools, particularly 3D can help in this process.

Tim Warr, also of multimap, tried to fire us all up right from the start with the provocative idea that web-mapping had killed traditional GIS. Except in the end he said that it hadn’t, so no fight there then! Tim made the point that since 90% of GIS users only use 10% of the functionality of GIS, why not just give them the 10%. This is what Google have done, and it obviously works really well- for low-level GIS use by consumers. He went on to show some very nice web-based mapping, computing travel times, but really that only moves the functionality from 10-11%, and you have to build a new application for every extra bit of usage. For s atart that doesn’t seem like good use of code or time, why not build something more flexible? Tim said that coding was the skills area to focus on now, but really I think that devalues traditional GIS.

In the afternoon I went to a series of lectures on various business-oriented aspects of GIS, or rather managing GIS. I have to admit that most of it went right over my head, but there was some useful information on how to market GIS projects from Steve Calder of PA Consulting and Keith Wishart from ESRI, and on how the procurement process works from both sides by Tony Boobier, ex of Mapinfo.

Finally, in the last session I went to Graeme Gould’s talk on using postgresql in the Grand Union Housing Group, which was really useful for tips on what we might do at Oxford Archaeology, and then I got to give my talk on Open Source GIS in the UK, which seemed to go OK really! I’ll put it up online when I get a chance…

The evening entertainment, in the form of an 80s disco complete with bucking bronco and scaletrix, was clearly designed to be deeply symbolic and reflective of the state of the economy and competition in the market place, or so it seemed as tiredness and alcohol kicked in. Whatever it meant, a good time was had by all!