What to Expect at FOSS4G 2011

September 7, 2011

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This year’s FOSS4G event is set for September 12-16, 2011 in Denver. Directions Magazine asked event chair, Peter Batty, to speak to the “state of technology” as well as a “state of the conference.” Batty has previously been CTO at two of the top three traditional GIS companies, Intergraph and GE Smallworld, and was recently elected to the board of OSGeo.

Directions Magazine (DM): It's been a while since this event was held in North America. Besides more attendees from this side of the world, what else is likely to be different from recent FOSS4G gatherings and other North American GIS events?

Peter Batty (PB): Since the last North American FOSS4G, in Victoria in 2007, adoption of open source geospatial software has grown significantly, so you’ll see more examples of large and mature projects. For example, Mike Byrne, Geographic Information Officer of the Federal Communication Commission, will be talking about the National Broadband Map, a very high profile project that was built on an entirely open source software stack and received 158,123,884 hits in its first 24 hours online. The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency will be talking about a major new initiative to move its geospatial applications onto open source software platforms. Newmont Mining, the world’s largest gold producer with a market cap of $30bn, will talk about its use of geospatial open source. And many more.

Also, we’ve added content to make FOSS4G this year more accessible to newcomers to open source. In particular, we have a one-day introductory event on that Tuesday, aimed at current geospatial technology users with little or no experience of open source. This can be attended as a standalone event, or as a way to get the most out of the full conference, which starts on Wednesday. We’ve had a great response to this, and so far most people signed up for the introductory event are also going to the main conference.

In terms of the difference from other North American geospatial events, obviously the focus on open source is the primary one. And also since it’s a global event, I expect there to be a larger proportion of overseas attendees (currently around 30%) than in other North American events. Based on previous FOSS4G events, I find there’s a lot more excitement and “buzz” around FOSS4G than most other geo conferences I’ve been to.

DM: What do you expect will be the "trends in open source geo" that will permeate this year's event?

PB: In both the open and closed source geo worlds, many current trends are really inherited from the broader IT industry. A strong move to Web and mobile applications and use of the cloud are trends in both worlds. Open source is especially attractive for companies developing cloud based applications, as traditional software licensing models can be very expensive when using large numbers of servers. Another trend that will be a major topic is free and open data - again something that is important in both worlds, but perhaps more of a focus in the open source software world.

DM: Where do you think the geospatial community is on the "discomfort (nervous) to comfortable (no worries)" scale regarding open source in 2011? Has the “fear, uncertainly and doubt” lessened? How do you measure that?

PB: Obviously some organizations are at one end of the scale and some are at the other, but I think that the community in general is moving steadily along the path to becoming more comfortable with open source. With the budget pressures that government agencies are facing, and the announcement about a move toward open source that NGA will be making at FOSS4G, I expect that we are likely to see a substantial shift toward open source in the U.S. federal government over the next few years. And since that market has long been a stronghold for major closed source vendors, I expect that move will help accelerate the trend toward open source in other markets too.

DM: O'Reilly's OSCON is 13 years old and doing well. How long will the open source geo community desire/need/be able to financially run a separate conference?

PB: FOSS4G has been thriving and growing over the past few years, in an environment when many geospatial conferences have been shrinking and disappearing. So there is clearly a market demand for the conference, and financially it is very healthy. 

FOSS4G provides two major areas of benefit to the open source community. One is to enable developers involved in the many open source projects to get together to discuss common issues and exchange ideas. FOSS4G also plays a strong role in encouraging more users to adopt open source, by being a showcase for products and projects based on open source. So for both of these reasons it makes sense for the community to continue to organize FOSS4G, and I expect the event to continue to grow as more users adopt open source. There are also some well-established national open source conferences, such as FOSSGIS in Germany, and there has been discussion about having more national regional conferences in addition to the global one.


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