FOSS4G: Geospatial tech, community, and a bird named Helen

I recently returned from a week of workshops, presentations, networking, and general nerdery with an incredible group of people: open source geospatial developers, users, and other spatially-focused folk from across the globe.

FOSS4G (Free and Open Source Software for Geospatial), the annual conference of OSGeo, changes locations every year – one year in Europe, one year in North America, and one year elsewhere.  In 2013, Nottingham, England hosted the festivities, and in 2015 will be in Seoul. For the North American rotation in 2014, Portland won the bid to host the conference. (You’ll see a bird on the logo; her name is Helen.)

It was an incredible week, with more than 800 people from 39 countries joining us in Portland, and another 550 viewers watching talks from the livestream throughout the week.  While it’s hard to pick favorites from such a great line-up, some presentations that struck me as notable are below. (You can access recordings of the sessions on Vimeo; peruse the Map Gallery to see some excellent cartography.)

The three keynotes were outstanding:

  • Mike Bostock (New York Times), perhaps best known as the creator of the D3 visualization tool, discusses presentation and technology application in The Toolmaker’s Guide
  • Sarah Novotny (NGINX) on technology and community in Open Source is People
  • Mapping for Investigations by Al Shaw (ProPublica), a great blend of data and investigative, question-driven journalism and sharp visualization

Some highlights from the general sessions:

To me, one of the things that made the conference so strong was a dedication to diversity — in presentation topics and a variety of activities, gatherings, and workshops –but also in who was involved in the conference, and what that shared conference experience felt like for attendees. The conference organizers* made a concerted effort to make FOSS4G 2014 a welcoming space for a wide variety of people by emphasizing (and enforcing) a Code of Conduct and working to increase access to the conference.

A heartfelt thank you to the attendees and presenters who made this possible, and thanks, Reed, for letting me abandon my desk during the second week of classes to have an incredibly (and professionally fantastic) experience.

For other perspectives on the conference, see a variety of write-ups from other attendees; for ongoing everything involving open software for spatial work, watch #foss4g.

* full disclosure: in the good company of Eli Adam, Tanya Haddad, and Matt Sayler, I served as one of the co-chairs for the conference, with Darrell Fuhriman as our fearless leader (and conference chair).

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