FOSS4G Quick Hits

I had the distinct pleasure of attending my first FOSS4G conference in Denver last week. Having not attended one previously, I can only rely on the opinions of others that this has been the best FOSS4G yet. For me, this was best geospatial conference I have attended. I’ll probably blog in more detail about some of the things I saw but here are my high-level observations:

It's time to refresh your thinking about open-source geospatial tools.

1. QGIS – I didn’t attend many QGIS sessions but I didn’t need to. It had everyone talking in hallways during breaks. Remember a few years ago when the desktop was the weak link with open-source GIS? Forget about that.

2. Vizzuality is doing great things to deploy usable mapping applications on the web with open-source tools. Every session they led was standing-room only, with good reason.

3. CartoSet and CartoDB – from the aforementioned Vizzuality. These open-source tools are designed to help speed the front-end and back-end development of a web application respectively. These are at the top of my list of things to check out.

4. One of the key characteristics of most of the open-source tools discussed in sessions I attended is that they originally grew out of the need to solve a problem. They were not just built on spec, hoping someone would find them useful. As a result, these tools tend to already be proven within the problem set for which they were built.

5. PostGIS – If open-source geospatial is a flowering field, then PostGIS is the water that hydrates it. The amount of tools that support it is staggering (including CartoDB). The importance of a robust, open-source, spatial data store cannot be overstated and the role PostGIS plays as a foundation technology is pivotal. As for PostGIS 2.0, Michael Weisman sums it up best here:

6. Javascript mapping libraries – there are now more ways to get an interactive map into a browser than I can keep track of. Those based on Javascript and/or HTML5 are proliferating like wildfire. The “I” in “RIA” now stands for “intranet”.

I’m still organizing my notes and thoughts about what I saw at FOSS4G. It’s impossible to describe the richness of the information that was available. The only real downtime I had was that which I sought for myself. I’ll follow up these quick observations in the near future as I begin to dig into the new tools I was exposed to.

  • http://twitter.com/RyHug Ryan Hughes (@RyHug)

    Good stuff Bill! CartoSet and the awesome yet simple things Vizzuality is doing with it, seriously makes me reconsider my life in management. I wanna be programmer really really bad so I can play with those toys! :-)

    • http://geobabble.wordpress.com/ Bill Dollins

      Agreed. There are too many cool things out there to try!

  • http://www.facebook.com/dave.labranche Dave LaBranche

    Kudos for this quick look and sharing your observations. I continue to believe, as a growing number do, that lightweight OS geotools will become the backbone of this industry if it ever breaks through to true mainstream use. By mainstream I mean: at least 1/2 of the normal Windows/Mac users have some type of map building and sharing capability right at their fingertips and they use it regularly. These “knowledge workers” can be biologists, journalists, artists, economists, engineers, nurses…well just about everyone.

    • http://twitter.com/billdollins Bill Dollins (@billdollins)

      Thank you, Dave. I agree with your points and I think that day is coming quickly. The pace of innovation amongst open-source geospatial projects is staggering. I think the Federal Government could also play a lead role by making sure there’s a level playing field for open-source. The report from ASD-NII, the DoD CIO and USD-AT&L (http://www.oss-institute.org/OTD2011/OTD-lessons-learned-military-FinalV1.pdf) is a great start. I think it’s important to keep that momentum going.

      It’s too bad the most recent HIFLD coincided with FOSS4G because I think a lot of people in the HIFLD community could have benefited from the information at FOSS4G.

      I hope we get a chance to catch up soon.