Ed and Steve talk about how Geomob works. Who gets invited to speak and why? What is the goal of the event?

The Geomob podcast is hosted by Ed Freyfogle, co-founder of OpenCage, and Steven Feldman, of KnowWhere Consulting.

Every week we discuss themes from the geo industry, interview Geomob speakers, and provide regular updates about our own projects.

Autogenerated Transcript:

Ed 00:01 Welcome to the geomob podcast where we discuss geoinnovation in any and all forms geared for fun or profit. Hi Steven. We're here again for another episode of the geomob podcast. Welcome back everyone.
Steven 00:16 Hi ed. Hope you're well.
Ed 00:18 I am doing well. I'm doing well. Maybe I'll start giving a little update on what we've been up to it open kitsch. Um, we, uh, we launched new feature this week, kind of IP restrictions so that our customers using our API, they can limit it to certain IP addresses. Unfortunately, one of the big challenges we face in our businesses, there are always a lot of spammers or people trying to like abuse the system. And so we're trying to create more tools so that customers can protect their API keys and things like that. So one other positive development is we've had three customers in the last two weeks or so who we see this quite frequently. People come and start using our geocoding service and then eventually they say, Oh, well this address isn't quite correct. Or I searched for this and I didn't find it. And then we say, well, you know, it's not an open street map. And then they say, okay, what does open street map, how do I add it? And we, we train them how to get going in adding Dover street map. And so that's a very, very positive development. And so this week we kind of launched a small tutorial where we show people how to add addresses and kind of point them off to relevant links where they can. Um, then of course hopefully slowly but surely get involved in the open street map community.
Steven 01:24 That's right. That's the sort of perfect virtuous cycle isn't it?
Ed 01:28 One of our big hypotheses is that, you know, you're always going to have the hardcore community of geo geeks who love open street maps because it's fun to play around with cheer data. But to really develop a vibrant OpenStreetMap community, the people who are going to maintain the street map are the people who use open street map. And so we try to get people in and they come just because they want you coding. And then over time they realize it's a mystery map and they realize they can contribute and they realize they can give back and join the community and you know, and then through that we hopefully grow the community. What about you? What's up on your side of things?
Steven 02:02 I was pondering about mapperley, you know, which is a hobby project as you know, and how organic growth happens with a hobby project. And it's a strange thing and I don't think I've actually got to the bottom of what's going on. But if I look at the stats on the website, they're really quite, I'd say they're medium to be positive about it, but they're not that large because most people don't access the website. They follow us on Twitter, so they see all the posts appearing on our Twitter feed or they're following the mailing list. And what I realized was the hard work goes into the website because that's the source of all the content and where we maintain it. The Twitter feed is relatively simple because most of that is automated. And the newsletter, which is growing slowly but steadily is the easiest thing of all because that's completely automatic. You know, I don't, I don't even think about it. I just get a message once a week that the newsletter has gone out. So yeah, I'm sort of looking at where do we put the effort in and where do we get the results. And at the moment it's the Twitter feed, which is the one that's growing most rapidly and where are we getting the results? But anyway, it's just a pondering about where you put your effort and where you get your results and probably you have to do all three anyway.
Ed 03:25 I think it raises a good point cause like for any hobby project, the barrier to setting something up now is so low, but the real challenges are you going to maintain it and keep it going over time, which is what it takes to build up a big audience and following. And so it needs to be, you need to set it up in a way that it's very easy to maintain. Otherwise, at some point, you know you'll get busy or burned out or whatever.
Steven 03:48 So one afternoon, this week I had a couple of hours spare and I sat down and I had a load of images that people had sent me that I hadn't loaded up onto the website and I uploaded them all and I, I guess I did 10 15 posts, put them onto the website and scheduled them. And that's like probably a month publications got turned around in a couple of hours one afternoon when I had some spare time. And you're absolutely right. It's that thing of keeping it at a level that you can maintain it and it doesn't put you under pressure. Yeah. A bit like this podcast, if we tried to do release too many episodes too frequently, we just burned out and run out of time and energy to keep the thing going. Well
Ed 04:38 it's a bit like geomob itself actually in that regard to so, which brings us of course to our topic for the day.
Steven 04:44 Let me take the lead for a minute here. And so today listeners, we thought we'd just look at the history of GMR, how it works and generally give people an understanding of what GMR is. So ed, stop, start us off by telling us what was the thinking behind your mom?
Ed 05:01 Well first I should say that while I have run geomob in London for about 10 years now, I didn't start it. That was done by a gentleman named Chris Osborne, very sharp guy who had the idea of, I think the original idea was to have a meetup or an event focusing on geo and on mobile. This was kind of in 2008 or so. So the iPhone had just come out in Europe and there's a lot of innovation happening on mobile, which of course there still is, but the idea was location and mobile and what's going to happen around that. And then over time mobile got so big and there's so many aspects to mobile technically, and it made more sense to focus just on the GOPs and, and, and that was kind of the audience who came.
Steven 05:40 But we're still a mom
Ed 05:41 that we're still a mob or still a mob of course around him of course. But anyway, Chris, he was actually working at my company at that time and the company that I had back then when I lived in London and he was doing the internship with us and then he left and he kept running into him up for a bit. But then life took him in a bit of a different direction. He moved to Amsterdam and he was going to close you down cause he's like, Oh well I'm leaving. And he sent out an email saying, does anyone want to take it over? And I had been to the first few events and enjoyed them. And so I thought, well this is a fun thing and if I can figure out a way to do it in a way that isn't a lot of work, let me see if we can keep it going.
Ed 06:19 And so that was kind of the original idea of can we have a, a regular, so let's say once a quarter or once every two months meet up where we just bring in interesting people who are doing interesting things in the geospace we give them get them to have a talk and, but we also keep it informal. And so actually at the very beginning we, we had some events where we tried to have kind of bigger name speakers from bigger brands and it was a real pain to try to coordinate that actually. Also with like getting a venue and basically it became kind of a job. And so, so then we kind of consciously took the decision of maybe we can go in the other direction and focus more kind of on the hobbyist community, the startups, the academics, I should say. We were always very fortunate from the very beginning.
Ed 07:04 One of our big supporters was Mooky at UCL, Wiki Hockley and he was very good at getting us the venue. In the early days we could often have it at UCL at no cost. And so that was very good because we've got a venue, but it was also very good because when students would come along and obviously there's a lot of people doing interesting things that UCL as well and some of them would come speak and that's how it, that's how it kind of evolved from there. Now all of a sudden I look up and it's been going for 10 years.
Steven 07:31 Hey, so for the sake of the listeners who haven't had an opportunity to attend a gym or you know, maybe you don't live in London, so you've not got to a GMO, describe roughly what happens at a gym or what's it?
Ed 07:46 Okay, so the format is pretty much always the same. It's on a weekday evening, usually a Wednesday or a sometimes a Tuesday or a Thursday. But usually I like to try for Wednesday in that it's, you're not close to the weekend so people aren't leaving town. Usually it doesn't conflict with the holidays. So in the evening, usually about six o'clock we start setting up and then the goal is at six 30 we tend to start the talks. We invite or now at this point people volunteer. We have five or six different speakers. Each speaker speaks for 10 or 15 minutes with a few slides and depending on how many speakers we have, we may have time to take a few questions after each talk. But if there are six speakers, usually I don't, I try to limit the questions cause otherwise it goes a bit too long.
Ed 08:29 So you know you can work it out at the beginning I give a five minute intro and then we have six 15 minute talks. So we're talking about hour and a half or so, a little bit more. And then at the end we all adjourn it to a nearby pub, which makes the logistics quite easy in that we don't have to, we don't try to have drinks or anything out the venue, but we go to a pub and then we drink some beers. Or obviously people don't want to drink beer, they don't have to drink beer. But basically we have kind of a very informal social gathering as well, and that's the chance for people can ask detailed questions of the speakers, people can catch up with the others. And just general networking, having fun. Usually London, we have about, I'd say about 50 50 to 75 people come. It's a mix. I would say there's kind of a hardcore group of let's say 20 or 30 people who kind of come every time or every other time kind of the regulars. But then we always have some new people who drop in and hopefully over time they become regulars.
Steven 09:20 Are these all startups or or businesses or
Ed 09:24 one rule when it comes to the speakers and that is that the speaker has to be a doer, so that could mean is that could be having more technical background. It could be in that they are a founder of a startup. It could mean that they're a product manager. It could mean their designer. And sometimes we have people from the academic community talking about the research. But the main point is that it's someone who actually works on the project, not a marketing person or a PR person telling you why something is great, but they haven't actually worked on it. That being said, I also tell the speakers, this is not a technical meetup. So what we, what we don't want is nothing more boring than a slide showing, you know, 20 lines of source code. Okay. That you can, you can visibly see the audience eyes glaze over and they kind of fade out at that point.
Ed 10:10 So what I always tell the speakers is, tell us, tell us why what you're doing is interesting. Don't tell us necessarily how you're doing it. And of course if people have those detailed technical questions, by all means they should ask afterwards at the pub. And you can get into the technical details. But it's about, what I'm trying to get at is why are you doing it? And what's interesting about that and what have you learned in doing it? Or what did you know? What worked or what didn't work and you know, 15 minutes, that's not a long time for a talk. So that's barely enough to give kind of an overview of the project. It is often startups in London, we do have many startups, but I really don't want it to be, it's, it shouldn't be a startup event. I don't want it to be, it's not a startup pitch event or anything like that. It's more just anyone doing anything interesting around you.
Steven 10:52 But we also get people with their personal projects, you know, their hobby projects and
Ed 10:59 yes, absolutely. And in many ways those are the most interesting one. I mean we shouldn't forget that's of course I open street map started back in the day at UCL actually. And of course many of the attendees are in many of the speakers of the years. I've been very active participants in the open street street map community in London and also mappers. But also for a long time the open street map infrastructure was hosted in London. There's a very active officer of African Indian London. So we've had many talks in and around it. Misread map. Of course, but obvious in general, I mean we have all kinds of weird and wonderful people. Some of the talks are just people who said, Oh, I thought it'd be cool to do this. And then they just go do it. I mean,
Steven 11:37 and then when they tell us about it, you go, wow, that is cool. You know, oftentimes those are the best arcs. The bird lady.
Ed 11:45 Yes, yes. So, so the mapping of the migration patterns of birds, I mean we've had so many over the years. I mean, were you there? The guy, the who is doing Britain's longest linear forest. So the idea was to create a, a forest in a straight line, like a row of trees, the whole length of Britain. And he talked all about, he talked about all of he himself as an artist, but as somehow in combination with the university and you know that you figured out the longest possible straight line in Britain and then where the trees would be and, and then it got stranger and stranger because obviously the line crosses over many built areas where you, where you wouldn't private property where you couldn't plant a tree. So then the idea was to put virtual trees there and anyway, I mean that would be worthy of a podcast in its own right.
Ed 12:29 Yeah. The point is yes, those are often some of the best talks when you get the people who do not come from a traditional geo background and just said they just, you know, they have some weird and wonderful project that they want to present. But when we have also, we do also have people, we've had people from the ordinance survey, we've had people from misery, we've had people from Google, we've had, you know, it's not that we exclude the big geo companies in any way, but what I don't want and what the mistake we made at the very beginning is one or two times we had people come who basically just read a press release about something that was made in California or something. That's just, that's a waste of everyone's time.
Steven 13:06 So just think of those startup, you know, we've probably, we've been going for over 10 years now, which means something in excess of 200 speakers, I guess over those 10 years, have we had any people who went on to great success talking at GMO?
Ed 13:23 Hmm. Well, if I could perhaps, uh, you know, kick the hornet's nest, what three words spoke at geomob city mapper. The company that went on to become Carto spoke in the very, very early days. I even forget what they were called back then. It wasn't before they were called Cardo. They will call Carter DB. But before that they had actually another name.
Steven 13:40 We had Steve coast before open street map was a big thing.
Ed 13:44 Well geomob started in like 2008 or nine so I mean by that point of a shoe Memphis already the Aubrey Overstreet was always on the radar from the time that GMO. But you know we've had Mapbox we've had, I don't know, we've had, we've had quite a few and I hope many, many more to come. I mean now of course we're very fortunate that in London we have the gov nation with their accelerator and we often, and of course I'll have geomob at U of Asian and they have, you know, just a steady stream of interesting startups that are doing all kinds of cool things. So there's no shortage of startups. If anything, I have to work more now to try to get non startups and to get more of the hobbyists to get, maybe I would like to have more people from government. You know, we've had some interesting people from government or let's say closet governmental Institute. Do you remember? We had the woman from probably not saying the correct name, but the Welsh national library came and spoke. Do you remember that one about crowdsourcing Welsh place names? Yeah,
Steven 14:39 we had the one from the European center for medium range weather forecasting, talking about absolutely humongous volumes of data.
Ed 14:49 Yeah, and so the other point I should make is, you know now we also have Giamatti and other cities. We don't just do London at the last one here in Barcelona, we had a guy building an application for mapping wind and the primary use case was people who fly gliders. He worked on this project and the number one app in the world for if you're a glider pilot, knowing where, where there's going to be kind of updrafts and things like that. Wow. Very, very cool. I'm trying to get them to come speak in London as well because apparently some of the team are based in London. We'll see if we can get them, but yeah, really anyone who's doing anything connected with geo in the biggest sense, you know, it's not a GIS event. I mean occasionally we do get people who try to give presentations like that and we don't, we don't exclude them in any way, but I'd actually, I should say I really make almost no effort to exclude anyone beyond that. They have to follow the format of 15 minutes and it has to be somehow related to geo and they have to be a Dewar on the project. Those really the only qualifications
Steven 15:41 in London, we are more deprived every, every time we meet for the most popular speaker.
Ed 15:47 Well that's also an interesting story in that the prize is presented by David from David Overton from splash maps and David himself was originally a speaker at geomob when he presented his idea as a Kickstarter. He presented his Kickstarter project and then it was eventually funded and they make of course very lovely maps. They print maps on cloth that are designed for using the outdoors or as a souvenir and it's a really cool product and David, very generously, every time the end we vote by show of hands on who's the, who's selected the specifier and the best speaker wins a spot. Very cool. Closing of the circle of someone who went from speaker to sponsor. Yeah,
Steven 16:26 and also an example of how a tiny business sort of exposed the idea to jeer mob. Then had a Crowdfunder, a Kickstarter raised the tiny amount of seed capital they needed to get the first production run in place and has gone on to build a very nice little business out of it. Which reminds me that I'm known as something of a cynic at GMO because whenever we have a geomob and the startups are presenting, I always have to ask the question and how do you intend to make money? So how does Jim mob make money?
Ed 17:03 Well, mainly on volume. Steven geomob is a labor of love. It's not a moneymaking business at all. There's no, there's no attendance fee, there's no speaking fee. We're very fortunate in that we are able to work with some great venues that give us the location at no cost and many thanks to them because otherwise it wouldn't be possible. We do have a few sponsors, my own business being one of them. You also very generously have been sponsored for some for your, Stephen said thank you for that. And what the sponsors pay for is that when we go to the pub afterwards they pay for the drinks until the money runs out. And it helps, let's say lubricate the conversation a bit, but GMO doesn't make money in that sense. That being said, if anyone does want to sponsor the event, I should say thank you to all of our sponsors.
Ed 17:49 Um, and that includes as re is a as the restart up program as a sponsor in London and the Esri Germany as a sponsor in Munich. It's a great way for people to reach an audience of geo developers. So if you're, if you're hiring, you know, so it's a great chance that where if you have some new geo product that you want to put in front of an audience of lead users, cause I would say this really is kind of the lead user group. You know, these are the people who are interested in experimenting, trying things out, testing new things, seeing what things can do. So if that, if that audience is relevant to you, please become a sponsor and help support the project.
Steven 18:23 Yeah, I'd echo that. This is a very early adopter audience. It's a tech savvy audience. It's a great place to be exposing yourself if you're recruiting or if you want to get an early feedback on an idea. But I have to say as a sponsor, it's just a good thing to do. You know, we've been doing this for 10 years. I think I've been sponsoring, I don't know how long, but certainly about six years. I think it's a great way to put a little bit back to facilitate this community, which is now 10 years old. You know, that's quite an achievement ad and you should be very, very proud of what we've, what you've achieved. I said we have it to you.
Ed 19:02 Well, it does kind of you to say that, but really I do it. It's a lot of fun for me. It's just a great chance to meet interesting people, you know, when even when I was London, but also now I have a small business, you know it's a startup and, and that has many, many advantages. But one disadvantage of it is at times it can be a bit small. You work with a small number of people, you focus on only one project and one problem. And so one thing I did miss about prior to getting into the startup world, I've worked at a very big company and the advantage of the big organization was the organization would continually bring you interesting people, you know, with load. And so I kind of missed that at a startup. And so by going to geomob, it's kind of a way to cap a continual stream of interesting new people.
Ed 19:43 And some of the talks just blow your mind. I'll be the first to admit, sometimes some of the talks are terrible. I mean you never know, you never know what you're going to get. And, and it's, it's quite funny because I get the lineup of speakers. Let's say we have six talks and you look at kind of the topics and usually there are one or two where you think, Oh wow, that's going to be a great talk. And sometimes it is. And sometimes it's not. Sometimes it's terrible. The person, for whatever reason, they're not a good public speaker. They don't create a good presentation and it just doesn't pan out. But on the other hand, sometimes you have topics that seem so dry and boring and because the person is passionate about the topic and because you can see that they cared, they can make it really interesting.
Ed 20:25 Or they, they open up aspects of the project that you'd never considered and, and you're like, Oh wow, that's, you know, I didn't know that. So you never know. And that's, that's part of the idea of why we keep it short, 15 minutes. Because even if the speaker is very boring, you can sit through 15 minutes, you know, and, uh, and usually every time out of six talks, you know, there's always one or two that it's just like, wow, that was, and easily most of them are, are reasonably good. You know, most of them would be like, okay, now I know, you know, that's interesting what that company is working on or whatever, but, but there are always some that you're just like, wow, I had no idea about that.
Steven 21:00 And I mean, I particularly remember the day we had a speaker with quite a profound speech impediment and he stood up and stood up and talked for 15 minutes battling with the speech impediment and gave an absolutely stunning talk, which got, it was a prize winner that day, but it was a prize winner, not just because of the content, but because of the fact that this guy was so passionate about a subject that he was willing to stand up and talk in front of a big audience despite the impediment that he had.
Ed 21:38 Yeah, I do recall that. That that was very good. You know, often one of the ways I get the speakers is, you know, I'm pretty active on Twitter and sometimes I'll just see someone, you know, someone will retweet something and I'll see something. And then it's someone who's in London or now also in Barcelona, and they'll say, Oh, that's cool. Let me, let me ping that person and see, you know, see if they'll speak. And so, you know, I'll write to them. And then sometimes people just say, Oh, I don't know, I'm not a very good speaker. And I say, well, you know, I wouldn't have contacted you if your project didn't look highly relevant and interesting. But, but the second point is, you know, the audience is very forgiving. I mean, geomob is not the Oxford debating society, you know, I mean the audience wants the speaker to succeed and say something interesting and if they don't then all right, fair enough. And, and often, you know, sometimes they're talks that I'm like, Oh well that wasn't that interesting. And then afterwards we're having beers and someone will come up and say like, Oh my God, that talk was so fascinating. You know? And so you never know like, which it just depends on what you're interested in.
Steven 22:38 Well, you see it when we have hands up at the end of the end of the evening. And people are voting for their favorite speaker. And if we've got five speakers, I don't think I've ever seen a night where a speaker didn't get any hands up. You know, there might have been an overwhelming favorite, but every other one of the speakers will have had some people who thought they were the best speaker on the night. That's true. And of course the certainty of beers after the speakers always keeps the audience in a good mood.
Ed 23:14 Yeah. And then if I could say one final thing, Steven, just to say, well first of all, thank you to everyone who's spoken over the years. Obviously the event would not be possible without them and we were fortunate, we've had many repeat speakers and so I encourage anyone out there listening who wants to speak. Please do get in touch. But the point I wanted to make is for me, one of the most exciting developments about geomob is over the last year we've really kind of expanded the project in that. A couple of years ago I moved here to Barcelona and so about a year ago we started doing mop here in Barcelona. And then I've been very fortunate cause people have volunteered to do it in other cities. We know how to geomob also in Munich, which unfortunately I have not yet attended. But all evidence that I see the pictures and everything, it looks to be quite a thriving community as well. And now you know, we've also added in the last year we've added a uh, the newsletter. So that's a way for people to stay in touch. And of course also this podcast and hopefully the podcast will help us reach, you know, a much bigger audience than just the people in the cities.
Steven 24:08 And what plans are there to roll out to more cities apart from Munich, Barcelona, and Lisbon?
Ed 24:14 Well really it's driven by, so first of all, the plants planted. We would love to expand to more cities. All I need is someone in each city who wants to take the lead on it and who can commit to doing several events. Because usually when you start a new city, and I can say this is from my own experience in the last year in Barcelona, you know you need to commit to doing it two or three times. So probably it's like once every three months or so. Probably the first event will be small and then hopefully that will get the ball rolling and you can grow it. But I should also say the goal with Mav is not how can we get a thousand people to come to GMO? The goal of Jim was how can we get the correct 50 people to come to up, you know the people who care about the topic and who are interested and have something to say, an exchange and it's not about how do we make this thing bigger and bigger.
Ed 24:57 But yeah, anyone out there who's listening who wants to get it going in their city, please let's talk. I do also understand maybe the recipe needs to change slightly in each city depending on the dynamics in that location. The one suggestion I would make though, and I have made for example, to my friends in Munich, is you've got to find a way to make sure it's as low effort as possible because otherwise at some point you'll get burned out because everyone, everyone who works on this as a volunteer, so if you try to have a big snazzy event, you can definitely do it. But at some point you'll get tired of it. Cause we, you know, there's no, there's no budget or anything like that. So that's why I intentionally keep the event as low effort as possible. You know, we don't have a slick marketing website. We don't have, you know, all these kinds of things. It's just whoever comes, comes, we listen to our talks, we have some beers, have some interesting discussion and that's it.
Steven 25:47 Which takes us right round, full loop to where we started. Because this is the ultimate hobby project, isn't it?
Ed 25:54 It is. It is. And I look forward to doing it for many years to come because I've met so many great people and, uh, learned a lot.
Steven 26:01 So if you're interested in speaking or if you're in a city where we don't have a geomob and you wanted to get in touch to find out how to run one, where should people get in touch with you at?
Ed 26:14 Well if you go to the website, the geomob.com there's a contact us link and you can just ping us in there or of course on Twitter or you know, get on the monthly newsletter and just hit reply when you get that. And that goes into my inbox and I don't think it's difficult to get in touch with me. So,
Steven 26:31 so all you people out there in cities who want to host a geomob and all those people who wondered about speaking about their hobby project, get in touch with it and that's look to seeing you at a gym up in the future.
Ed 26:46 I look forward to seeing you there as well.
Steven 26:47 Yep, indeed. Okay. I think that'll do for today yet Steven. Okay. Take care everybody. Bye.
Ed 26:56 Thanks everyone for joining us today and listening to the Geomob podcast. Hopefully you've enjoyed the discussion. Please don't hesitate if you have any feedback for us or any suggestions for topics that we should cover in the future. You can get the show notes over on the website, which is at thegeomob dot com while you're there, if you're not yet on the mailing list, please do get on the mailing list where we once a month send out an email announcing future events, summarizing past events and just generally sharing, uh, events that you may find of interest. You can also of course, follow us on Twitter, where our handle is geomob. You can follow Steven at Steven Feldman. You can follow me @freyfogle. You can check out Mappery at mappery dot org and of course, if you need any geocoding, please check out my service, which is open cage data.com. We look forward to you joining us again at a future episode or end of course seeing you at a future geomob event. Hope to see you there soon. Bye.