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Geomob Podcast - 3. Steven tells us about Mappery and FOSS4G

We start with a brief update about our projects, Mappery and OpenCage, and then Steven shares his experiences in helping organize FOSS4G, "the world's largest gathering of open source geospatial users, developers, and researchers".
The Geomob podcast is hosted by Ed Freyfogle, co-founder of OpenCage, and Steven Feldman, of KnowWhere Consulting. We discuss themes from the geo industry, interview Geomob speakers, and provide regular updates about our own projects. We aim to publish a new episode each Wednesday morning.

Autogenerated Transcript:

Ed 00:01 Welcome to the geomob podcast where we discussed you innovation in any and all forms get for fun or profits. Welcome back everyone. We're here for episode three of the geomap podcast. Once again, I'm talking with my good friend Steven Feldman and Steven. What's new with Mappery?
Steven 00:23 Oh, hi ed. Hope you're wealth mastery. We've been going now for 18 months. It's amazing. We started when I was on a Safari in Tanzania with Tim field and we're out in the middle of the wilderness and we see this great big map on a piece of stone showing the outline of a park that we were about to go into and it made us think about maps in the wild. And whilst we're on Safari, we saw a few maps and then one of the guides told us the elephant story. Do you know the elephant?
Ed 00:59 I share the elephant story with us.
Steven 01:01 How do you tell the difference between an Indian elephant and an African elephant?
Ed 01:06 Eh, I believe it's the ears, isn't it?
Steven 01:10 Yes, but actually if you look at the right here, Oh, each animal, what you see is the outline of the continent. Of Africa on an African elephant and the outline of the Indian landmass on an Indian elephant. So you've got these two strains of elephant and there is represent the continents that they live on, which is pretty amazing. And you can imagine 10 and I really rest on that. And that's where the elephant logo for -inaudible- came from.
Ed 01:48 I did not know that. I did. I will check that out more closely.
Steven 01:52 It's a real gem that you go and look at those elephants and you'll see.
Ed 01:56 Okay, so, so wait, one clarification. What, what exactly is a map in the wild? What, what, what does it take to qualify as a man?
Steven 02:03 So I'm mapping the Wald is definitely not a map on a computer or a mobile phone. It's not a printed map in the conventional sense stuck in a frame on a wall. It's a map that's used as decoration. It's a map that's painted on the floor. It's in a quirky location. And usually what makes one of the maps in the wild that we published, if there's something humorous or funny or artistic about the map. So, let me give you two examples. In the last week or so, we published a bear map of the world. There's a bar in the hay which has got a display on the wall made out of beer bottles. And when you look at this display on the wall, you can see the North America, South America or Asia, India, the whole of the world is out of bare bottles, about 150. -inaudible-.
Ed 03:01 And uh, the, the bottles are in the correct country, the correct location for, for where they're produced.
Steven 03:09 I believe so. I'm not, I'm going to have to go to the bar and check it out.
Ed 03:14 Obviously some fieldwork required. Yeah, absolutely. Yeah.
Steven 03:19 He said what could be better loads of maps and bear. So the second example I'll give you is a piece of, Oh, and it's a dress, a full length, full gown on a model, a mannequin, and it's completely made out of sheets of paper maps. It's a spectacular display, you know. And so that's in the wild rule, these sorts of wacky ideas, furniture don't look on the side without running it. About 500 users a month we've published.
Ed 03:55 And so wait, how does it work? I'm I'm out and about and I spot a map in the wild and what? I just snap a picture of it and I emailed it.
Steven 04:01 You snap a picture and you either email it to me at maps at -inaudible- dot org we'll put that link at the end of the podcast or if you're on your mobile phone you can just send it to us. My Twitter Twitter handle is at maps in the wild. Just send us the, the image. Tell us where you spotted it. Tell us why you thought it was funny or interesting and you'll see it appear on the site in a couple of months time. So what's happening with you? I had a alone on your side of the world with open cage.
Ed 04:38 Well, we're a, you know it's, it's deep into January here, which is the holiday break as well. Behind us. We've been rolling out some new features this week. We're launching our service and API and one of the key features that we're rolling out is that customers will be able to restrict access to the API based on IP address and things like that. So, so that's, that's a new feature that's coming. We've been getting that out. The other big thing is next week I'm off too. I'll be back in London for a big conference called the move 2020 which is all about the future of mobility. So very, very dynamic space. Lots happening around car sharing, vehicle sharing, electric scooters, you know, bike, hire, all these different things that are moving around. And so that's actually one of our most popular use cases is when your things are moving, then you have a GPS device that records where they are.
Ed 05:29 And at some point your data geo kit, that's the, you know, know where they are. So did have one sort of heartbreak. Yes. Well hopefully we'll see. We'll see. It's a very dynamic space where lots of things are happening. But Oh my God, I've been in, I've been getting ready for the conference by trying to line up some meetings and their software that you use around the conference like that, they make you log in to this kind of portal and it's just so painful and so cumbersome. So there's a real juxtaposition between the, the dynamicness of the industry and the painfulness of their software. But
Steven 06:06 you might call the app move 1920
Ed 06:09 yes. Not sure they've made it that far. But anyway, I'm looking forward to being back in London and seeing who I can meet there. And other than that, we had one. Yeah,
Steven 06:18 I'm sorry, I'm going to be away next week.
Ed 06:21 Oh wow. And we had one painful experience this week and that was, you know, we get an alert whenever a customer is signing up, they've signed up and then when they go through the payment process, we get an alert from Stripe, our payment processor, and just heartbreaking. We saw a fairly big brand that they had been in communication with. We saw them, you know, trying to go through the payment process and the payment keeps failing and Stripe just kind of rejects the charge and uh, with a very vague error message. So very heartbreak when you see someone trying to give you money and they can't give you money. So, so there's still some ways to go, you know, some ups and downs, but that's the nature of any startup, so,
Steven 06:58 so you can recover that lost customer.
Ed 07:01 Well we'll see
Steven 07:02 they, well the lost customer cause I hadn't become a customer yet, but maybe you can reel them in despite the difficulty with the credit card system.
Ed 07:10 Anyway, let's dive into today's topic today. We wanted to chat a bit about fosterG and because you've been, you've been an organizer of some of the events and been very active in the community over the last couple of years. So tell us what is FOSS4G and what, what has been your involvement and give us an update.
Steven 07:25 Okay, so FOSS4G stands for free and open source software for geo. It's the brand for all of the conferences of -inaudible-, the osto foundation. But in particular for their annual conference. It's also, for me, I'm for lots of other people, it's like a busman's holiday and I don't know whether that colloquialism works with all of our audience and Buster's holiday is like a working holiday. You know, where you choose to take your day job on holiday with you. Imagine a week of GML with a load of your buddies or focusing on opensource geo living together virtually for a week, talking it, doing it, partying in the evenings. It's a great experience.
Ed 08:16 Who typically comes, it's it's individuals who are like open source contributors or it's, it's people coming for their work, for you know, their company or is there, I mean does this, is this more like a professional event or it's a fun event or both or how does it break down?
Steven 08:32 Okay. I would say it's a professional event and a fun event. I mean the open source community -inaudible- made up of both individual contributors and corporate contributors, you know, very, you know, Osco is no different to the rest of the open source world. You know, it's a little bit of a myth. I think that code is contributed by lots of individual volunteers. It's not like the crowdsourcing of open street map, for example. Most of open source code is contributed by people who are paid to contribute code. So there's a lot of professional attendees there and consultants who work with open source code and advise businesses on deploying it will be at the event. But you also get individuals like me, you know, am I there as a business person or am I there as it's just an individual? You know, it's difficult to say, you know, I've done my living in the open source world for the last decade. So I sort of see it as a, as part of my work. But I also see it as part of my, my leisure. And I think a lot of the people who are attending, whether they're companies or individuals, will see it as crossing both the work domain and the social domain
Ed 09:52 and give us an idea of the scale. Like how big is this event?
Steven 09:55 The annual global conference, which is the one that we're mainly talking about, is now running at about 1200 people. Wow. So it's pretty big. It's pretty damn big. You know, when I hosted FOSS4G in Nottingham in 2013 we had 150 people. We're now talking 1200 I think we usually would expect conference site over a three year cycle. North America, what we call other regions, which is, sorry, North America, Europe and other regions. So last year it was in Romania. This year it's in Calgary, in Canada. And next year in 2021, it's going to be in Buenos Iris and we'd normally expect the North American and European events to be larger. Then the third event, the third event is more about outreach and trying to spread the use of open source geo software to other parts of the world. But over the last couple of years we've seen, you know, Doris alarm Tanzania, which is what got me to go on Safari with Ken. That conference hadn't over 1100 people attending.
Ed 11:11 Wow. Well done. So you don't need the big events, but they're also regional events, right? I mean, I know there's one, some for G UK or, um, I know in Germany there's what they call -inaudible-, which will be, yeah. Yeah.
Steven 11:24 So there are also regional events and this year if you're in Europe, there's first Fiji Europe in July in Latvia, which is going to be a lot of fun. I've never been to the Baltics. This is going to be great fun. You see how you combine your sort of interest in travel with a work related theme that will, you know, there's a FOSS Virgin North America, which is a America only event where it's not restricted, but it's targeted at an American audience and they'll probably be a, Oh yes, there's a FOSS4G in Oceana and Australia, you know, that whole region
Ed 12:05 down there. I had, of course, they now are all local event,
Steven 12:08 which are even smaller. So the Europe, the regional events might be three to 500 people. And then there'll be the national events, you know, like Mmm. They could be anything from a hundred people to 500 people.
Ed 12:22 Okay. And what are, I mean, as soon people are showing off, you know, new software and things like that, but what are some of the, some of the issues in the community, some of the topics that are discussed, some of the, I guess points of conflict or what, what's the, is it just a party? Are people discussing things or give us a feel.
Steven 12:40 Okay, so you've got multiple, if I talk about the global event, the big event and the regional events you'll have in the global event, you might have nine streams of content. So you've got nine talks going on at any one time and a lot of them will be pretty damn technical stuff. I mean, stuff that I don't understand. Lots of curly brackets on the screen and you know, black screen with white type on it and all of that, you know, and typically be updates on the new releases of software. So you know, the Q J S team will cave a presentation for an hour on the new features in what's in the next release of -inaudible- that will be mobbed. You'll see three, four, 500 people in that one session. You know, it will be in the biggest space we've got and it will be absolutely packed out.
Steven 13:34 There'll be a session on poster, a session on GSR and it will goes on all the way through. And then there'll be lots of case studies and people talking about how to performance tune this and how they've solved this problem. And then there'll be people introducing you projects and new ideas that they've got. And there's been a lot of stuff about processing remote sense imagery and storing it and deriving intelligence from it and all of that kind of stuff. And then there'll be, seems about community stuff, you know, so typically about like most communities, the open source community tends to have something of an inward facing vision. You know, sometimes they get very, very tied up looking at themselves in the way they work and how they can strengthen community and addressing issues like diversity. Yeah. I mean I don't want to to manage that in any regards. You know, cause I think it's really important. But yeah, we do continuously work on making our community as open and welcoming as possible and you know, I've given talks on those sorts of topics myself at these conference.
Ed 14:45 Let me, let me ask one question though. I'm more familiar with the open street map world and I know a big topic in the community at the last state of the map, which was the -inaudible- conference or but also in general, is this the dynamic between individual contributors and companies and corporate members and what they call organized mapping, paid mapping, you know that, how does this play out in the, in the FOSS side of things, it's just such a similar tension kind of exist or no, or
Steven 15:12 there is a tension. There is a tension, but it's not. It's not in my opinion, anything like the level of tension that there is in -inaudible-, the open street map community, and there's a big difference between those two communities. In my opinion, very large proportion of the contributions to open street map come from individual mappers. They're not corporate mappers, they're are corporate mappers making substantial contributions. But the majority are coming from the individual mappers. And there's always been this, this view, we make the map because we want to make the map and because we believe it's important to make a map and to make an open map without a regard for actually who's using it. Whereas I think in the open source community or certainly the OSU community that I'm a member of, the vast majority of the contributions to the software, uh, made by corporate contributors.
Steven 16:11 They may be very small companies have one or two people, but they all people who own their living from contributing code and working with the software that they've developed, consulting with it, supporting clients with it. And so the role of business is much more integral to FOSS4G than it is to state of the map. Not just, and I'm not just thinking in terms of the people who sponsor the conference, I'm thinking about their role in the community. We wouldn't have open source software on the scale, but we have it today. In my opinion if we were dependent on contributors, not just individuals ed, but I mean if you, if you're an individual and you spend all of your working time contributing writing code because people are sponsoring to write you to write code, you're effectively a professional contributor aren't you?
Ed 17:15 Yeah, I guess so. I guess I mean what this is, this is one of the big challenges is like, you know that I see is that many people wear multiple hats in some cases like literally in the same day, but in some kids are just over time. You know, maybe you got Innova stream app as a hobbyist, then you liked it and as a result you found a job where you could use open street map in your job or you know, are you then -inaudible- are you, are you an individual, are you, are you, is this professional pavement? It's gray area. In my day I think that many people, one of my frustrations with -inaudible- is that there are some people who like to see things in black and white and I don't think it's possible. I think, I think things are a bit more gray than that and I think we all played different roles at different times.
Steven 18:02 Indeed. Also, I think you need to look at the way companies use the data. He's good thing. Not a bad thing. Yeah. I mean we won't, we won't open street map to be widely used, you know that means businesses like open cage or map. Well using that data is a good thing, but somehow there is a, there is a negative attitude or it seems to me there's a negative attitude towards business involvement.
Ed 18:34 Yeah.
Steven 18:35 Contribution side.
Ed 18:37 Well one, one frustration I have there is like definitely there are people who have a negative attitude, but is it they believe they represent the community? I'm not sure they do. I think it's a very small but most vocal minority. But you know, this is a subject that we can talk about endlessly because anyway, let's, let's come back to FOSS4G. so what are some of the issues in the community that I, that are being debated or discussed or
Steven 18:58 we certainly hit a problem when we decided to host the conference in Doris alarm. Mmm. In 2018 because we chose Doris alarm because it was a major city in Africa. It had an active community. We wanted to contribute to growing the use of -inaudible- open geospatial software in Africa. We had all these great reasons why we wanted to, how's the big conference in Africa, what we didn't once you were old, and you can call it naivety, you can call it something much worse than that. We weren't aware of the issues in Tanzania with regard to LGBTQ issues. I mean, you know, homosexuality is illegal and the laws are reinforced. We only realize this when we were too far down the line in organizing the conference to make a change. And there was quite a lot of anxiety about this from members of our community and justifiably so.
Steven 20:10 The problem that you're faced with is there are, I think over 70 countries in the world that have pretty draconian laws regarding homosexuality. And are we going to say that means we won't take the conference to those 70 countries? I don't, I don't think it does and I don't, but I don't know what the answer is. I do know that since that time we've been much more careful when we're selecting cities that will host future events to ask more questions about this. Um, so you know, it's a learning experience in that regard. I mean, another issue which constantly comes up in running these conferences is ticket prices. And the economics of running a conference are a bit bizarre because if you run a conference for -inaudible- two to 300 people, there are lots of venues that you can find, particularly university venues as an example where somebody can gift the venue to you and you have very, very low expenses in hosting the conference. Go up to 500 or up to a thousand. You all false to choose large conference venues. You know, you just, the opportunities, you know, there aren't many. I've got a room, a space that can accommodate -inaudible- 800 or a thousand people for a keynote.
Ed 21:43 Yeah, sure.
Steven 21:44 And once you stopped going to those venues, the economy get work against you and you actually find you're paying more per delegate than you would be if you only had 200 delegates in a small venue. So yeah, it's challenging because it costs, I don't know, five $600 to attend a three day conference with some social events around the edge of it, which is quite a lot of money tending as an individualist. The community wrestle with that challenge and it's an ongoing discussion at the moment. The way we're solving it is we're solving it by having a -inaudible- travel ground program, which I've been involved in promoting and running for the last three years and for example, in Doris alarm, I think we had a hundred well attending the conference because of the travel ground, which was pretty phenomenal.
Ed 22:39 Right. Congratulations. First of all, yeah, that's difficult because I guess the solution is some kind of tiered pricing. Obviously. Where are those who, who's who can pay more but, but then of course you get into the question of fairness of, you know, why should person a pay more in person fee pay less and yeah, it's difficult. I mean, you know, with geomob, Dell only reason we're able to have geomob is because we've have venues that are donated to us and to, in London we're often at geo ovation or are here in Barcelona we have coworking space that very generously makes her space available. And if you, it's difficult anytime you any, if you had to charge money or something or either you need to find more sponsors, so then that puts a different flavor on the event or has the potential to, or you need to charge the individual, which then inherently restricts the access. It's a, it's a challenge, you know, there's no clear right answer. And it's unfortunate because I, based on my interaction with you, I have every confidence you're trying to do this for the best of intentions, right? And you're just trying to have a great event where that, where people can share the knowledge and share there. It's a tough one. This is a tough one. When people start criticizing and uh, and so it's all organized by volunteers or
Steven 23:50 all organized by volunteers. I mean typically for the global conferences, you know, where you've got a thousand delegates, the organizing committee will retain a professional conference organizer to do a lot of the, the nuts and bolts work and maybe the registration system and various other things for them. I mean, it would be really difficult to organize a conference for 1,012 hundred delegates just using a team of 15 or volunteers. You need a small professional input as well. But I mean pretty much the whole thing is organized by volunteers and um, yeah.
Ed 24:35 -inaudible-
Steven 24:35 and it's a system. It's a system that's worked. You know, we're now talking about when I've been, I think FOSS4G started in about 2007 or two, something like that. You know, you know, we're talking about 1214 years of FOSS4G global events. You know, there have been hundreds of regional and local events all talking and sharing open source software. It's pretty remarkable. And at the same time you get to, to socialize with people who you might only see in the real world once every couple of years because so much of our interaction is, um, through mailing lists and IRC channels and conference calls and all of that shit. You know, and actually there is nothing that compares with -inaudible- actually sitting down over a cup of coffee or in the evening over a glass of beer, maybe with some people that you know intimately well in the digital world, but you only get to catch up with face to face every year or every two years. It's great, you know, I mean, I love it.
Ed 25:47 Wow. That you've exactly summarize the premise of geomob is that we bring T-SPOT together face to face and over a drink and they can exchange ideas and things like that. So, so yeah. So you mentioned this year does year FOSS4G Europe is in Latvia in July. So maybe, maybe as that draws closer we can do kind of a preview podcast or things like that. Yeah,
Steven 26:08 we could even think about doing, I don't know whether you're going to get to Latvia in July. I'll certainly be there, but maybe we could try and organize the gym of podcasts from FOSS4G in Latvia.
Ed 26:20 I'm all for it. I'm all for it. I don't know. I don't know if I'll make it, but uh, yeah, that sounds like good idea. Anything to close out any final messages for the listeners about, uh, FOSS4G and he puts the, what's the big takeaway? It's a great event and they should attend.
Steven 26:33 Great event. You should attend. You'll learn, you probably find yourself teaching. The workshops are just amazing, you know, I mean, you will definitely learn in the workshops. You'll, you'll meet new people, you'll find new business opportunities and you'll have a great time. I can't think of a better way to spend three or four days.
Ed 26:53 All right. On that note, thanks very much, Steven, for, for a, for, for being involved in the community and organizing what sounds like a great event. And, uh, and for sharing the details with us today. We will be back in the near future with the next episode. So thanks everyone. Bye.
Ed 27:14 Thanks everyone for joining us today and listening to the GMR 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.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 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 fry Fogel, you can check out Mappery at -inaudible- dot work 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 GM up event. Hope to see you there soon. Bye.

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