I guess some people might be surprised I’m doing a post about an opensource community event that happened on the 17th of June ‘based’ here in the UK.   I say ‘based’ because it was an online conference. Surprised, because I clearly sit on the Esri side of proprietary vs open geospatial software fence.  Garsdale Design/GD3D is an Esri partner and much of our 3D and geospatial consultancy is based in that ‘ecosystem’.   But, did you know CityEngine is based on Eclipse, which is an opensource IDE?! 

I’m also quite a big fan of QGIS and the associated developer community, without them propriety vendors would not be so keen to keep pushing the envelope I think!  My general view is like most people I meet (I think/hope!) that you should use the tools that are useful to you and sometimes technological capabilities are outweighed by ‘ease of use’ and ‘push-button’ solutions.  My least favourite phrase from well meaning tech people is “oh it’s easy just use the command line”… I also am not a fan of those who criticise users who prefer ‘push-button’ GUI led tools, it doesn’t mean we’re lazy, it just means we probably have other parts of our jobs to concentrate on as well!  Did I mention one of my planned CityEngine training modules covers QGIS to CityEngine?*

Anyway enough of that little wander around my thoughts….

I’ve always been a big fan/advocate of encouraging events/conferences to be made available online.  I don’t mean always live and online, but at the very least being recorded for those who can’t make it.   I live in a rural area and getting anywhere can be a big effort, hey everyone in [insert your tech community here] let’s do an evening/all-day event in London all about innovation! Not easy to attend those and almost certainly involves an overnight stay to fully participate.   I know there are issues of inclusivity related to online access as well, and that’s why I believe investing in communication infrastructure for everyone is way more important than investing in 19th century technologies (*hard stare at projects like HS2*).

EsriUK decided to replace it’s conference this year with a series of videos called ‘box-set’ which is nice but to be honest does not replace the conference.  That’s why when I saw the FOSS4GUK Online conference plans I was pleased!  Here I was sitting at home due to ‘covid-19’ an online conference would be great.  I think the organisers really thought through this event as well, 3 tracks with a 4th for socialising (which I didn’t make).  The video conference platform was Zoom which probably annoyed some people due to it’s privacy concerns, but I think to be fair the organisers chose it as a balance between capabilities/cost/ease of use.  Let’s face it most people will probably have heard and/or used zoom with relatives by now anyway!  I’m sure they will look at alternatives on the back of this success.

Like a regular conference, speakers were given slots and space for questions at the end of their presentation, I found the presentations easier to follow in an online environment and the big bonus of not having to travel for it helped.   Also I had to miss a few things because being at home means I will sometimes be distracted by children especially when the find a dead bird outside and I have to attend a little ‘service’ for it (this did actually happen)…. not a problem because the presentations were all recorded, and available now on YouTube here

In summary I though the event was run really well, with times kept and space for questions, with the odd tech issue (which always happens online or offline) to iron out. Ultimately it was enjoyable accessible and recorded.  I hope the 4th ‘coffee’ room track worked for people I hope we can find ways of making it more social in future, I’m sure we will.

Do I want the end of in-person conferences? No, but I would like a little more accessibility for those who can’t make it.  Can organisers please learn from events like this and keep it running after the covid-19 crisis please?  With a focus on inclusivity and diversity across our industry this could help if done right.

 

 

*yes this was a not-so-subtle ad, hey I have to eat too right? 🙂

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