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GeoNext Sydney 2014 Recap

Jody GarnettGeoNext is an eclectic spatial conference and a highlight in the Australian calendar. This year, the event took place on the 26th of February at the Australian Technology Park, just south of downtown Sydney. The location had that wonderful startup vibe of historic buildings and new ideas, making it a fitting venue for a conference that searches out what is next.

A quick word of thanks to Maurits van der Vlugt and the organizers, sponsors, and presenters. Maurits offered a quick introduction as MC and kept a decent pace throughout the day.

GeoNext at Australian Technology Park

The Best

The highlight of the conference was a presentation by James Moody (TuShare) on “Unleashing the Sharing Economy: Mapping the idle assets all around us”. This talk started with the “next” and worked its way back to “geo”.

His viewpoint on the future was provided by a stint at the national research organisation (CSIRO) “futures unit”, which asked scientists for a 30 year prediction in order to spot trends across disciplines. This was framed as a historical graph showing waves of innovation, market dominance, and economic collapse. To bring “geo” back into focus, the sixth wave of innovation (and all those predictions) is coalescing around handling resource scarcity, they key enabler of which is using location to drive efficiency.

While this is all heady stuff, two key examples brought the point home and provided context for the rest of the conference. The first was was looking at the amazing 15% engine efficiency of today’s automobiles. While this is fine if you want to move cars around, the actual goal is to move people, resulting in 1.5% efficiency (based on weight of car and weight of people). We were then asked to consider how many of us had cars sitting unused at home (acting as an idle asset). The second example was more subtle, but keenly felt given Australia’s current drought. A lot of effort goes into making Sydney water potable, but we only consume 2% of the water entering a home. The other 98% represented some wasted effort (as we do not require drinkable water for cleaning).

The Rest

Nic Lowe (GoGet) offered a jalopy to fleet story addressing all those idle cars left at home. It was a great low-tech reality check for the conference. Location, and indeed technology, only played a small part in his story but we were quite charmed by the initial low-tech solutions (key boxes on utility poles, spreadsheets, calling everyone when the computers were down).

GoGet was also kind enough to sponsor a hackathon around their vehicle data: resulting in a great display of creativity and insight from participants. The winners were impressive, showing business sense (ask users to fill up on Tuesday to save 8% annually on fuel) and marketing insight (allow users to name their cars to build a customer relationship).

All in all, an excellent reminder that the value in location is to be found everywhere, especially once you look beyond mapping.

Ian Scrivener created a polished business dashboard backed by PostGIS, GeoServer, and Leaflet.

While GoGet focused on being ubiquitous in Sydney (down to 100m walk for members), another organization got here first. Dr. Kurt Iveson (University of Sydney) looked at how the bus system is doing. From an initial “everything will be great” 18 years ago when buses were first equipped with GPS units, through to arguments with unions (buses are a workplace), and a sequence of abandoned initiatives that only a municipal government can provide. The result is an amazingly complex integration issue of varying accuracy.

I latched on to a few amusing facts: The effect of posting the time until the next bus? Patrons were more relaxed and felt that their wait time was half. More amusingly, users of transit apps did not really trust them, preferring to have the time posted on the bus stop.

The section of the talk devoted to data publication, and by extension open data, was illustrative. Brisbane, which has gone down the open data route, has a host of applications. Sydney has held a series of app competitions, resulting in a smaller selection of apps. Why the different approach? Sydney is in a position to recommend and promote the resulting apps, something they feel would be lost by open data (perhaps referring back to that idea of trusting your smartphone app).

Billy Haworth (University of Sydney) played to local strengths by combining natural disasters and social media, both of which Australia has in abundance. It is amazing to contrast the 2010 Brisbane Flood (when the police took to Twitter to communicate to the public rather than wait for journalists) and the 2013 Sydney Fires where the public already knew the drill and everything happened online. A real sense of going to the people in a time of crisis.

Kolt Luty (Pitney Bowes Software) gave a talk on location intelligence that was illuminating at several levels. Pitney Bowes is viewed with concentration in Australia as it has acquired many companies, including MapInfo. Using retail examples, Mr. Luty gradually introduced business intelligence and then bridged the gap to using location to make sense of data mining results. The concepts and the idea of bringing them together as an alternative to GIS were new to the audience and resulted in lively discussion.

Rohan Fernando (HERE) gave a presentation entitled “Race for the Geospatial Overworld” that did a great job of introducing the different industries vying for the Spatial Data Infrastructure crown.

There was also an entertaining panel discussion on wearable computing in which the participants did a great job playing off each other.

I was a little let down by the academic presentations, which are usually a highlight for me. The talk on indoor location featured base stations that looked a little like Death Stars but managed to avoid both the social opportunities and business motivations that would see the technology adopted. The talk on “Aging in Place” provided a vision of how society will change, but felt repurposed for the event and did not especially tie its concepts back to location.

The Tech

To bring things back to technology, Simon Hope offered a refreshing talk entitled “Geekification of GIS”. He really worked up the crowd, drawing influences from search, change and online maps to capture the imagination. I especially liked the nod to digital natives and open source as showing the way — and the shout-out to GeoGit was welcome.

The Wrap

The conference wrapped up with drinks and a chance to view the map gallery or speak with the sponsors. A nice GeoRabble style ending to a great day.

If you missed GeoNext, you can see additional photos on flickr. If you are near Sydney, here are couple more events to put on your radar:

  • Eclipse Day Sydney (April 2) has a bit of a BI / Big Data feel to it, but I see a few crossovers to mapping scheduled.
  • Locate14 (April 7-9) is the national GIS conference held a few hours down the road in Canberra.

Jody Garnett lives in Sydney, Australia with his wife. When he’s not working with computers you may find him painting, drawing, or taking photographs. Jody blogs at how2map.com and tweets at @jodygarnett.

Jody Garnett

Jody Garnett

Training Specialist

Jody looks after our open source projects as a community lead here at Boundless. As a member of the engineering team he provides technical leadership and develops Boundless’ training program. He is a member of the Project Steering Committee for GeoServer and GeoTools. Jody is a board member of the Open Source Geospatial Foundation, and on the steering committee for LocationTech.