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September 24th, 2007
AGI Conference Report: Day 2 – ‘Building a GeoCommunity’

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Day 2 of the AGI Annual Conference 2007 at Stratford-Upon-Avon began with one of the most interesting presentations at the show. James Procter, information standards manager for the UK Environment Agency opened with a paper entitled ‘Embracing Geography by Embracing Non-Geography.’

Proctor spoke about the differences between the natural world, one with fuzzy boundaries, few natural names and largely assigned numbers to organise it. The built world on the other hand being characterised by straight edges, highly organized and well structured. “It’s the geography we want,” Proctor said. He maintained that we have focused so much on the where, that we have lost touch with what we are collecting and why we are collecting it, this in reference to the fact that most environmental related information is natural in form and process oriented.

Vanessa Lawrence, Director General of the Ordnance Survey, Great Britain delivered the first keynote of the day. She pointed out that spatial data policies will often follow different scales of activity between different countries. “GI must have leadership” and “we must work towards making ourselves relevant,” rather than GI in disguise. Lawrence outlined some real cases where that relevancy is highly apparent including, MapAction (www.mapaction.org), glacial retreat in Norway, earthquakes of June 2006, the changing (and declining) habitat of the kiwi bird from New Zealand and the movie “An Inconvenient Truth” by former U.S. President Al Gore. The point was made that Ordnance Survey is helping the government to define policy in the country.

She spoke about the recent Yorkshire floods and the role spatial data has played and then said a need exists “to define what is a community.” This in reference to ongoing research work in the country on this topic. Later, I stumbled across Muki Haklay, a senior lecturer at University College  London, and he explained his work into defining communities and some of the attributes under consideration.

David Maguire, chief scientist (note new title) at ESRI was the second speaker of the day. He pointed toward the need to evolve a strategic direction for the GI community in the face of ongoing changes on the planet. “An inter-discplinary approach is needed,”  and “science will guide and help to synthesize” much of the information for this understanding. Maguire indicated that the growing neogeography movement has expanded awareness, helping to see more. “The direction is toward modelling and Web Servers and desktop systems will continue to be important as well,” he said.

“Someone is going to be needed to create and maintain the data of the future, and that won’t be neogeography he pointed out.” Instead, professional GIS personnel will continue to be needed in high numbers. “Understanding things like datums, projections and other geo-specific knowledge is not a simple matter and we need to recognize that.”

Maguire see’s several milestones,
–spatial data infrastructure (SDI)
— geobrowsers
— mashups
— standards
— information policies

“Standards are not an end in themselves” and “I am not as enthusiastic on SDI as others,” Maguire said. Indicating a recognition of the complexity and difficulty in achieving goals in the field. He pointed to the Gartner Hype Cycle, denoted by a waving hype-cycle and indicated “you are no longer in control,” a marked reference to the fact that hype is driving geospatial direction – which will change several times.

Several sponsors and companies were in attendance this year including, Bentley Systems, Cadcorp, Star-Apic, SnowFlake Software, Atkins, Infotech, Geoinformation Group, Generic, OSNI, IGGI, BGS, Tadpole, Innogistic, Lovell Johns, OKHO/SeaZone and Infoterra.

Pitney Bowes MapInfo, HP, Ordnance Survey and ESRI were primary sponsor’s of the event.

Later in the day, Jeff Thurston of Vector1Media acted as chair for the debate Will Neogeography crush professional GIS?” which entertained several opinions and thoughts from the audience as well as from four presenting members Peter Beaumont from Navteq, Ed Parsons from Google, Andy Cootes from ESRI and Nigel Mason Pitney Bowes MapInfo.

More coverage to follow later.

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