OpenExpo and OpenStreetMap 2008

OpenExpo is over and it was, for me at least, a huge success. I was astonished to see the interest in OpenStreetMap, and I was basically talking for two days without a break.

There were two types of people. On the one hand business people who wanted to know how to use OpenStreetMap or how to make money from it (“so how do I put it on my company website? can people vandalize it after we put it up?”). On the other hand there were potential mappers and many had already tried and given up due to the steep beginner’s learning curve. Two typical questions I got from these people were: “so what is the hardware needed to get started?” and “please show me a typical workflow of how I would collect and enter data”. Both types of people commented on the Wikipedia (dis)advantages of “how can you guarantee that the data is right, are there any verifications?” They also commented that OSM data wouldn’t be useful for e.g. routing unless we have a certain completeness.

All in all, people were astonished and fascinated, and I wouldn’t be surprised to find some more mappers in Switzerland in the near future.

There was a guy from Freiburg (Germany) who stated that Freiburg might be sympathetic to releasing their local data (although Freiburg seems to be near-complete in OSM too) and was very interested in previous examples of local governments releaseing data (a precedent case seems to make things a lot easier). We also got some contact with officials from Swiss agencies. A guy working for (or with?) SBB, the Swiss railroad, said for example: “we have all the railroad track information for each single track anyway, this might be interesting to release to you guys.” (I wasn’t at the stall at that time, so this is no literal quote). We also got a contact with SwissTopo the “Ordinance Survey” of Switzerland. They are seem to have a positive attitude towards us (at least very sympathetic to us on a personal level) but got the political mandate to be a direct profit center. Are there any more studies that show the national economic gain that freely available geographic data might have on a country? Also, he mentioned the possibility to have somebody from OpenStreetMap present the project to raise awareness within the agency.

We were located next to the OpenMoko stall and that proved to be very symbiotic. Whenever people asked for hardware to use we could point them over to them, and often our audience told us “I would start mappig if I had a GPS, but I’m still waiting for the OpenMoko to be released.” On the other hand, a lot of OpenStreetMap images were shown on their devices and we agreed that our “customer” overlap was quite significant. Michael Lauer, from OpenMoko, suggested that the OpenMoko could record an mp3 stream together with the GPS track (“i turn right in park lane now”), and asked for a desktop application which could use that info. He was quite impressed when I showed him a recent JOSM editor which could already make use of such an MP3 stream Good work here!

The main social event was sponsored by Google and had something around a hundred participants. I was asked to give a 5 minute talk about OpenStreetMap, which went well (I think). I started out with a comparison of the OSM Isle of man map vs the version of an unnamed sponsor, which gave me the first laughs. I concluded the talk with a call to our Google Summer of code application. People seemed to have liked the presentation, so I am happy with that.

It was fun too. I got to know a number of cool mappers, thanks ‘This’ Born, Marius, Andreas Brauchli and the others who showed up and helped during the 2 days. Also thanks to Matthias and Anita for letting me sleep over at their place.