Last weekend I attended the 2011 edition of WhereCampEU, held this time in sunny Berlin. It was a great conference, altough smaller than previously in London, but with more diverse presentations than last year’s unconference. I also presented our recent work on geoweb usability at the conference, even though we haven’t had a chance yet to do a comprehensive analysis of the user experiments data we collected. I will put online the presentation in due time. Some lively discussions ensued about the nature of OSM and to what extent it should conform to establish practice in terms of UI (established by Google with for example the Search Bar).
Apart from my own presentation, I just want to highlight some of the more interesting presentations here that I attended:
The first morning for me started to get interesting with a good discussion session on spatial databases, organised by this guy, leading with the definition of their necessary characteristics (does a spatial database need to handle projections!?!). The discussion in my opinion showed still a deep distinction between different application domains (this is obviously a continium): neogeographers who want lean, fast spatial databases and are happy with minimal spatial support functions, versus paleotards who want comprehensive entreprise class spatial databases loaded with advanced spatial features such as topological operators, comprehensive projection support and metadata handling… . These two extremes in my opinion needn’t be opposites, but the challenge for future spatial databases will be implementing a complete set of spatial functionalities while remaining, small, nimble and user friendly!
Before our own presentation, Tim Waters from Geocommons gave an indepth demo of the new features of their 2.0 platform. Geocommons to me now stands as one of the best examples of a new generation of advanced geoweb applications, dangerously (for traditional GIS vendors?) coming closer to fully featured GIS app in the cloud. Geocommons now features a complete set of thematic mapping controls, allowing good cartographic prinicples in webmapping. One thing that struck me as something obvious, yet innovative is their use attribute data histograms to guide users as to the choice of thematic formatting. They also now allow users to store, display and analyse very large datasets with great performance, enabling users to go beyond visualisation to analysis of their data ( notably they now implement a set of topological operators). Again, given the advanced abilities of Geocommons, they had to solve a lot of usability challenges, which we would like to investigate further!
The second day came with a set of more advanced technical discussions, most notably for me a discussion session on differences between webmapping frameworks (nicely captured in this whiteboard). We first established that altough there are other libraries, for most geoweb developers, the choice really comes down to Google Maps API vs Openlayers (on its own or inside a UI framework such as GeoExt or MapQuery). I won’t go into much detail here, as the discussion and its outcomes have been discussed by both people in the session, as well as members of the OpenLayers team.
Lastly, the conference closed with a very thoughtful presentation by Martjin van Exel on his initiative for the development of an API dedicated to historic OpenStreetMap data. In his presentation, he justified the development of a dedicated separate database and API from the main OSM database, based on some deficiencies of the current OSM data model, for example the fact that the versioning approach doesn’t catch all edits on a given object. Another challenge is the classification of OSM edits according to changes in ground truth, or simply refinements of the same data. Again, Martjin and his collaborators explain this all much better than myself.
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