I spent the weekend at the State of the Map conference in Manchester. This was the first annual conference for the Open Street Map project and featured a weekend of talks all about maps and geodata.

I have to say I really enjoyed the weekend. I’ve been to a few conferences in the past few years (though only a few) and I have to say I probably enjoyed this one more than any of the others. A lot was packed into the weekend – there were 22 talks scheduled to last between 15 and 30 minutes, and then there was lots of “lightening” 5 minute talks too. I think what made the talks so good was that, for the most part, they were given by people who were heavily involved in the project and had a real passion for what they were talking about.

A lot was said about the value of good cartography. Richard Fairhurst began this by outlining some of the benefits of good cartography (essentially getting a useful amount of information onto the map in a clear way) and it was followed later by Steve Chilton telling us some of the basic principles of cartography that may be getting ignored by us mapping newbies. The legal debate gave me some definite food for thought, unfortunately nothing was resolved (in my mind, let alone within the community) but it definitely helped to talk through some of the issues. There was also lots of talk about tagging, about definitions of “complete” and about making use of our maps on various devices too.

I definitely can’t go without mentioning Barry Crabtree’s talk on “Bringing Maps to Life”. Barry showed us a number of animations that he’d done using OSM data. Generally these involved vibrating nodes to make the maps move in various ways. Although it doesn’t initially sound of a huge amount of use, and many of his animations were essentially frivolous, it’s research like this that can highlight new and innovative ways of doing things. A very important point that he did make at the end was that none of his animations would have been possible without OSM. The only other way to do it would be to pay huge amounts for commercial data, it’s highly unlikely that anyone would do this in the name of “art”. Fortunately I have links to a few of his animations, take a look at the route animation, the beating heart of ipswich and the hypnotic squirming roads.

So all in all I think a great weekend was had by everyone, I was definitely inspired by much of what I saw. At times I felt I wanted to get my laptop out and write some code, but knew I’d miss things if I did that (and the wifi didn’t stretch to the lecture theatre anyway but that wasn’t much of a problem). I think the best way to finish this blog post is with a link to flickr for the group photo.

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