Last Friday and Saturday I was part of WhereCampEU “the geo unconference for Europe”. Being an unconference there was no formal agenda instead attendees could propose sessions on the day and stick them to “the wall“. This sort of system would bring many academics out into a cold sweat as there is no formal way of ensuring quality presentations and sessions. I didn’t attend a single bad session though and found that in the sessions where the speaker was faltering a little, or talking for too long, audience members would pipe up and generate discussion to make the session far better. I found this aspect particularly rewarding. The system could fall down if speakers were egotistical or simply interested self-promotion- I found the contrary though at WhereCampEU. Many represented a company or product but all were willing to subject it to objective discussion or simply leave their allegiances at the door before a session.
I think there is a lot to be learnt within the academic community from this approach- especially the surrounding the sharing of information and comments. Highlights for me were the ito! visualisations , learning why metadata are shit (and how to improve them) (Charles Kennelly, ESRI (UK)), the conversations surrounding pedestrian routing, being told that you lose more time cycling uphill than you gain going downhill (Cyclestreets), being reassured that the BBC are working hard to improve their maps, learning how to create “old-fashioned” looking terrain maps with srtm data (Simon Lewis from Map Juice), and exploring the Guardian offices whilst eating one of Moolis’ great wraps.
Thanks again to the WhereCampEU organisers. The WhereCampEU wiki isbeing used to document the outcomes from the unconference.