Last Friday I was interviewed for a magazine about my thoughts on maps. This because I will be giving the opening key-note at the yearly conference of the GIS (geo information services) community in the Netherlands in September. The theme for the conference is ‘the power of maps’, and they interviewed me about my planned talk.

Now, I don’t know what I will be presenting in September, as I usually prepare my talks very shortly before a conference. So this interview was a good way of getting some first thoughts formulated. Here’s me thinking out loud.

Maps are fascinating

Maps are fascinating artefacts to me. Not just because of what they show to help me navigate in the now, but also, if not more, because of the patterns of past behavior they show. From a city map you can see a lot of its history. Street patterns are the fossilized emergent patterns of complex human interaction in a bygone age. Maps as (historical) data visualization not just as a navigation aid or information overview.

Map of the original grants of village lots from the Dutch West India Company to the inhabitants of New Amsterdam
Map of the original grants of village lots from the Dutch West India Company to the inhabitants of New Amsterdam

Geo data is a key ingredient in open data

In most open data applications some sort of geo component is being used. It is one of the key ways other types of data are contextualized for a user of an application. To present information relative to me and my current or future position, to be able to compare my own actions to those of others around me, etc. This however does not need to have a map as my primary interface. In fact I’d rather have an interface that helps me solve my problems or helps me decide. And I certainly don’t want to see clumsy maps, like those you have on hotel booking sites, where the map is mostly just an illustration. Why can’t I e.g. use the map there as input method? Draw a rectangle on a map and show me the hotels in it that fit my other search criteria (availability, style and comfort, free wifi, price, in that order)? Or why not show me all the hotels within x minutes on foot or by public transport from a specific spot (like a conference venue), in a similar way as what Mapnificent is doing.

Knowledge nomads have loosened themselves from the map

In my professional network there are many that don’t have strong geo located roots anymore. In the 20th century it made sense to ask ‘where are you from’ but no longer. The question now gets a slightly uncomfortable stare and increasingly vague answers like ‘I currently work from Berlin’ or ‘I’ve just spent a few months in Barcelona’. These knowledge nomads are like flocks of birds, ever on the move, never really in a place in the traditional sense of ‘being from there’. Connections are to social networks, projects, interests, that of course will have locations attached to them always. But location is a temporary choice at most, and a side-effect of other choices most of the time. And air travel makes moving around like taking the underground: you go from one place to another without much noticing the in-between, or having the sensation of movement.

In that context maps and things like nation states become much less relevant. It is the hyper-local that becomes more relevant as a result, but a hyper-local bubble around my current position. An old Medieval notion of being in a digitalized world. Where are my contacts in town at the moment? Where are interesting places to eat, drink and have fun? Where is a coffee bar within 500 meters of my current position that my network thinks provides good coffee? What is currently happening at the spot I will be arriving at in 30 minutes? What is happening where that will impact, or needs to, my current actions and choices (traffic jams, road blocks, events, freak weather, etc.)? This is why I used Plazes, and use Foursquare, Google Latitude and Dopplr. See some earlier thoughts on this hyper local bubble and the ‘real time web’.

Locals and Tourists #13 (GTWA #5): Berlin
Berlin on Flickr: Blue pictures are by locals. Red pictures are by tourists

The map no longer a ‘thing’ in itself?

So as knowledge nomads ‘do more nomading’ maps get less relevant as a product or service in itself, but location contextualized information that influences my actions, choices and my relationships to my networks is getting more and more important. Does it mean maps and geo in general will go ‘under the hood’ of the applications and tools I will be using? Where geo is an ingredient for context, and a way of bridging and combining very different data sets, but mostly unseen at the surface?

I think there might be a lot of new added value in the map, if we let go of the map. The map is never the landscape. In order to be valuable the map needs to become a part of the landscape at least however: the mobile landscape that is my life.

May and June are conference season, so I’ve spend most of these two months traveling around Europe. On 26 June I was in Linz, Austria to deliver the opening key-note at the Austrian national open government data conference.

As I had presented on last year’s edition of the conference as well, I looked back at what was accomplished in the last year, and what we are looking at for the near future. Judging by the data released, the number of competitions and data portals launched, and the ambitious plans for the EU Open Data Strategy by the EC, a lot has been achieved.

But one has to wonder if that is really true.

Because most output of competitions is not sustainable. Most really interesting data (such as key registers) is not available. Most data portals have only small amounts of data on offer. And changing the law (for the EU strategy) takes years. On top of that most of us don’t really know what to do with the data, we lack the skills.

So there is much room for improvement, and we need to keep building momentum. This can be done by convincing government bodies that publishing data is of use to themselves as a policy instrument. And by augmenting government data with private sector data that comes from areas like banks, utilities, (health) insurers, and food. As well as by adding our self-generated data.

We need the data to solve the complex problems our societies are facing. No way around it.

Slides below:

As of the first of August I have started in the role of news editor for the European platform on the re-use of public service information (PSI). The epsiplatform.eu is a one stop shop for what is going on around open government data and re-use, from perspectives of technology, law, organization, culture change etc.
Given my earlier activities on Open Data the EPSI platform team approached me in Madrid if I would like to join their efforts.
Proof of Concept
Now starting as a news editor means I need to be able to track what is happening in the open data and PSI re-use field. So I have started to build extensive lists of possible sources, as well as lists of people on twitter, and track them through RSS. This is a slow process, and feels like conquering new terrain. Especially because I want to dig a little deeper than the usual: several countries are quite active when it comes to open data

Reboot 11 Book
Last years Reboot11 conference was a great event. To me it had lots of the atmosphere and vibes that made Reboot 7 in 2005 a landmark event for me. That first Reboot conference for me came on the heels of two BlogTalk conferences in Vienna in 2003 and 2004. At Reboot I found myself in a crowd that embraced so much more and shifted the discussion of tools and their impact to technology and society as a whole. It meant I could even better connect it to things that were important to me then and now: how do people learn, how do they interact, how can we augment that, how do we use this to tackle real issues of real people. (See some of my postings from the conference in 2005)
Reboot11 had much of the same vibe for me. It was a call to Action, and it adressed the feeling I had from the year before that much of the social media discussion was coming to a stand still. Social media wasn’t at the cutting edge anymore, as mainstream adoption had begun in earnest (even if it is hard, and sometimes happens in perverted ways). It seemed we were trying to look more Avant Garde than actually being at the forefront. We were still in the same spot but our niche was no longer at the edge.
Reboot11 helped (me at least) to refocus. By bringing it down to ‘action’, by speaking of actual interventions, and by no longer ignoring the goings on in the wider world (like the credit crunch, dwindling resources, and climate change)
“Are we working on things that matter?” has become an urgent question for me since then.
During the conference a team of people worked hard to collect and rework everything that was going on. The plan was to create a book about the conference. A tangible document in these digital times.
The book is now available at the Reboot site. And what a great artefact is has become. It’s exciting, lovingly designed, has great content, eye for details and is well thought through. Leafing through it was like opening a box and being met with a gush of air that brought the smells, sounds and inspiration of the actual event.
A big thanks to the people that made this book a reality:
Priya Mani, Sten Jauer, Metsu Jørgense, Karen Mardahl, Line Henriksen, Louise Yung Nielsen, Lori Webb , Martynas Jusevicius, Malene Kure, Jens Nielsen, Thomas Kofod, Sidsel Marie Winther, Niklas Stephenson,
Guy Dickinson, and Thomas Madsen-Mygdal.
Reboot 11 Book
Reboot11 Sponsors

Last Saturday Karsten Joost and Axel Grischow organized the first meet-up in Germany of people interested in FabLab. There was room for 40 people in the venue, and that number quickly filled up. In fact there was a waiting list for people who would have liked to attend as well. People came from different cities, apart von Bremen, there were people from Berlin, Hamburg, Aachen, Nürnberg and Düsseldorf, as well as from other places.
P1120762 P1120801
Creating the programme on the spot
Karsten and Axel had invited several of us from the Netherlands. Peter Troxler (to talk about business development), Bart Kempinga (FabLab Groningen, and how to get from idea to product), Petra Koonstra (creating a venue for the creative industry at Het Paleis in Groningen) and me (Dutch FabLabs as a network, and community building)
In true barcamp style the program of sessions was decided collectively at the start of the day. It was a good an varied programme. Talking both about organizational aspects of starting a FabLab as well hands-on topics, as well as a demo-space where different equipment was available to give a try.
I thoroughly enjoyed the day as well as the cool people. I hope that this may be the start of the emergence of a range of FabLabs in Germany.
My slides on the network effect of FabLabs and community building (partly in German, but mostly in English) can be seen below, as well as the pictures I took.

In the coming 2 days I will be at the Next ’09 conference in Hamburg, Germany. I have been invited as a guest blogger to this conference. Nicole Simon, always looking for opportunities to open up the German web-crowd to a more international perspective took the initiative to work with the conference organizers in making sure a number of international bloggers will attend and share their experiences and opinions during the event on-line.
The theme this year is the Sharing Economy, which is timely I think.
Apart from blogging here I will of course be posting pictures, and use my public Twitter account for event related messages.
Next Logo
I am looking forward to a number of inspiring sessions.