In 2009 I was a "GIS Technician". Heaven help me, I was auto-completing polygons on good days and schema locking on bad ones, at a well-meaning but projection-free engineering firm with 300 AutoDesk licenses and 5 ArcEditor seats. It was the worst of times.
Early on that year I took a week off to go to Las Vegas with my wife, who was presenting at the AAG conference there (she's the brains of the outfit). Benefiting from the super-low "Spouse" attendance fee (academic geographers take note), I wandered from one cool session to another, my brain stimulated in new and exciting ways. I watched in a standing-room only crowd as Jack Dangermond explained how mashups (remember those?) were going to solve Africa's problems, and I saw my first demonstrations of Object-Oriented Image Analysis and Hyperspectral wetlands detection. Cool enough, but there was something disheartening about the fact that 95% of the map crunching I saw was being done by ESRI products.
On a whim, I went to a panel session called "Open Source GIS". Probably for the damn novelty of it, but also maybe due to some lingering frustration from being license-bound while trying to do mapping work in my peace corps years. The little room was about 3/4 full and the panel consisted of some folks from USGS who used GRASS and PostGIS, and also an animated fellow named Andrew Turner from FortiusOne, who had a few things to say.
|The Open Source GIS Panel at AAG 2009. Note the overdressed gentleman about to drop some science on us. (Photo courtesy of Shriram Ilavajhala)|
|An early, misguided attempt to use GeoCommons in mapping global coffee production. Things have gotten better.|
- Open Source: OS software is just the tip of the iceberg. It fosters a culture of innovation and robustly supports the tools that people want most.
- Open Data: Geographic information should be a public good (Geo"Commons" - Get it?), and we can all benefit from driving maps into the public sphere.
I have no doubt that ESRI's resources will supercharge GeoIQ's pursuit of open data. If Jack and co. have the wisdom to scrap ArcGIS Online and replace it with "ArcIQ" the world will be a better-informed place. But I'm going to miss the code contributions of some talented individuals. I raise a glass to them for getting me started in this business.