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Thursday, September 15, 2011

Some of the discussions that could be found in the hallways were around the issue of branding and whether it makes sense to continue to promote the organization, OSGeo, or the conference, FOSS4G. Both have gained an element of notoriety but confusion ensues in linking the two to essentially the same goal, i.e. the promotion of open source software as a viable alternative to commercial software. A few were emphatic that the organization should rename itself to the same "brand name" as the conference. Yet, OSGeo probably has more immediate traffic to its website because it represents the going concern of the community.

It will be a challenge for the new OSGeo board to tackle. But in terms of Marketing 101, you brand extend the product and leverage the corporate brand where possible to grow to a larger entity. For example, there is Coke, Diet Coke, Coke Zero but Sprite is a product of the Coca-Cola Company. Coca-Cola is rarely identified as the product much anymore. So, OSGeo, if it wants to extend the brand, might consider FOSS4G North America, FOSS4G Europe, etc.  But what to do about OSGeo? That's more of a challenge. 

This, however, represents growing pains of the open source community. It's a good problem to have because it signifies a movement that people are passionate about preserving.

by Joe Francica on 09/15 at 01:45 PM | Comments | Bookmark and Share

Peter ter Haar, director of products at the Ordnance Survey (OS), the national mapping agency of the United Kingdom, discussed how his organization radically challenged and changed their approach to geospatial data access. The OS had been known to offer their large portfolio of data for a high price tag. In the era of Google Maps and online data that at least appears "free" a new model had to be considered. As such, the OS adopted a freemium model and now offers some data "free" and their premium data for a fee. But where to draw the line? ter Haar says the OS wrestled with this challenge but alsjo admits that this will continue to be an issue that they will continue to adjust. The OS is addressing this from the standpoint of how much value geospatial data brings to the UK government. While the OS is an agency of the government, it must be self funding. It is overseen by other government and private entities but it is essentially a private company. To help the OS in establishing its value, it is relying on ACIL Tasman, a consultancy that has performed this type of analysis for the governments of Australia and New Zealand.

by Joe Francica on 09/15 at 01:40 PM | Comments | Bookmark and Share
One of the more cogent presentations of the FOSS4G conference was delivered by Dale Lutz of Safe Software whose talk focused on the interoperability challenges between open source and commercial software. Safe has a unique position in that it offers spatial extract, transfer and load (ETL) solutions that leverage both internally developed and open source technology. Lutz mentioned the challenges in keeping the licensing agreements intact when they sell products that include both.

Lutz said that issue of choice comes down to either saving time or saving money.  For some people, using open source software will take too much time. As a private vendor, Safe tries to mitigate the time issue and provide value with many additional services and products. So, as a model, Safe has a foot in both camps. But Safe might provide the template for the company that is just getting established with open source tools but quickly finds that productization of value-added software affords a better business opportunity. But as Lutz cautioned the audience, "don't be too religious about any particular argument," suggesting that it may not be feasible to go entirely open source or entirely commercial (a hybrid as suggested by Peter Batty in the opening FOSS4G plenary) if you are out to solve a business problem in the most efficient manner possible.
Lutz also quoted an article from a 2009 article in The Economist suggesting that the future will be a mix of both open source and proprietary software.
by Joe Francica on 09/15 at 01:29 PM | Comments | Bookmark and Share

The Census Bureau is required by Title 13 to keep its data confidential. That's frustrated many GIS people who are anxious to use the geodata collected in the 2010 census. (APB coverage 1, 2) On Wednesday, it made this state in response to an article in FCW: "The Census Bureau is exploring various possibilities to work with local governments to maintain and update its address database in ways that are totally consistent with current Title 13 confidentiality guarantees.”


by Adena Schutzberg on 09/15 at 03:56 AM | Comments | Bookmark and Share

It's true. FOSS4G is still a conference for software developers and open source project managers. But mixed in with the presentations of open source product updates and code clues for the developers was a thread of business realism. Because, at the end of the day, you have to make money. Or, as David Dibiase of Esri mentioned in his presentation, "you have to make a living, before you can make a difference." So, don't think that FOSS4G is just an event for guys and gals in their basement playing around with free software.

Open source software made the leap into the mainstream productization many years ago with products like Linux. And while the timeline is shorter by some years, open source geospatial software is already a viable alternative technology to commercial software, to the dismay of several commercial software suppliers. With over 15,000,000 lines of code in the OSGeo library, there is a wealth of contributed intellectual property to make a corporate lawyer drool with envy.   So, while there is a realization that open source products are viable, this is still just a small community of companies that are making a go of it selling value added solutions based on open source code. The evidence is in the small number of exhibitors here at FOSS4G (and even many of those were commercial providers like Esri, Safe Software, MapQuest and DigitalGlobe,  the later two being locally headquartered) and even fewer large corporate sponsors to OSGeo. As admitted by Arnulf Christ, president of OSGeo, they have not made a very good pitch to companies looking for a return on their investment in the open source movement. Even Autodesk, a long time investor in open source that place Map Guide into the public domain several years ago, is now missing in action as a major participant from FOSS4G 2011. Hopefully, Peter Batty, a new OSGeo board member and FOSS4G 2011 chairman, could bring his long experience in the commercial software world to this community.

However, the conference thrives on the language of the developer. Do you speak Phythonese? Then FOSS4G is right for you. Most of the sessions were very product focused and assumed the audience was familiar with the architecture and community of software developers. Lots of good code samples and interface examples as well as information on how to support those developing the products.

The open source community is maturing. There are now many people engaged in development of code and code support. OSGeo will need to come to grips with how it commercializes itself because it needs to promote the good works of its global community if it wants to make the association, as a whole, grow and thrive. In turn, it must promote its members as viable alternatives to commercial software because, let's face it, that IS the competition. Attendees shouldn't think that they'll leave Denver singing Kumbayah unless they feel like the business model and the community as a whole has been advanced. It can no longer sit back and bathe in the notion that they are the independent breed striking out against the forces of proprietary solutions. They are in the same ballgame and will need to compete as well as find partnerships with the same "nasty hoards" of the proprietary software industry.

by Joe Francica on 09/15 at 03:55 AM | Comments | Bookmark and Share
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