I am sitting on a plane flying eastbound at 37,000 feet over middle of America. A few hours ago we left San Francisco the host city for State Of The Map US 2013. State of the Map US is the American regional conference for OpenStreetMap participants and enthusiasts. A common theme for the weekends events was building community.
I go to open-source conferences so that I can spend time informally talking with other members of my open source community. In San Francisco this week I was able to meet OpenStreetMap celebrities such as Richard Fairhurst (author of Potlach) and Frederick Ramm (former JOSM maintainer, Geofabrick founder and OSMF board member). I also spent time informally chatting with dozens of people who attended the conference to learn more about OpenStreetMap. Many people I spoke with told me they were interested in OpenStreetMap and were looking into using the data but had only done a small amount of mapping.
The second conference track is the hall track where everyone talks informally between sessions in the hall or conference while waiting for a session to start. I find that I get the most out of a conference by making a point of saying hi to the person sitting next to me while waiting for a session to start. I might ask them where they are from, why they are at the conference and what types of things they have mapped. I learned that there are many people new to the OpenStreetMap community. I have been adding to data to OpenStreetMap for almost 5 years and have spoken on OpenStreetMap at at least 3 conferences and numerous mapping parties and hack days. This was the first OpenStreetMap conference for many of the people I spoke with. Many of them are coming either from a traditional geography background or web background where they are starting to use OpenStreetMap for stuff. As a community we, need to keep these people engaged as regular casual mappers to make sure that they help us keep the map strong. I spoke with many people that we were able to convince too spend their weekend at a OpenStreetMap conference but we haven’t yet been able to convince them to spend their weekend adding to the map. How do we convince these people to occasionally take half a day and spend it on improving the map?
We also need to make sure that they can easily use our data. We need to reach out and build bridges with communities that can use our map. A group of us met in a BOF to discuss improving the diversity of the people involved in OpenStreetMap. We agreed to create a diversity-talk mailing list to discuss ways we can expand the OpenStreetMap community. I hope to spend some time thinking of ways I can grow our community by making inroads into other established communities.
The third conference track I attended was the party track. I attended three parties in San Francisco. There was a party Saturday night at The Raven a popular bar on Mission in San Francisco. On Sunday, Stamen design welcomed the OpenStreetMap world into their office for a party. The Stamen office is filled with cool maps. Monday night Mapbox also hosted a small party at a pub following the code-sprint. I missed the Code for America party on Friday but I don’t doubt that was fun. Eating and drinking with other mappers allows you to get to know them in a more relaxed atmosphere. I find that it is much easier to ask someone for help or their honest opinion when you’ve spent time socializing with them.
I want to thank OpenStreetMap.US and the sponsors for organizing this conference and all of the folks from Europe and Asia (I met people who flew in from Japan and New Zealand).