Preparing for FOSS4G 2010

by Sebastian Benthall

Two years ago when I had the incredible opportunity to go to FOSS4G 2008 with OpenGeo, I was very new to the scene. I had been working on OpenLayers-based web applications for just a year at that point. Attending that conference gave me a much broader look at the industry I was entering, and was a crucial chance to become better acquainted with the people behind the IRC handles I was learning to recognize.

I’m back this year, with eleven other members of OpenGeo. Our contingent’s preparation in the past few months has been led by Paul Ramsey, who has a deep professional and personal connection to the conference. We are more coordinated than ever before; if you’re at the conference, you’ll see us in matching t-shirts and with advertised “expert hours” at our booth. Our intention is to make a strong showing and become our own self-fulfilling prophecy of a successful and growing open source geospatial company.

A key part of that vision is OpenGeo’s main product, the OpenGeo Suite. As the internal argument goes, software consulting as programming-for-hire doesn’t scale up as a business model. To prove that open source geospatial can really triumph in the industry, open source consulting shops need to evolve into a product-based company that sells support and training, and funds software development indirectly–but more efficiently, as with more flexibility the company can make wiser long-run decisions. So we are here to sell Suite contracts, we were reminded in our team meeting earlier tonight.

But what’s keeping me up at night right now is the knowledge that this year, unlike two years ago, I have something to say: I’m giving a tutorial on Thursday morning with Galen Evans announcing GeoNode to the attending members of the FOSS4G community.

I am quite nervous. Though we have been tweeting and blogging and releasing news bites about GeoNode with increasing frequency in the past year or so of development, we have for the most part been too busy building it to publicize what we are working on. Often when I try to explain the project, I’m still met with “Ok, but what is it?”

Now I’m hoping we can just show people. We’ve been ironing out the bugs from our 1.0-beta release over for a couple weeks now, and despite some worrying regressions I’m confident that what we’ve got to show is something genuinely new, compelling, and full of potential.

But it’s not for me to decide that. I’ve had my nose stuck in this project for a year, and am still fairly green in the geospatial domain. Meanwhile, the community at FOSS4G is full of jaded industry veterans, well aware of the alternatives and the pitfalls of new software projects. And their judgment matters: GeoNode depends on many other FOSS geospatial projects’ communities, and for us the ideal is for more open source geospatial developers to see potential in GeoNode and consider contributing.

So a lot is riding on this conference. Even if GeoNode is a commercial success, it won’t stand for what it ought to unless it is also a community success. And for that to happen, it needs to earn the respect of colleagues at FOSS4G.

I suppose I really should get back to working on my slides…