minibar meets geomob

I went to Corbet Place in London yesterday night for Minibar.

MiniBar is a social evening in Shoreditch, which offers people a chance to snaffle some free beer while discussing p2p, web applications, start ups, social networking and general Web 2.0 mayhem & fandango.

photo 016I’ve heard of Minibar before, particularly from Andy and Roo, but never actually got around to going to one. In fact, the main reason that I went to this one is because it was being done as a joint event between minibar and geomob (a geo/mobile developers meetup group which I have been to before).

Despite being a newbie, I had a few ideas of what to expect. Andy described the place as a “dimly lit … brewery bar“, which pretty much sums it up. And more usefully, warned me to turn right when I arrived, to stand a decent chance of hearing the presentations – definitely a useful tip. 🙂

photo 012The theme for the night was geolocation and mapping stuff (not their first time) which made for a good fit with the geomob crowd.

The presentations were really good, and introduced me to a few new things. Nick Black from CloudMade introduced their mapping API. It’s sort of Google Maps and-then-some. A mapping API for OpenStreetMap data, which gives you the ability to tweak and customise your maps: whether that’s colour schemes, or deciding which info to show (e.g. do you want contour lines?), or adding location data to maps in a way that is a little more subtle than the traditional Google push-pins. They’ve also got some neat approaches to producing maps suitable for different devices. It was impressive to see more than just a pitch for an API though – as they already have some apps created using their API which are worth a look.

Andy Allan from OpenCycleMap gave a very entertaining talk on why cyclists have different mapping needs to motorists. It’s obvious stuff once it’s been explained, but not something I’d thought of before. Cyclists: don’t use motorways; can use paths, tracks and other non-road routes; want to know about cycle routes, hills and bike parks; and lots more besides. Maps are being created using the same approach as OpenStreetMap, using volunteer effort to collect the info.

A guy (I didn’t catch his name!) from Nestoria gave a fun talk on the “Tyranny of the box”, going through the challenges in collecting and interpreting text-box input from users for location-based applications.

Richard Alan talked about the Power of Information Review – efforts being made to open access to data such as mapping and location information. He highlighted some of the absurd restrictions facing even government bodies trying to deliver services using a location aspect, let alone independent developers or start-ups, and explained the recommendations that are being made to government to remove the restrictions currently holding back innovation in this space. He ended up with a plea to write to your MP to ask them to support the opening of basic mapping and postcode data, a request which I wholeheartedly second.

As is the norm at these sorts of things, the chance to meet people before and after the presentations was as interesting as the talks themselves. As well as meeting some fascinating new people, it was also a night of unusual coincidences, as I got chatting to someone who used to work at Hursley (albeit before my time!) and bumped into a guy from my Comp Sci course at Bath Uni.

Next up, barcamplondon 🙂

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