Thoughts on #WhereBerlin
Last week I headed back to Berlin for #WhereBerlin. It was great to be back after having spent the summer there and frankly it felt like coming home.
One of the great things about Berlin being such a hot tourist destination is when you go in the off season you can get a great deal on airbnb. I snagged an amazing place very cheaply, literally twice the size of my London flat.
Here are my reflections on the conference
- first up, there is a great geo scene in Berlin, with a good mix of big companies like HERE and Yandex, thriving start-ups like komoot (who just announced a funding round), universities, German teams of international brands like mapbox, and the passionate German OpenStreetMap community in general. It seems there is a big emphasis on routing and navigation (though perhaps this is misleading since it was also the focus of day one of the conference). Routing’s not really my cup of tea, but regardless there are lots of people doing lots of interesting things. It was also really impressive to see how the local government is supporting things, sponsoring the conference and with representatives on hand to talk to people about basing their business in Berlin. This week I already got a follow up email with a full info-packet. If you are a European founder you would have to strongly consider basing your business in Berlin, the scene is thriving,t he cost is low, and there are many talented people from all over the world.
- Speaking of universities, the event itself was at the Beuth Hochschule für Technik, and they did a great job. Many thanks for hosting us, and many thanks to all the organizers. I was proud to be a sponsor.
- We used the conference to announce the launch of international SplashMaps, a big step for the SM team. Just like at #geomob we ran a contest for the audience to pick the best speakers. Frankly that didn’t work so well, in that there were a lot of talks and we picked three winners, so it was a bit confusing. Will need to find a better systemnext time. Regardless though, the intl launch is an impressive achievement for SplashMaps and the maps were well received. You can make yours here.
- One topic that came up several times was indoor navigation. As said navigation itself isn’t really my thing, but indoor navigation to me still feels very much like technology in search of a problem. I just don’t really see the use case. Every example talked about brands and retailers tracking consumers. I think I can safely say I spek for the majority when I say that I have no desire to be tracked by brands in their stores. Technically some of the talks were very interesting, but I remain unconvinced that we’ll see any sort of adoption, it just seems to freaky and intrusive.
- As at any conference one of the most enjoyable parts was the informal catching up with old friends and acquaintences in the evening over a beer or three. I had the chance to meet up with lots of people from this summer. A highlight there was seeing Howard from Dust Cloud and getting a live demo with headsets. It was still a bit brittle, but you can start to see the potential of the game. Howard will be doing a talk and demo in January at #geomob which should be fun.
- l really enjoyed the talk by AdSquare (also recently funded) about using location for ad targetting (and I wasn’t the only one - the speaker was one of the SplashMap winners). This is a space we looked at a lot last year, here in London there is locomizer doing something similar, and of course in the US there are several with this model that are thriving. I think as privacy becomes more and more of an issue, especially in the EU, this is a model that will thrive. For me the question though is how long it will take advertisers to become savvy enough to use such products. From our brief exploration here in London, probably the most advanced digitial advertising market in Europe, advertisers or the agencies that represent them hadn’t yet reached a level of sophistication needed for such service.
- I didn’t just spend my time sitting in the audience reflecting, I also spoke about the OpenCage geocoder, my slides are over on the OpenCage blog.
- One negative of the conference was that a few of the speakers seemed to really misjudge the audience, giving very general talks or wasting lots of time introducing their brand which was already well known to everyone in the industry. More and more I am finding talks from the megabrands to be a waste of time, you just get a rehash of a press release rather than anything insightful. At #geomob I’ve basicaly given up on inviting the big brands, especially if they are not headquartered in London, as inevitably it just ends up with someone essentially telling us second or third hand about something someone back at headquarters is doing.
Overall it was a great few days. A good chance to reflect on a few of the trends in geo, to meet people from the Berlin scene, and to catch up with friends old and new. I look forward to the next one.