For the past few months I’ve been doing some work for placr, and this week I’ve joined the team full-time.


I’m working on a new transport related API *, with some interesting geolocation and realtime dimensions to it. Currently this is all aimed at partner projects and B2B type clients, so I’m afraid there’s nothing fun to show you yet. Hopefully we shall go public with an API at some point, but it’s not the priority at the moment.

The work is very interesting, and now that I’m not splitting up my week with other things I can try to build up a bit more momentum. We’ve been starting from scratch.  A fresh subversion repo! I wanted to build a RESTful API outputting both XML and JSON, so I’m doing this in Ruby on Rails. I settled on this after doing some experiments with django piston first. Some interesting problems encountered with both though (despite this being very much core to what these frameworks are supposed to be good at)  Still plenty of framework details to work out, but it’s all good fun. I’ve also been using various libraries for HTML scraping.

The team is following (and getting involved in) the various open government data debates, because we’re looking at making use of some of these datasets. These are a moving target at the moment though, so as we look to develop on top of these things, agility is going to be important.

* What’s an API?

These days I’ve been socialising far too much with techy people, and was rather taken aback when someone (might have been my mum) interrupted me in the middle of my well rehearsed little job description to ask “What’s an API?”. It stands for Application Programming Interface.

I rather liked the way Richard Boulton described it as he demo’ed his API at last weekend’s rewired state event. Pointing at a this screen full of data he said “It may not look very nice to you, but to a developer this is beautiful”. That particular screen full of JSON formatted registry office data did look beautiful to me, so I developed this thing last Saturday. An example of an API and an application built to use it.

WhereCamp.EU How was it for me?

WhereCamp.EU Logo by Sophie GreenWhereCamp.EU was pretty mind-blowing. I wrote a few posts to the official site during the event:

From a personal perspective it was massively enjoyable and rewarding, but the whole thing flew by too quickly. Preparations started months ago, but suddenly on the day there was so much to do, and at the same time so many people I wanted to chat to and fascinating sessions I wanted to see.

It got off to quite a blurry-eyed start due to geo-curry with the team the night before, followed by staying up late to prepare slides. As organisers we decided we would need to seed the unconference “wall” with some post-it notes in the first session slot, to get things going and spur other people to participate by setting an example. This meant I was feeling stressed and tired from the off, but it worked well, and despite a lot of people being new to the unconference style, a great atmosphere of participatory buzz carried the proceedings forwards at an alarming pace.

You can read more about my session “The State of the States in OpenStreet Map” on the WhereCamp.EU wiki


This got a pretty small audience because I was up against some awesome sessions from the other organisers, but I guess I’ll get the opportunity to re-use some of these slides on some other occasion. I might change the background colour. I’d had a few beers with the geo-curry, and the purple-green gradient seemed like a good idea.

I also contributed to the OpenStreetMap Q&A Session (mainly by asking the first question)

On the Saturday I ran another little session called “OpenStreetMap Practical – Never edited OpenStreetMap? Bring your laptop and we’ll show you how”, which kind of worked, although it clearly needed longer than the 15 minutes we had.

The event left me completely shattered, and I was quite surprised when I popped into the pub for a quick pint afterwards to be confronted by a massive crowd of geo-people all enthusiastically continuing the discussions.

I’ve just been checking out some blog responses and write-ups of the event: Gary Gale ( , Guardian Open Platform blogEd Parsons , Steven Feldman (giscussions) , jokru , Eamonn Neylon , James Cheshire (  As I say, from my perspective the whole thing flew past very quickly and it was quite difficult to know whether the event was actually going well, so it’s gratifying to know that people enjoyed it, and found the format successful.

WhereCamp.EU tomorrow

WhereCamp EU is tomorrow! I’ve been organising the posters:

We have a small team of organisers who are all people from the London geo-conference/meet-up circuit. In particular we have Chris Osborne who frequently puts together the very popular #geomob events, and Gary Gale who seems to live his entire life at geo conferences. These combined with a team of five or six others (including myself) have come together to plan two days of geo-map-technology goodness.

We were very successful with our marketing of the event before and during release of the tickets. Maybe a little too successful. It’s a limited capacity venue, and it is very much at its limit. Some people were slow to book their place. These people …well you can’t come (especially Steve)   Sorry about that 🙁

The posters involved lots of fun playing around with sponsor logos (In truth it was only fun at first, and quickly became a big hassle. But anyway)  We are of course hugely grateful to these organisations:

Gold sponsors: GoeVation & OS OpenSpace, and Guardian Open Platform.

Silver sponsors: Axon Active, bing maps, ERSI UK, Google Maps,

Bronze sponsors: DBVU, ito, nestoria, SVGOpen, and Yahoo! Developer Network

Being an “unconference” we haven’t actually planned the content of the conference in a lot of detail. This is where we’re relying on the imagination and motivation of the attendees.

“The attendees drive the content of the sessions on the day instead of having a prescribed schedule and set of content. Therefore, the event is what you make of it, and is only as fun as the people who attend. So be prepared to speak and contribute.”

This may sound chaotic, but I’m reliably informed that it does actually make for an fun and fulfilling event. Looking down the list of attendees, I can see that there will be plenty of amazing ideas. Should be a fair amount of OpenStreetMap related stuff hopefully. I’m excited to see what kind of sessions people come forward with.

London Wiki Wednesdays March 2010

Last week we had a London Wiki Wednesdays event, and this time I was involved helping to organise and promote it. You can read what happened here (including lots more pics) The event was hosted by NYK line thanks to Alek Lotoczko.

Pulling SharePoint Apart Andrew Berridge Ben Gardner London Wiki Wednesdays David Terrar

Alek along with me, Gordon, and Andrew managed to prod David Terrar enough times to get things moving in advance and get the event off the ground. I did some facebook messages and also created a twitter account, @LondonWikiWed, and went on a mass-following mission. All standard web2.0-social-media-promotion tactics. Sadly we’re still failing on a web1.0 level with google still sending people to a stale site which David Terrar is in charge of, and needs to sort out. The biggest thing we need to do for next time though, is sort out hosting and sponsorship in advance. As well as being the backup option for hosting, Alek very kindly forked out for some beers on the day, but we should try to find different sponsors next time. I set up some Sponsoring London Wiki Wednesdays information. A good promotion opportunity for someone I think.

The event itself was great! Lots of interesting talks. I was particularly interested to learn a bit about Pfizer using semantic MediaWiki for a patent database (but I’m still not convinced that the added complexity is a good idea as part of a normal wiki).

I gave a quick talk about crisis commons wiki, and about the kinds wiki mess which have built up there. I pointed to out-of-date information, duplicated information, and other structural and cosmetic problems. This was as a kind of case study in wikis going wrong, but I wanted to stress that these problems are solvable through clean-up work. I showed my initial efforts to do so, but this wiki is open for anyone to help with the clean-up effort, so this was an invitation for people to join in. I also put in a plug for Crisis Camp London (Something I’ve been along to a few times. When I get round to it, I’ll blog about that too)

(photo Benjamin Ellis CCBYSANC)

Slides on slideshare