Kolkata

Two enthusiastic young guys at Freed in Delhi told me they were attending the workshops in Kolkata as well, and they wanted to borrow a GPS to map the 16 hour train journey there. When I explained that they would need to hold the GPS to the window in order to get a signal inside the train, for sixteen hours, they only smiled more. They’ll go in shifts. I handed over the GPS to them, and they say “You don’t know what you’ve started”. Two days later, they walk into the workshop, with waypoints for every station along the route! What delirious dedication, that’s the true OSM spirit. I’m completely impressed by these guys, their other young student colleagues, and Indranil, their advisor and our host in Kolkata. I showed these guys around some branches of subversion, like JOSM plugins, and gave them a quick introduction to rails and the OSM server, and suggested a few potential projects. Also encouraged them to apply for Google Summer of Code, cause I certainly want to see OSM as a mentor organization this year and these guys would be great to work with.

West Bengal University is a sort of meta-university, overseeing the exams and curriculum of over a hundred colleges all over the state. Apparently this is a common educational structure in India, a kind of spatial distributed Oxford. WBU are our main sponsors in FreeMapIndia2008, and we were happy to finally see them.

Unfortunately I can’t say too much about how the workshop went. Exhaustion and a weakened immune system caught up with me, and I was ill these two days. I tried to help out some, but my impressions are dulled. Schuyler tells me that the participants made good progress through GPS surveying and JOSM. The participants themselves filled out feedback forms, which were largely very positive, except for a feeling that the workshops were too long. Part of that was done to the network OSM is hosted on going down, after getting Slashdotted or something, which meant we couldn’t edit. And partly, according to Indranil, that people are more used to simply getting instruction rather than being called apon to drive the direction of the workshop, as we do in Free Map India.

There were very good suggestions from two women from the West Bengal government agency which oversees introduction of information technologies into the state. They are just starting to investigate GPS and GIS, so the workshop was useful, but they wanted to see a more practical oriented workshop, where OSM would be applied to solving an actual problem. This is brilliant, and perhaps could be the frame for another series of workshops next time around. Again we were introduced to whole new application possibilites, with the personable Vice Chancellor describing the massive problems with rapid erosion of riverbanks in the region, and unchecked mining operations in the north of West Bengal. These might not be OSM itself, but projects informed by OSM principles of open, simple, and collaborative data collecting, or projects working partly with OSM data.

Too quickly and we’re done! We’re done! The month of FreeMapIndia2008 is now complete! What a month. What an intense experience. We met so many great people, were so welcome everywhere. So now I’m on a flight to Mumbai, brief layover, then London, and then Barcelona, and then… somewhere along the way I’ll catch a breath, and do a proper look back, reflection and praise of this time. There’s also a ton of photos to digest, caption and select here. More soon enough. Goodbye FreeMapIndia!