Rasters Revealed Reviewed

And it’s done!

Many thanks to the presenters and attendees at Rasters Revealed 2021 last Friday (15th Jan) for all that you did to make it a wonderful experience to organise, and to Helen, Geoff and Andy who help moderate the Zoom and Discord platforms on the day itself. Thanks also to the OSGeo:UK committee for their support with the upgraded Zoom account. If the feedback that I’ve had so far is anything to go by then I think the event was a success.

What is Rasters Revealed?

Rasters Revealed is a one-day conference about the use of raster datasets that I organise mainly in my spare time. I put it on because a) I enjoy organising things, b) I love learning stuff, especially when it comes to raster data, and c) while many conferences are themed around specific market sectors, and end up presenting on very similar topics I want to go to a meeting that does something a little different!

Rasters Revealed uses raster data as a common thread around which to share knowledge and experience of data generation, management, dissemination and processing methods, all of which are applied and required across the large range of market sectors and disciplines (commercial and academic) that utilise raster datasets. The meeting focuses on sharing experiences of using these data and will highlight areas where disciplines could learn from each other to make processing, management and data use more efficient.

I have run one in-person event in Oxford in 2017, and another online event in 2021 (I never said they were regular events!).

Some numbers

I was initially expecting about a hundred people to be interested and maybe eighty to turn up on the day, but #rastersrev had a staggering 318 registrations, from every continent other than Antarctica (and to repeat the terrible gag I made on the day, we had someone sign up from the British Antarctic Survey so I’m taking that as representing EVERY continent!).

The online event used the following technology:

  • 1 large-meeting Pro Zoom account
  • 1 Discord server
  • 1 WhatsApp group for the moderators to use

I was unsure about whether a large meeting upgrade was worth it, but across different Zoom-based sessions (in ascending order) we had 89, 94, 101, 104 and 115 people watching so I think it was justified (locking people out of a session would have been a bad idea). On Discord, there were about 180 people logged in at its most used.

Throughout the day we heard from 19 presenters, across 5 hours 25 minutes of sessions, split up by 5 breaks. One session was held entirely on Discord.

Some thoughts

I am really happy with the way that the event worked, and the responses that I have had about it. There are though some things that didn’t work quite how I had envisioned them:

  • Eventbrite – I don’t know if this was down to me not looking into the platform in enough detail, but there seemed to be no way of collecting more attendee information that name and email address. Although I don’t want, nor care, to hold any information on registrants it would have been useful to be able to collect information on the country and organisation that people were joining from. Just for peace of mind as an organiser. Also, there was an Eventbrite event page that included all the joining instructions, but I had not realised that (I think) you needed to login to view it. That seems clunky, and resulted in my sending out more Eventbrite mails that I had first expected to so that everyone had the joining instructions.
  • Internet – this is a Virgin Media issue: the internet connection to my house went down for about 10 minutes mid-session. Luckily I’d planned for this and the co-hosts took over but it’s really frustrating when trying to run virtual events.
  • Discord – I asked people using Discord to change their nicknames to a format that was ‘Name (organisation)’, and many did. This was so that it acted like a conference name-badge and everyone knew who they were interacting with. There is no way to set-up beforehand the nickname or username structure in Discord, and that would be a ‘nice to have’ from an organising standpoint.

And here are some points that I am particularly happy about!

  • Diversity of speakers – I tried to create and encourage as diverse a presenter pool as I could. A couple of aspects that made me smile were that presenters ranged from undergraduates, through to company directors, and university professors. We also had speakers who were freelancers, and others that represented multinational corporations. It was also great that I was approached by a mentor from the Women in Geospatial network following my call for women presenters and I was able to work with her to provide presenting opportunities for those she is helping. I want to thank once again all the presenters for providing their time and experience in making the sessions as full of detail and as diverse in topic as they were.
  • Diversity of session type – I wanted attendees to be engaged in the day as much as possible and didn’t think that a full day of 45 minute talks over video would do that. So I organised sessions with either 2 or 3 speakers with ~15 minutes to speak and some time for a discussion/Q&A at the end, a lightning session, an hour long panel session with 3 guests and me as the host, and a Discord only session.
  • Discord only careers session – I’ll admit that I had no idea how this would work out but a) I loved it! b) I think others enjoyed it too. Initially the number of text messages flashing into the #career-chat seemed a bit overwhelming but it was easy to get used to following along. And it was great to have conversations with people around the world about their experiences about job hunting and careers.
  • Discord in general – I think Discord worked really well, but in particular the #introductions and individual session channels were really vibrant and active. The #lobby-chat and side-room channels were less/not used and attendees requested new channel topics such as #eo-data-cubes used so the moderators needed to keep an eye on what was working and what was required – which was a great way of dropping into conversations as they happened. The fact that the resources links and chat is there to be read/re-read after the event makes it a useful platform to have used.
  • Supporting small businesses – I tried to mix the number of small businesses and large organisations that were represented on the agenda. I was proud to be able to provide a platform to individuals and startups such as OxSource, Pushing the Sensors, Alba Orbital, Ivan Ortega, eOsphere and Terrawatch (and obviously Geoger too!), as well as established and larger companies, universities and organisations.
  • Breaks – I felt that it was important to have as many breaks as possible. Hopefully this was useful for increasing the potential to network on Discord, deal with things in the day job, sort out home schooling, and just have some down time from the computer screen.
  • Lovely community – once again I have been blown away by what a great community spirit there is in Earth observation and surrounding the use of raster data. And for it to be global in reach at this event made it even more special. It was great to see everyone helping out and sharing knowledge in Discord, and for all the presenters to be so giving in terms of their time and knowledge. We should be proud of our community spirit and keep working to maintain it.

I’m really chuffed that Rasters Revealed has been a success again. Maybe see you at the next one??