Last week, my coworker Ashley Buzzeo and I were fortunate enough to join over 16,000 GIS practitioners and enthusiasts from 138 countries at the Esri User Conference in San Diego. The conference runs for a full week and is packed with speakers, sessions, workshops, social events, an expo center, and a huge map gallery.

esri user conference logoThe Esri User Conference kicked off with a plenary session hosted by Esri President and Founder, Jack Dangermond. With big announcements, guests, and a keynote speaker the plenary was an inspiring start to the week. This year’s theme of “GIS – Enabling a Smarter World” was illustrated through actual examples of web GIS integration, big data analysis, real-time mapping, and 3D visualization in action around the world.

Since I use (and help to train people on) Esri software just about every day at Towson University Center for GIS, the conference is a great way to get a lot of practical information. But more than that, the opportunity to see technology trends in action, get inspiration from GIS users from around the world, and connect with peers is invaluable.

Here are my top eight moments from the 2016 Esri User Conference.

  1. Free training announcement. While Esri already has a number of free educational offerings such as live seminars and MOOCs, Jack announced that all Esri e-learning courses would be available for free in early 2017. This is big news for anyone thinking of getting into GIS or looking for in-depth specialized training.
  2. Making a Difference Award. Domingo Ankuash and Richard Resl, leaders of AmazonGISNET, were honored for their work in using story maps to communicate sustainable forest and life plans for the 500,000 indigenous people living in Eastern Ecuador. It’s exciting to see that these story maps compiled by indigenous groups are being used to influence political makers.esri user conference domingo
  3. Fabel the Archaeology dog. While Fabel couldn’t make it to San Diego, this presentation included a video of how a trained dog carrying GPS device with the Collector for ArcGIS app helped archaeologists discover 1,500 year old human remains at the Sandby Borg fort site in southwestern Sweden.
  4. Green Infrastructure initiative. This year, Esri introduced a national map and GIS tools designed to help local communities prioritize, preserve and connect natural landscapes. It’s exciting to see such an influential software company investing in and promoting such a large-scale practical way to protect habitat and prevent biodiversity loss.
  5. Being Ashley’s sidekick as she grilled Esri staff on the capabilities of new products such as Collector, Workforce and Survey123 for ArcGIS in the UC Expo center.
  6. Innovations in map design. It’s always to great to see what professional cartographers are working on. The mapping sessions I gravitated toward were focused on temporal data, map design for web/mobile, and thematic mapping. A highlight here was the entertaining and creative session on 15 different ways to view red state-blue state election data—including this fun waffle map (actually, a cartogram) showing historical election results.

    esri user conference waffle map

    Map credit: Kenneth Field

  7. Demo of Insights for ArcGIS. Insights for ArcGIS (coming in 2017) is a web-based data exploration tool designed to be super intuitive, and allow you to view data in multiple panels of side-by-side maps, charts, and graphs. This is the culmination of several trends in GIS: extending basic mapping and spatial analysis capabilities to all data analysts, while better integrating charting and graphing into mapping. An exciting development for anyone interested in looking at their data from all sides.
  8. Thursday night party in Balboa Park. Admission to the Natural History Museum, Science Center and Museum of Art, a variety of street performers and music, and even a mariachi band—I’ll take it!