In a band, the geopeople are the bass-players

Erik Meerburg has been working in geo-information for over 25 years. About a third of his career he’s worked in governmental organizations, a third in businesses, and a third as a self-employed professional and trainer. Education in geo-information and promotion of the use of geo are his main focus, with a strong focus on FOSS for the last 10-15 years. Erik’s a charter member for OSGeo, secretary of the Dutch Chapter OSGeoNL, co-founder of the QGIS User Group in the Netherlands, and main organizer for the Dutch FOSS4GNL events. Apart from his love for geo, he also plays Double Bass in folksy, bluegrass and old-time music. This Interview was done by Kurt Menke

Q. Where are you located and what do you do?

I live in the beautiful old city of Delft – an oasis in the urban area called Randstad, the multi-nuclei (more or less cluttered together) urban area in the Netherlands including Rotterdam, The Hague and Amsterdam. That is where my home office is as well. For most of the past 15 years, I’ve been teaching people the use of QGIS, both for working professionals and in formal education. I set up a foundation for education in geospatial called Geo Academie (not related to the US based Geo Academy). Through this foundation a small number of self-employed professionals joined forces to share their geo-knowledge with (almost exclusively) the Netherlands. After 10 years, I thought it’s time for something different. And there’s this nice company in the Netherlands called B3 Partners. They’re an open source company with about 15 employees. I joined them and brought the Geo Academy to the company. So Geo Academy still exists, but as a brand of B3 partners. Our main focus is on web mapping and we make a product called Tailormap, a kind of CMS for Web mapping, which makes it really easy to launch webmaps. And of course, it is completely open source.

Q. Tailormap sounds interesting. Can you tell us more about it?

Sure. I’m actually really proud of what the team achieved, it’s simple to configure and has the look and feel of a modern web application: not as clunky as many other webmapping tools I’ve seen. And more importantly, this is the first piece of software that B3Partners will try to get into the formal OSGeo community projects. We are now at a point in the development that we really feel Tailormap adds value to the OSGeo libraries, we just have a few boxes to tick… our backlog needs to be opened up to the public, and we are still discussing how we want to accept pull requests. This is all a bit new for us, and we want to do it right. It might feel strange, the company has been building open source geotools for over twenty years, but we never got this far in really opening our tools. And I’m still searching for time to make into a better website to show off all those nice things. Ah, well… If you want to know more, the code is at

Q. How did you get into GIS and mapping?

Studying Geodesy is a good start. The surveying part of Geodesy was always fun (I did a lot of that as side-job while studying), and still the large-scale work in GIS has my special interest. And we do have some real good large scale geodata in the Netherlands. Yes, it’s a small country, but which country can boast a large scale basemap with full coverage at a scale of 1:1000 for urban and 1:5000 in rural areas?
First real job was teaching surveying (what we now would call associate level I guess), and after that I worked for a province where I got introduced to GIS. At that point I was constantly switching between surveying, CAD for 3D modelling of measurements and mapping it all in GIS. There I picked up the idea that you need a lot of tools in your toolbox. There is no One Ring in geospatial.

A couple of years later I joined the ministry of spatial planning, headed the GIS & cartography team there. When I got tired of fighting all the wrong type of battles there I got into consulting for Esri. For some strange reason, you don’t do a lot of geospatial work there. Maybe because I was consulting for the larger public organizations again, but still… It’s a lot of talk, and hardly any real work. Let me put it this way: I found it enjoyable for a time.

Only when I started with Geo Academie did I really get back to GIS and mapping again. And the first FOSS4G I attended (Nottingham 2013) got me hooked to the tooling again, there was such a positive vibe around the development of open software. Around the same time my eldest kid was growing into a bit of a hacker/maker, so I was getting surrounded by developers. Something I could never wrap my head around. And now here we are a couple of years later, I’ve got these tee-shirts stating that I’m a QGIS contributor…. Without writing a single line of code. Interesting stuff.

Q. During your career you have migrated from the proprietary GIS world to open source. What brought you to open source GIS software?

Quite a lot of things, but, one was the the ease of use. I had been teaching at a polytechnic school in Breda. We had Esri licenses. We often had difficulties with the licenses. We would have 25 students in a course. One teacher had a MacBook, and he ran a virtual license server on his MacBook. Students could use the license for two months and afterwards they would renew the license. Something went wrong with the license manager and we contacted Esri tech support. They told us we were not allowed to run the license server on a virtual machine on a MacBook. We asked Why not? It’s technically possible. Yeah. But that’s not how it’s supposed to work. To which I replied, “So, who cares? This is the practical solution.” This is just one of many examples. We then started with QGIS, it wasn’t as developed as it is now, but 12 years ago it already did everything we needed. So at the beginning there were some very practical reasons to start working with open source software. Then I became a member of the community and it was great fun.

Q. We are sitting here in ‘s-Hertogenbosch (The Netherlands) at a QGIS Conference. You are involved in FOSS4G NL and the Dutch QGIS User Group. Can you describe the FOSS4G/QGIS community in the Netherlands? What kinds of activities do these groups organize?

I think that in an open source community one should contribute what they can. And I really wanted to contribute. After all, I’ve made my livelihood out of open source software, so I felt it was important to give something back. I’m not a coder, but I am good at organizing parties. As a community we organize events for open source GIS users. The FOSS4GNL is a yearly event. And now we are hosting the first international QGIS User Conference since the pandemic hit. I think we did well the last few years.
For me, the organizing began back in 2017. More and more FOSS4G’s were being organized around the world. We had an OSGeoNL-day every year, and we rebranded the event as FOSS4GNL, to align with the International standard. The first meeting was a success. There were 165 people even though it was in Groningen, which is not exactly the center of the country. From there, near all events have been at around that scale. It’s a good size, easily manageable. Just before the pandemic, we started the Dutch QGIS User Group as well. But before we could organize anything, the pandemic struck.

Since we couldn’t meet in person, we did a TV series – De Grote Geo Show. Every Thursday afternoon, we would come online and have an hour of talks. We actually programmed for a couple of months. I think we had 10 or 15 episodes in the first season. Eventually we decided we’re not gonna do it every week because it was just too much work. So for the second season we aired once a month. And after that, we could go back to meeting people in real life again. Which is preferable, especially in a small country like the Netherlands (no domestic flights needed here to get somewhere). And now we have QGIS events, FOSS4GNL each year, and PostGIS Day is around the corner. We’re more active than ever!

Q. What kind of geo-nerd activities are you involved in these days?

I am into MapsInTheWild and take pictures whenever I see a good one. I see maps everywhere, although my wife now regularly beats me to it.

I am also trained as a geodesist and I see survey markers everywhere, all the time (my favorite marker is one I spotted in Disney World, such great attention to detail).

I did make 3D printed maps before, using a printing technique by Océ, which is a canon company now. They had his research and development branch in Venlo, where they had these flatbed printers that could do multiple layers of ink on top of each other. And if you have 50 layers stacked on top of each other, that would be a millimeter. So yeah, we used that to do realistic terrain models. It was great fun, but too expensive at the time to make it a big commercial success. However, I count having our Prime Minister handing one of our maps to the retiring President of our Court of Audit a success nonetheless.

Q. You are known for your cartographic fashion. What is your current favorite map outfit?

Hmmm… Last couple of months I haven’t been wearing much of them, just the mappy Vans (the National Geographic series from a few years ago) and the Rotterdam shirt by Wolff Blitz (, a small but great shirt shop from Rotterdam. Well, and I’m normally not seen without one of my Freitag bags with “GIS” on them. They’re made from recycled truck tarp, and I’m proud to say I’ve found two now. You know, there’s a lot of trucks that have “logistics” somewhere on their tarp, but still…

Q. Can you share some photos of your best conference-wear?

Well, yes. But my best outfit is still my Pacman suit. And yes, you could interpret the game board as a map, but…

Q. Do you consider yourself a GeoHipster?

I’m not entirely sure if the Dutch Geo-scene is representative for other countries, but… geo-people tend to be a bit introverted. I’ve written an article on LinkedIn some time ago, stating that in a band, the geo-people are the bass-players: it’s a supporting role, you keep the music flowing, you don’t get to do the solo’s. Hell, I’m a bass player myself ( From that context, I wouldn’t be surprised if other geo-people from the Netherlands would call me a geohipster, as I tend to do things perhaps in a slightly non-orthodox fashion. But that’s for them to decide.

Q. Where can people find you?

At FOSS4G and QGIS events, mostly. At least the international one, if it’s in Europe. And the Dutch one. And the one in Belgium. Oh, and this October in Baltimore, at the FOSS4GNA. I’m doing a talk on the “little differences” between North America and Europe. We do things a bit different here, I’d say. And it’s not always better, but there’s some things we can improve by sharing stories from both sides of the Atlantic. Oh, and online I’m on Mastodon, or actually MAPStodon ( And whenever you see the Geogoeroe handle, that’s me. No-one in his right mind would spell it that way but a Dutchie ;-).





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