The Burning Man Extranet began 2003 as vaporware, until it was released for use on April 7. Over the year, the Extranet became an invaluable tool, providing a means by which the many teams within the Burning Man Project can share files, contact information, details about important news items and events, to-do lists, and any other electronic information. The Extranet now serves over 700 registered users, who are members of one or more of the 68 teams that have been created.

The Extranet project got off to a slow start…literally. Early adopters were somewhat frustrated by the lethargic performance of the system, due largely to its dependence on a very inefficient connection to the user database. Later in the year, however, the database connectivity issues were resolved. This fix was followed by a number of smaller performance tweaks and incremental functional improvements, which have done a great deal to improve user experience.

The Extranet is constructed using an open-source content management system called Plone as a platform. (Find out more about Plone by visiting www.plone.org.) An exciting aspect of the Extranet development process is the connection that Burning Man’s developers have established with the community of others working to implement and expand Plone, and we have begun to submit some of our work back to that community for wider use. Also, one of the Extranet’s developers attended the first Plone conference in New Orleans in October, where he presented a case study on the system’s implementation strategies and the challenges that arose throughout the project. The presentation slides, as well as a QuickTime movie of the presentation, can be found at http://plone.org/events/conferences/1/video/.

The Extranet project is moving into a very exciting future, as well. As the developers have gained familiarity with Plone, we have recognized its capabilities for managing much of the data that is currently spread among an assortment of other systems. Similarly, Plone could greatly simplify the management of the considerable volume of information on the burningman.com website. By consolidating our data and content management systems onto one web-based platform, we will reduce administrative time while we more easily manage remote access to our information and simplify users’ lives by enabling them to go to one place for all of their information. This significant effort toward system consolidation is our current project, with expected completion during spring of 2005.

Submitted by,
Rob Miller
Tech Department Lead