Burning Man is more than just a week-long camping trip in the desert. It’s a civic planning entity, a limited liability corporation, a construction company, a volunteer organization, a worldwide global network of artists and communities, and a cultural phenomenon. The Tech team faces quite a daunting task to provide the technological infrastructure that enables all that diverse activity, supporting … well, practically everyone … staff members, theme camps, artists, mutant vehicle drivers, volunteers, online communities, members of the media, the general public, and (since you are reading this report) even YOU!

This dedicated and talented team enjoys meeting such challenges head on and has learned to take a systematic and collaborative approach to just about anything. Sometimes a timely reminder is needed that this isn’t a software development or consulting company, but a team of mostly volunteers and very busy staff working within the budget of an art festival. The team can’t always have every new toy or solve every new problem right away, but they still manage to accomplish a lot with great panache.

For example, the traditional role of the Database team has emphasized ongoing maintenance and support for several web forms and the volunteer database. For 2005, the team worked closely with users of the Contacts & Sales database to review, revise, and document all processes that import or export data to the system. This work resulted in increasingly efficient and timely data handling which saves time and headaches for many mailings throughout the year. An upgrade to a newer version of the FileMaker databases and the supporting hardware will be a major project for this team in 2006.

The Technical Support improved effectiveness of technical resources at the Gerlach office and collaborated on the initial implementation of a new technology asset management system. Continued revision will eventually tie this system in to an organization-wide asset management tool. This team also integrated donated equipment and extended systems into the newly acquired space downstairs in the Burning Man headquarters building was outfitted with teleconference tools to enable more effective participation by remote team members.

Transitions came to the Engineering team in 2005, as several developers moved on to new projects or had to scale down their involvement due to competing priorities. In addition, the main project manager moved on to other opportunities. Despite the changes, a great deal of progress was made in open-source development projects. After improvements to the extranet In fall 2004, team members spent the winter completing modifications and enhancements to questionnaires for theme camps, art installations, and the Department of Mutant Vehicles (DMV). In the spring and summer, the team created a web-based application management tool to support processing of DMV applications. Annual questionnaire support, new features, enhancements and a much-anticipated migration of volunteer management tools to the extranet are planned for 2006.

The Systems Administration group had an exciting year in 2005. To move beyond the reactive mode of responding to problems, a dedicated system administrator joined up for the first half of the year, leading acquisition of two new servers to improve performance. In 2006, continued focus on strengthening infrastructure systems will be a priority.

Expanding network reach encompasses the wireless network provided to the town of Gerlach and on the playa, the latter in partnership with a participant project. The on-playa network worked very well overall, as did on playa support for the DMV, web content and blog updates, and the most successful webcast of the Burn to date. (Over 1000 people watched.) Some improvements in technology, routing, and cross department communication will smooth the process even further for 2006.

The largest and most dynamic part of the Tech team is the web team. This team has provided project management for the complex census data entry project and separation of theme camps and art installations into separate robust sections of the website as well as a reinvigoration of the Art of Burning Man section. Mid-year improvements to the Eplaya online community made it a self-moderating and self-managed resource (paralleling the real playa experience). New moderation functions on allow visitors to post links such as image collections and participant-related businesses. One last hurrah before the event was the deployment of an open source blogging tool, which enabled site visitors to watch the progress and stories as Black Rock City was built. One disappointment to the team was the late publication of the 2004 Afterburn Report, due to some personnel changes and content delays in the face of competing priorities. A faster release of the AfterBurn Report, continued refinements to the site architecture, and additional design treatments to showcase information and improve usability are in the works for 2006.

The Technology Department management shifted in early 2005, emerging from a year-long transitional period of co-leadership by two people to one person filling the dedicated role of oversight and administration of the teams. Detailed contracts with deadlines with deliverable specifications were created for each team member, setting the foundation for the year’s projects and plans. For the first time in 2005, the Technology Department participated in the integrated planning meetings conducted by the Department of Public Works (DPW) as part of city planning for each year’s event. As a result, timelines, priorities, and expectations were established for on-playa technical support. This planning enabled the geeks to keep geeking rather than worrying about obtaining power to buildings and other little details. For 2006, the department’s focus will shift toward conducting annual contract revisions, finding new team members to fill important positions in the department, training to staff users of technology, ongoing project and process oversight, and a whole lot of geeky fun!

Submitted by Heather (CameraGirl) Gallagher
Technology Department Dominatrix