Playa Info

Playa Info once again successfully combined all of Burning Man’s information resources under one roof in 2009, and reached beyond Black Rock City as well. The services included answers to questions by our knowledgeable “Oracles” and roving “Ambassadors”; the Burning Man Earth “Playa Info” computer system with participant and theme camp information, messaging, updated news, event information, and ride share postings; found items; large Black Rock City map with up-to-date camp listings; and bulletin boards.

Playa Info had another strong team in 2009 with a large staff of more than 100 on- and off-playa volunteers, filling more shifts than ever. We obtained enough volunteers for info services on Burn Day and for the most successful takedown on Sunday and Monday thereafter, thanks to direct, pre-event volunteer requests and walk-ups. The numbers allowed good coverage for answering Black Rock City denizens’ questions and servicing the large number of participants who used the Playa Info computer terminals. The pre-playa meetings with our core volunteer group were critical in proactively enhancing our offered services and informational communications/materials, as well as the artistic creation of the fabulously flowing fabric décor and minimal, low-wattage, ambient night-time lighting.

Our relatively new site at the Center Camp Portal allowed great access: excellent visibility for participants to readily locate Playa Info, and close proximity to other Community Services and Emergency Services camps for more efficient inter-related activities. Our mostly red-attired shade structure still seems to be the cool cyber cafe in the midst of the hot days. Many people just enjoyed hanging out, waiting to meet someone, and interacting with all the latest info!

We had some terrific volunteers suggesting ways to further improve and expand our service as well as working on fun projects. These included: two more sturdy yet flat-foldable wood Oracle desks replacing the remaining heavy metal ones, an updated large (4’ by 8’) entrance sign advertising Playa Info services and our location, volunteer laminate design, pocket maps of BRC, Plexiglas-protected and alphabetized sections of the bulletin boards, as well as camp decorations. The large map provided BRC details—“officially” updated by the Placers; it was easily referenced at the shade structure’s front-left entry. Oracles and participants interacted with much artistic merriment through props, games, singing and even contests! The Playa Info Ambassadors, our on-foot-with-wagon staff, continued their stride spreading much-appreciated info amongst the participants as well as incorporating Burning Man values in their messages.

For the second year we continued our efforts extending beyond BRC with Air Playa Info, located at—and supported by—the Reno-Tahoe Airport Authority. Local, Reno residents who volunteered at the desk were especially helpful, marking up a master town plan with the location of the shops, etc. This official booth was thoroughly appreciated by participants. Improvements included:

• Creation of an excellent Reno Airport page on the BM website
• Much better location and laminated reference information
• Information signs on easels plus whiteboard for tickets, rideshare, etc.
• Volunteers’ laptops to look up info on Reno pages, and also stream BMIR and live playa camera.

We also provided the Info Desk/Directory/Found Item toolkit to organizers planning information services at Regional events. Playa Info volunteers ran the Info Desks in San Francisco at the Burning Man Open House, BBQ-A-Noobie Community Picnic, Burnal Equinox, Precompression, and Decompression.

Our meetings began in February and culminated in early October with a review meeting/Bar-B-Q/decompression. While we had a great year, we noted areas that we could improve to offer even better info-related service in the next year. Successes included:

• Attitude: making it fun and easing communication for participants and volunteers, including singing, info-related contests for those waiting, and employing some accessories such as the spinning “wheel of fortune” to help answer questions
• Planning coordination with DPW that significantly eased camp setup and takedown
• Coordinating with Emergency/Health Services for emergency message transfer and the ACLU to locate their Q&A volunteers in the evenings at Playa Info
• Obtaining from Greeters extra What Where When guides and BRC maps for participants
• Coordinating with Box Office for regularly delivering participants’ lost airline luggage
• Sufficiently large shade structure, allowing plenty of space for all Playa Info functions
• Setting up fast-track process for reuniting participants with their lost items, directing them straight to dedicated found item staff
• Implementing new found item tracking database for more efficient reuniting efforts during and after the event
• White Board listing of the “top ten” questions—and answers to them
• Playa Info staff actively approaching participants in front of the camp and directing them to the proper info service
• Walk-around volunteers assisting participants in locating and using open Playa Info computer terminals
• Experienced Volunteer Coordinator orienting and managing the large number of volunteers
• Assistant Managers along with leads who assumed responsibility for the day and shift management of Playa Info
• Evolution-themed Playa Info laminates with “Yes! Ask Me – I Can Help” printed on the flipside to clearly identify Playa Info staff
• Updating the myriad details in the Playa Info training manual
• Training volunteers based on a service model—and on having fun

We encountered a rare service disruption this year—and, it was a very significant issue. The reliable “Directory” computer system, to which participants had grown accustomed for on-playa messaging and information lookup in recent years, was, for a variety of reasons, replaced by Burning Man Earth’s “Playa Info” software application a few days before the event’s start. Unfortunately, the sophisticated new application was a “beta” version and required much greater computer system resources such that it was not stable in the BRC environment; thus, it was essentially down until mid-week of the event. Playa Info, Burning Man Earth, and Burning Man Tech staff were unexpectedly strained for several days in their efforts to stabilize the new software.

For improvement, next year we plan to work on the following projects:

• Creating a new Playa Info computer application/system, using Burning Man-supported software development tools, that is based and tested on user requirements
• Adding “Playa Info” signage on the Café side of the shade structure to facilitate camp sighting
• Cross-fertilizing, via communication and planning coordination, with other internal Burning Man groups
• Increasing advertising through multiple channels of Playa Info services to reach the many BRC denizens who surprisingly do not know about Playa Info
• Continuously recruiting Playa Info volunteers to offset turnover and increase staff
• Expanding the Playa Info Ambassador role to work with other Burning Man groups, for example Rangers and Earth Guardians, to interactively communicate important information with participants
• Continued expanding of consultation and volunteerism to Info Desks at off-playa events
• Looking for opportunities to streamline Air Playa Info and make it even more successful
• Metropolis-themed Playa Info laminates
• Updating the training manual

Submitted by,
Rob Oliver