Playa Info

Playa Info had its most successful year yet, in combining all of the Burning Man information resources under one roof as well as branching beyond Black Rock City. The services included:

  • Answers to questions by our ever-so-knowledgeable “Oracles” and roving “Ambassadors”
  • The “Directory” computer system with up-to-date art, events, theme camp, and participant information, as well as messaging and ride share postings
  • Found items
  • Large Black Rock City map with up-to-date camp listings
  • Boards for “official” notifications and answers to “Top Ten” questions
  • Bulletin boards for participants

Playa Info had a strong returning team in 2010 with a “deep bench” of more than 100 on and off – playa volunteers filling critical shifts. Importantly, we obtained enough volunteers for info services on Burn Day and for a successful takedown on Sunday thereafter thanks to direct, pre-event volunteer requests. Walk-up recruitment was essential for breakdown on closing day. The numbers allowed good coverage for answering questions and reuniting lost items of the Black Rock City denizens as well as servicing the very large number of participants using the Playa Info computer terminals. The pre-playa meetings with our core volunteer group were critical for 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.

Rotating the shade structure 45 degrees at our relatively new site at the Center Camp Portal allowed great access and bike parking: excellent visibility for participants to readily locate Playa Info; and, close location 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 and walk-up performances on the new stage at night. 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 sturdy yet flat-foldable wood seats replacing big sofas, 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; it was easily referenced at the shade structure’s front-left entry and was kindly kept free of mark-up and graffiti. Oracles and participants interacted with much artistic merriment through props, games, singing and even contests! The Playa Info Ambassadors—our largest-ever, 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 third year, Air Playa Info provided a stand-alone service beyond BRC, with assistance from Playa Info and the Communications department. This function was located at—and supported by—the Reno-Tahoe Airport Authority during the 2010 event. Local Reno residents who volunteered at the desk were especially helpful.Volunteer recruitment and training went rather well, providing more volunteers than there were available shifts. Air Playa Info overcame some challenges in 2010, such as the Airport Authority’s restricting displays showing local resources. This official booth was thoroughly appreciated by most of the 10,000-plus participants passing through the airport to Black Rock City. Improvements included:

  • Updated Reno pages content on the Burning Man website
  • Prime space, resources, and materials such as local maps provided by the Reno Airport Authority
  • Volunteer Manual to share with participants information, including local resources, directions, maps, prohibited items on airplanes, air travel from Reno to BRC, and local rideshares
  • Volunteers’ laptops to look up info on Reno pages and other Burning Man web site pages

Playa Info 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 Convectional Caucus, BBQ-A-Noobie Community Picnic, Burnal Equinox, Precompression, and Decompression.

Our meetings began in February and culminated with a review meeting/Bar-B-Q/decompression in October and a budget planning session in early November. 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:

  • The new Playa Info “Directory” computer application/system, created with Burning Man-supported software development tools, as well as based and tested on user requirements
  • 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
  • Setting up fast-track process for reuniting participants with their lost items, directing them straight to dedicated found item staff
  • Updating the found item tracking database for more efficient reuniting efforts during and after the event
  • Planning coordination with DPW that significantly eased camp setup and takedown
  • Coordinating with Emergency/Health Services for emergency message transfer
  • Obtaining from Greeters extra What Where When guides and BRC maps for participants
  • Coordinating with Box Office for regularly delivering participants’ lost airline luggage
  • Coordinating with the ACLU to locate their Q&A volunteers in the evenings at Playa Info
  • Coordinating with the Nevada Health Department to locate their Q&A representatives in the mornings at Playa Info
  • Sufficiently large shade structure, allowing plenty of space for all Playa Info functions
  • 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
  • Day Managers along with Shift Leads who assumed responsibility for the management of Playa Info
  • Metropolis 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

The Burning Man Tech Team provided project management oversight and, thankfully after several months of failed application development effort, put together a fresh team of software developers to successfully build a new Playa Info “Directory” software application in 2010. Within three weeks before the event, these techie Burners created a very user-friendly application with up-to-date participant, theme camp, event, and art information as well as rideshare and messaging functionality running on the Playa Info computers—and, it ran bug-free during the whole event.This great new software was a double-edged sword in that its popularity, along with a significant rain storm that disabled many computers, led to a long line of participants waiting to use the Directory during the day time.

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

  • Doubling the number of Directory computer stations available 24/7in Center Camp and possibly extending access to nearby wireless computer users to eliminate long daytime lines of waiting users
  • Provisioning water-proof tarps and/or umbrellas to divert rain water spillage like that which disabled many Directory computers in 2010
  • Lighting overhead “Playa Info” signage 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, particularly for break down.
  • Continued expanding of 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 support Air Playa Info and make it even more successful
  • Rites of Passage themed Playa Info laminates
  • Updating the training manual

Submitted by,
Rob Oliver