On the Web

In 2011, several labor-intensive and time-consuming pieces of were moved to a content management system (CMS). This is a practice we began a few years ago. Instead of requiring web team volunteers to update HTML pages on the website, this process allows us to put the publishing power into the hands of content owners without requiring them to have significant technical knowledge.

We used this technique for the new widget on the homepage, the theme camps pages, the media coverage page, the support-a-project page, the 2010 AfterBurn, and for the second year the Reno preparation pages.

The Playa Events form, into which participant event entries are submitted for the What Where When printed guide, was migrated from a beta implementation as part of the Burning Man Earth project into a standalone system with the look and feel of The system includes an Application Programming Interface (API), which allows the data to be accessible to other systems and community developers.

The rideshare functionality that had been developed as part of the new Playa Info Directory for 2010 was extended into a new web system at and replaced an outdated PHP-based tool. The new rideshare system includes an API, which allows the data to be accessible to other systems and community developers. The web-based rideshare data shares the same database as the Playa Info Directory, enabling participants to find rides home from Black Rock City.

Improvements continue to be made to, including facilitating a batch upload process, resolving multiple account issues that were carried over from the previous system, and the creation of a galleries API, which will allow image data to be accessible to other systems and community developers.

As you have read, several of our systems are now being designed to publish public data through APIs. We will soon be presenting all our data, development guidelines and terms of use in one centralized place. We hope this will encourage and enable more opportunities for participation and contribution to our community, not just in the desert, but also in the innovative digital realm.

The Art Grant PDF was used again to facilitate the Art Team’s grant review process. Minor updates are in the works for 2012, and the process will likely be fully online and combined with a reorganized Art Questionnaire the following year.

We saw a lot of positive changes in 2011 in our Questionnaire systems. DMV, Art and Placement questionnaires were all migrated out of the Plone framework and into SurveyGizmo. SurveyGizmo is an out-of-the-box solution we chose that best met our specific needs and came along with some very useful new functionality: being able to accept file uploads in a form, ability to hide or show a question based on the answer to another, and other features as their product evolves. Other departments and projects are able to utilize this survey- and form-building tool for their needs, including: Regionals, Communications, Artery, and Black Rock Station.

Last but not least, we also created and deployed in time for the early-August announcement of the creation of our new non-profit entity, the Burning Man Project.

Building Black Rock City

Once the dust settled after the 2010 event and a successful launch of the new Playa Directory, the same development crew worked on some additional enhancements and functions that had to be skipped the first time around. The rideshare component was extended to become a new system on and the system ran bug-free throughout the event in 2011.

We continue to use Dataflow Manager logistics software to streamline the various requests that must be made annually for people and logistics to build Black Rock City. A substantial debrief was done post event in 2010 and many refinements were made to the system. The biggest challenge remains integrating data from large departments that have built their own staff databases and scheduling systems into the main system for the whole organization. We continue to work with the vendor to try to iron out the remaining challenges and will continue to ramp up our efforts to train our distributed system users.

One of the biggest projects and technology successes on 2011 was a new system for the Department of Mutant Vehicles (DMV) questionnaire and application processing system. The processing database was moved out of a legacy Plone system and was rebuilt in FileMaker 11. This new system made it much easier for the DMV to process vehicles pre-playa. We worked with a Burner-run FileMaker consultancy firm in the east bay, Beezwax. The “Bees” that were not already Burners, attended Burning Man for the first time in 2011 and had a great time supporting the system and seeing their work put into action. Another innovative development in 2011 for DMV was the use of iPads on playa to significantly decrease the time and paperwork process to inspect Mutant vehicles. The iPads used FileMaker Go to access their FileMaker backend processing database and decreased the computer workload significantly for the DMV staff as a result of the following:

  • Being able to match up vehicle photos in real time with the registration records with which they were associated.
  • Real-time documenting vehicle license status in a FileMaker database instead of using a paper-based system requiring that information is then transcribed onto a computer.

DMV also made improvements to their on-playa processing system that did not involve the Tech department, but we were happy to be able to contribute to the longest vehicle inspection wait time at DMV being reduced from two hours to 30 minutes!

In the Burning Man Office

We are currently rolling out a new Mantis, or as we call them, Burning Mantis, issue tracking system. This will replace previous Plone collector systems in our old Extranet tool.

After a lot of research and evaluations by our Tech staff and volunteers, it was determined that Mantis provided the greatest range of options, a clear user experience, and was incredibly cost-effective, as it is free software and requires no licensing fees. Mantis has amazing issue tracking features that will allow Tech and Staff alike to use logic-driven processes to track projects.

Replacing the Extranet in 2011 was the improved “UltraNet”. Our new UltraNet uses PBworks as its technology. We have migrated all of our Extranet teams to UltraNet workspaces and are creating a new collaborative space for the Burning Man Project as wells as other affiliate groups. As more and more teams get up to speed with the zippy features offered on the UltraNet, there is higher collaboration and knowledge sharing within our organization that benefits us all.

Submitted by,
Michael Barbarino, Brian Forsyth, Heather Gallagher, Rob Oliver, and Ian Starr