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 rideshare and message postings
  • Lost and Found
  • 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 again had a strong returning team in 2012 with a “deep bench” of more than 130 on- and off-playa volunteers, filling critical shifts. Adding two new Volunteer Coordinators, for a total of three, significantly improved the efficacy of recruiting active volunteers. The large staffing allowed complete coverage for answering questions and reuniting lost items with Black Rock City denizens as well as servicing the very large number of participants using the Playa Info computer terminals during the event. For the second year running, we kept up 27 to 30 Directory terminals with virtually no downtime despite the playa’s dust and high heat. This eliminated past years’ long queues for the popular service. 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 shade structure’s placement on a 45-degree angle to the corner of the inner Center Camp Portal allowed great access. There was excellent visibility for participants to readily locate Playa Info. And, our camp was located close to other Community Services, Rangers, and Emergency Services camps for more efficient inter-related activities. The bright blue LEDs on the new front “Playa Info” sign as well as those already on the “i” signs on the tower relocated from the rear to the shade structure’s side provided excellent night and day visibility. As a result, participants could readily locate Playa Info from the far reaches of BRC. The tower base was newly decorated as a signpost comically indicating directions to a multitude of important BRC destinations. Our mostly red-attired shade structure still seems to be the cool cyber café in the midst of the hot days with some walk-up acoustic and spoken word performances on the new stage at night. Many people just enjoyed hanging out, waiting to meet someone, and interacting with all the latest info! The Volunteer Resource Team’s adjoining shade structure included a veranda between it and Playa Info’s structure for participant traversing, bike parking, and lost and found queuing.

We had some terrific volunteers suggesting ways to further improve and expand our service as well as working on fun projects. These included: volunteer laminate design, business cards with post-event lost & found contact information, improved found item storage, pocket maps of BRC, Plexiglas-protected What Where When pages, and alphabetized sections of the bulletin boards. The large map provided BRC details; it was easily referenced at the shade structure’s front-right 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 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 its fifth year, Air Playa Info provided a stand-alone service beyond Black Rock City, with support from Playa Info and the Communications department. This function was located at, and supported by, the Reno-Tahoe Airport Authority during the 2012 event. Local, Reno residents who volunteered at the desk were especially helpful. This official booth was thoroughly appreciated by most of the 12,000 to 15,000 participants passing through the airport to Black Rock City. Improvements included:

  • Two Reno-based Volunteer Coordinators (VCs) who:
    • successfully managed recruitment and staffing
    • were both on location to effectively transition shift-to-shift and day-to-day operations
    • oversaw daily operations at the airport, and were both local and knew the area well
  • Prime space, resources, and materials such as local maps and guest book provided by the Reno Airport Authority—well utilized by participants from 30 countries
  • Maps and signs on easels and volunteer/local resources manual to share with information with participants such as directions, maps, prohibited items on airplanes, air travel from Reno to BRC, and local rideshares
  • Volunteers’ laptops to look up info on the excellent, updated content on the Reno pages as well as other Burning Man web site pages
  • Air Playa Info laminates as “official” identification for volunteers

Also beyond Black Rock City, Playa Info 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 Burnal Equinox, Precompression, and Decompression.

Our meetings began in February and culminated with a review meeting/decompression in October and a budget planning session in 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:

An update to the new Playa Info “Directory” computer application/system, created with Burning Man-supported software development tools

  • 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 misfortune” or referring to Magic 8 Balls to help answer questions
  • A further improved lost and found system that significantly enhanced the on-playa and post-event reunification experience:
    • A fast-track process for reuniting participants with their lost items, directing them straight to dedicated found item staff
    • A significantly improved browser-based FileMaker found item tracking database for more efficient reuniting efforts, including:
      • 322 items returned on playa with a 28% return rate, up 8% from 2011
      • 159 electronic gadgets turned in and almost all reunited within 30 days
      • Playa Info “Line Wranglers” walking the Lost & Found queue to identify quick versus longer inquiries
      • Increased number (1,000) of business cards with Burning Man lost and found e-mail address and ePlaya URL handed to unsuccessfully inquiring participants
      • Community Services Manager coordinating with Lost & Found Co-Leads organizing the post-event found item reunification
  • Walk-around Directory volunteers assisting participants in locating and using open Playa Info computer terminals
  • Day Managers along with Shift Leads responsibly leading and facilitating Playa Info’s efforts
  • 2012 Burning Man 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
  • 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 Whens and BRC maps for participants
  • Coordinating with DPW for delivering participants’ lost airline luggage dropped at the Gerlach Office
  • Coordinating with the Nevada Health Department to locate their Q&A representatives at a Playa Info desk
  • Playa Info Oracle staff actively approaching participants in front of the camp and directing them to the proper info service

The Burning Man Tech Team provided project management oversight and brought back last year’s awesome software development team to update the content and implement the Playa Info Directory. This software application receives all the participant data input to the Burning Man Events (the first 960 of which are published in the What Where When) and Rideshare website applications. The user-in-a-dust-storm-friendly Directory application, with up-to-date participant, theme camp, event, and art information as well as rideshare and messaging functionality, ran on the Playa Info computers essentially bug-free during the whole event. This year, the Directory had more than 17,000 entries (44% rideshares, 28% participant profiles, 12% events, 9% camps, 5% posts, and 2% art). And, participants did approximately 49,000 content searches (26% camps, 22% personal profiles, 22% rideshares, 13% events, 11% postings, 5% art) over the event’s eight days.

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

  • Continued Playa Info volunteer recruitment efforts to offset turnover and increase staff to match BRC population increases, particularly for the busy event weekend and break down shifts
  • Working with the Reno airport to re-establish direct luggage delivery to the Box Office, which will then take care of transporting it to Playa Info on a regular basis as in previous years
  • Extending Lost & Found system improvements
  • Posting improved “Closed” signs to differentiate any after-hours activities from “official” information services
  • Replacing shade structure decorative ceiling bunting with something durable and requiring less installation effort
  • Cross-fertilizing, via communication and planning coordination, with other internal Burning Man groups
  • Increasing communication through multiple channels of Playa Info services to reach the many BRC denizens who surprisingly do not know about Playa Info nor important Burning Man information
  • 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
  • Making Air Playa Info even more successful by:
    • Increasing communication of trash/recycling disposal options
    • Adding more white boards and better organizing them for participants to share information on ridesharing and tickets-for-sale
    • Increasing resource information binders
    • With the Communications Manager discussing with the Reno Airport Authority the potential return of the “Mini-Man” as well as a Burning Man video and art display during the event
    • Discussing ways to encourage participants to be clean before arriving at the airport and to be mindful of dress before boarding plane per complaints to the Airport Authority
    • Establishing closer communications between To Flame Bus and Air Playa Info leads to allow better information for participants
  • 2013 Burning Man themed Playa Info laminates
  • Improving pre-event remote volunteer training
  • Updating the Playa Info training manual

Submitted by,
Rob Oliver