The Burning Man Web Team works year round to build and maintain the Burning Man website, and its sub-domains. From HTML to image manipulation, from design to quality assurance testing, the Web Team ensures that the website is fresh, interesting, intuitive, and a valuable resource for all its visitors.
The Web Team was off to an auspicious start for the 2007 burn year as soon as the art theme for 2007 (The Green Man) was posted on the homepage of the Burning Man website. The theme was posted the day after Burning Man 2006 event ended, the earliest we’ve ever released it.
Right after we got home from the playa, the website was infiltrated by Brazilian hackers, who used the opportunity to replace our homepage with a somewhat bizarre political rant (in Portuguese, no less). They’d exploited a PHP security hole, which wasn’t patched in a timely manner. Our system administrators fixed the hole after going through the arduous process of virus screening the server, which entails a full wipe and reinstallation of the server software.
Once again, we were lucky this year to get a batch of incredibly strong volunteers, who have been extraordinarily productive. We accomplished a lot, including things that have been perpetually behind the curve, such as keeping the Jack Rabbit Speaks archives fully up-to-date. We had some extra time to create a really nice Gerlach weather page based on real-time data, and to convert our webteam subdomain website into a volunteer intake and informational tool, moving all of our internal content to the Extranet. We increased the number of Regionals’ web pages by a significant number, and we did some work on the Special Events section to make it more user-friendly more simple to navigate, and easier to maintain. We’ll finish up this work in 2008.
Having a solid volunteer crew allowed us the opportunity to take on some big projects this year, as well. 2007 was the year of the blog! We set up four blogs in WordPress, includingPrepare to Burn, Enviroblog, Regionals Blog and Building Black Rock City. We turned on comments on the Prepare to Burn blog, and that seemed to go well enough. We linked to the new blogs from the homepage, as well as from a blog jump page we created in the News section. With a lot of the development heavy lifting behind us, we now have the infrastructure in place to add additional blog modules easily in the future.
After several years of plotting and planning, we created the Environment Section, just in time for people to utilize the wealth of knowledge for their playa planning. It was a long and difficult project, including user interface design, information architecture, graphics development, image creation, and getting content written and reviewed for the pages. We started off with a basic introduction to Burning Man’s perspective on environmental conversation and preservation, then evolved the section to include in-depth information about ‘greening’ one’s playa experience and one’s life, and a rich set of resource pages to help participants do so. We will be adding more to this section in 2008, including detailed history of Burning Man’s environmental record.
In the effort to get people to collaborate on writing content, we created a Mediawiki installation (on which Wikipedia is based), enabling people to add and edit content online. This may prove useful for future projects that require collaborative content development.
We are particularly gratified to report that the ticketing process this year was an absolute breeze … and hence lightweight for the members of the web team who support it when tickets go on sale. This was made easier thanks to the Herculean efforts of our ticketing partner (InTicketing), and Burning Man’s system administration team. While intensive work went into the systems and software engineering, the key piece of functionality to make the whole thing successful was actually in the social engineering- the addition of a countdown showing where you were in line.
We had a very big challenge producing the AfterBurn Report this year … in fact, we barely managed to publish it just before the 2007 event. Such a delay reduces the efficacy of the report, and creates an unnecessary drain on resources. We lost our longstanding (beloved) editor to a PhD project, and we had to replace him with two new editors. This caused a bit of a delay, but the larger problem was that it took a long time to get the articles written. We are responding to the situation by instituting an earlier deadline for reports to be submitted in 2007, while the most recent event year is still fresh in people’s minds. We have implemented an “About this team …” sidebar on the website for each report, so authors don’t have to repeat some of the same information year after year.
Our monthly polls languished this year, and are looking to reinvigorate and/or re-examine the usefulness of this tool for feedback purposes. Participants tend to express their opinions on the ePlaya, Tribe.net, and through our annual feedback process quite readily, so our polls need to be rethought, and perhaps be used only when explicit polling for information is deemed necessary.
In 2007 we began removing instances of date-specific or year-specific information in our web pages, because these have to be tended to every year, straining our collective memory. By making them date-agnostic, they don’t need to be updated unless the information itself needs updating.
Finally, when we reached the playa for The Green Man, we figured our work was done, and we could take a little break. Alas, we were called into action to update the website with PR announcements when the Man was prematurely burned by an arsonist.
Will Chase (PlayaQuest), Webteam Project Manager