On the Web
It could be said that the Engineering team’s most visually stunning contribution for 2010 is the new Burning Man Gallery. This system was unveiled during the 2010 event and delivers many advantages over its predecessor. In addition to eliminating many photographer headaches, such as a significant image submission and sizing issue, its updated look and feel and enhanced navigation make for a substantially improved user experience. With the inclusion of video and additional planned enhancements, our website has a new dimension of sound and vision through which to celebrate our collective history. The Gallery also has some features that help streamline press requests for imagery.
We love our new Gallery so much that we are giving it away. Under the Gallery’s photogenic exterior, its web-friendly Python codebase makes it a highly accessible part of our new mix of open source offerings, and the source code is available to developers wishing to contribute their talents. The Gallery’s development roadmap includes optimization of the moderation workflow and interactive design schema, which will allow for expedited media review and faster publishing of the latest submissions. An “image of the day” feature will showcase selected sets of imagery. Image submissions will be further eased via automated inclusion of meta information stored within image files. API and RSS enhancements are also slated, and geo-tagging is “on the map.”
Burning Man ventured once again into the open source software realm with contributions from Tech and Legal staff, volunteers, and open source luminaries in our community. In late May, the Apache open source license was adopted as our default strategy and customized for an Individual Contributor License Agreement (ICLA). In early July, a beta code.burningman.com was released, allowing developers to view current open source projects, contribute their own projects, and likewise, allow access to code. Many Burners have expressed interest and some have contributed to projects, however, it was determined that our 1.0 site will be re-engineered to better communicate projects and attract greater community involvement with minimal administrative overhead required.
2009 saw the first iteration of the Art department’s Art Grant PDF form. The first version had some technical limitations, but the form did provide an unprecedented streamlining of the review process. After careful consultation between the Tech team, the Art department, and applicant artists themselves, we now have a list of substantial improvements that are intended to eliminate noted issues and make the Art Grant process a better experience for all concerned.
Building Black Rock City
In 2010, we further adapted the Dataflow Manager logistics software to produce barcodes for our Commissary meal passes, create a persistent database for tracking personnel-related requests, and to gather information to create early arrival passes. These extensive changes were a big leap forward towards full implementation of a centralized system for tracking and collating requests. This system allows for easier compilation of on-playa tasks and services and enables departments to more easily track their expenditures. A full debrief is in the works to continue fine-tuning the system.
After years of preparatory activities, the registration Questionnaires for Theme Camps and Mutant Vehicles are receiving some much needed attention. Due to the complications of a legacy technology framework, for years, the annual content update and rollout was previously the single biggest recurring Tech Department project. Initial forays into out-of-the-box solutions have proven very promising, and a migration is planned for the 2010 Fall/Winter season, after which, we should see reduced maintenance times that will allow us to get around to other pressing projects. For the 2011 season, we will replace the Questionnaires for Art registration, Scholarship applications and Media registration.
Despite a development delay that cut the usual two-week submission window by half, the Playa EventsCalendar was successfully upgraded, and participant event data was gathered in time for the printing of the What Where When.
After a last minute decision led to a challenging beta implementation of the Burning Man Earth software at the 2009 event for use at Playa Info, it was decided to revisit the software in order to solidify the system for use in 2010. Unfortunately, by late summer, the development team was not able to complete the work as planned, so just a few weeks prior to the event, a small team came together and through a heroic effort, created a new streamlined “Directory.” This software contained up-to-date participant, theme camp, event, and art information, as well as rideshare and messaging functionality. The system ran very successfully at Playa Info and throughout the event. Later challenges were introduced by Mother Nature however, when heavy rainfall damaged some workstations and the number of working kiosks was significantly reduced. For 2011, we are planning to extend the Directory’s Rideshare functionality to replace the system at rideshare.burningman.com.
Despite the challenges on the Directory project, the Burning Man Earth team successfully compiled the popular 2010 Black Rock City Gigapan imagery and released the iBurn app which included data such as theme camps, art installations, and event information, in addition to mapping functionality for iPhone users.
In the Burning Man Office
One of the larger projects in 2010 was the selection of a replacement technology for our Extranet collaboration tool. After soliciting input from staff and a wide range of technical advisors from across the organization and beyond, we compiled a list of over 20 options, and through extensive research and comparative analysis determined the most effective solution available for our unique user scenarios and organization structure. In the end, we concluded that PBworks was the most suitable replacement option. As an organization we still need some functions beyond those provided by this tool, however it does possess some very formidable capabilities that clearly distinguish it from its Extranet predecessor and other options. We will work with our new friends at PBworks to refine some components and deliver key functional enhancements before our launch in early 2011. We have renamed the entire system the UltraNet, consisting of two websites. The first is CityNet which is set up for functions that revolve around building Black Rock City, and the other is ProjectNet which is set up for functions that revolve around outreach networking and future projects. We are confident in this new technology’s potential to aid in both collaboration and knowledge tracking for our organization.
To supplement the PBWorks functionality, the Tech Team has been conducting an analysis of various issue and bug tracking software packages to replace the ‘Collector’ system in the Extranet. Since our existing collectors were implemented, many robust commercial and open source systems have evolved. The team is evaluating two remaining options and is preparing to make their final system selection based largely on feature sets, system translation, ease-of-use, and resource requirements. Both options feature improved search functionality, usability, and are written in codebases that are well supported.
The selection of out-of-the-box software systems and services is a noteworthy departure from our early history of creating most software from scratch. After years of supporting and minimally maintaining custom built systems with a skeleton crew and volunteers, we simply do not have the resources to invest in custom software unless it’s absolutely necessary. Instead of re-inventing the wheel for common business functions, it is better for us to focus on projects and processes that are unique to the event and community.
In addition, as we continue to identify and evaluate existing software solutions, we are discovering more and more Burners working everywhere in the tech industry. Burning Man has long attracted innovators and leading edge bit-heads to the playa, and it’s great that we are building on relationships and finding new ways to work together as a tech community.
Brian Forsyth, Calliope Gazetas, Rob Oliver, Heather Gallagher, and Ian Starr