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AFTERBURN REPORT 2001

Playa Directory Database Project Team

The Playa Directory project team began as a collaboration among Burning Man volunteers from several teams with the goal of bringing information on art installations and theme camps to participants before, during, and after the event. The team includes representatives from an internal PlayaNet "Special Project" team, Playa Information Services, and the Burning Man Database Team. Directory team members have been working together in various forms since before the 2000 event, originally to support the outstanding work of the PlayaNet project, which established a wireless network for information exchange on the playa. The informal group supplied mapping and theme camp data for access via that network, and this mission has evolved to inspire a full Burning Man project working even more closely with the Playa Information Services department.

At Burning Man 2001, PlayaNet included a terminal at Playa Information Services networked along with the rest of the kiosks to a central server. To support this resource, the directory project team created a new database and client application with search capabilities that provided information on people, theme camps, and events. This tool was tightly integrated with an advanced version of a previously developed interactive map program for Black Rock City. The terminals (or a web browser running on a laptop with a wireless ethernet card) gave participants access to the database, so they could add their own contact information, theme camp associations, and rough positions on the map. Unmapped theme camps can also become part of the database in this fashion. This functionality helps friends to find one another on the hectic playa, and its usefulness is growing rapidly within Playa Information Services.


One valuable use of the Playa Directory is to discover information about an art installation, assuming the artist has created a record for it. To access an entry, a user identifies the approximate location on the map, which shows art installations as labeled triangles. If the name shown isn't sufficient to identify the piece, the user can click on likely candidates and view web pages with full descriptions. If the artist has submitted graphics or a web site associated with the installation, the directory provides this information. It may also include pictures submitted by others or follow links to any web sites associated with the piece (the artist's web site, display history, etc.). Users can read notes posted by artists (before, during, or after the event), or those posted by other viewers; users can also leave notes for the artist and other viewers. The directory provides contact information for the artist (or other people associated with the installation) if it has been added to the database. Personal listings may also provide individual information entered by individuals such as where they camped (if they provided the data). Individual information may be linked to theme camp data, possibly including descriptions, event schedules, pictures, URLs, and notes. The map provides summary data for the block containing a theme camp, so users can learn more about an installation based on where it was located.

All data collected since 2000 remains available in a single database. One goal of the Playa Directory team is to make all data-- past, present, and future-- available on the burningman.com web site. Participants could use this interface to register themselves or their art installations/theme camps, providing contact information, notes, location, photos, and web links after returning home. Subsequent users could then scan a block on the 2001 map to find information about people or camps located there. A future version may allow self-registration for individuals and unmapped theme camps before arrival on the playa. The team is working on a capability to securely log in to the database and make changes to information previously entered. This function could be helpful, for example, if someone else is already camped in the spot a user registered. This idea is in development and will only be implemented once security concerns are addressed.

The functionality described here depends on three important pieces of software:

  • Accurate Directory Database-- records on people, camps, art installations, event schedules, etc.
  • Black Rock City map-- interactive display of playa locations, city blocks, art installations, and theme camps
  • Web "front-end"-- display pages running on a web browser.
The Playa Directory team engaged in development of all three of these programs for BM 2001. In the next year, all three will gain further refinements:
  • Directory Database-- Tighter integration with other Burning Man databases (i.e., records for theme camps, user authentication, and ePlaya), access via burningman.com, and expanded features like user photos, email, links, and notes.
  • Black Rock City map-- Some features may be added for "layered" mapping of city resources, radial maps of plazas within the city, etc.
  • Front-end-- Improved searching, secure log-in and record editing, etc.