AFTERBURN REPORT 2004
The Burning Man web site is not just a collection of html files. It is Burning Man's primary voice year-round: informing, entertaining, and connecting an audience that includes past and future participants, along with many others. The site also serves as a tool for the curious to explore what Burning Man is all about.
Enjoying the high acclaim and success of the web site's redesign in 2003, the Web team took the opportunity in 2004 to look inward and improve internal processes, procedures, and structures. Our goal was to increase the efficiency of our work, to coordinate more effectively within the rest of the Burning Man Project, and thus to make the best use of the time and effort donated by our valued team members.
For example, we established a new structure for team management, brought in a new project manager to oversee the operations of the team, improved our volunteer intake and training process, revised our job definitions, established more clarity in our roles and responsibilities, improved our bi-monthly meeting structure, and published an organizational chart reflecting the flow of information through our team.
We made great progress toward overcoming the hurdles that inhibit interactions with remote teammates by broadcasting live webcasts of our team meetings. Together with internet relay chat (IRC) text messaging, the sessions allow remote folks to watch the team at Burning Man headquarters while they interact with us. Just to provide some perspective, we have teammates in San Francisco, Sacramento, Seattle, Portland, New York, Los Angeles, Boston, and Minneapolis, along with one who never seems to stop traveling.
To cope with that dispersion, we made an extra effort to pull together an on-playa meet and greet (or Geek and Greet, as we called it for Tech and Web volunteers), allowing us finally to connect in person, many for the first time. It was great to finally attach faces to names that had been, up to that point, mere digital imaginings.
We made significant improvements to our documentation and training materials, including the creation of a detailed Digital Design Guide (or Style Guide) that describes in full the design and style requirements for our site. As new team members joined the group, they reaped the benefits of this new documentation at our twice-yearly volunteer training sessions. Our new training program brought a large number of people up to speed quickly, leading to a larger and more productive team than ever.
On the technology front, we worked on a host of externally facing improvements. Implementing a moderation feature on our "add-a-link" pages allowed participants to post useful links for our users, while keeping them free of lascivious spam posts.
The team kicked off a research and design effort to create a new Environmental section of the web site that will focus on environmental education, information about the Black Rock Desert, and the Burning Man Project's environmental history. We're looking to have this section live in the first few months of 2005, and it will evolve from there. We're also using this new section as a model to refine our information architecture and content at navigation levels beyond the home page.
We created a Health and Safety sub-section of the Preparation section, consolidating all pages that provide valuable information about maintaining personal well-being on the playa. We also developed a more formalized policy and structure for Burning Man subdomains (such as http://greeters.burningman.com and other related department-specific URLs). The change included assigning a team member to oversee the development and maintenance of subdomains. Enthusiastic new team members tracked down and resolved an impressive number of bugs and other issues with the web site. Our new volunteers really stepped up and got some excellent work done.
The number of registered users on the E-playa, Burning Man's community bulletin board, grew from 3,000 to 7,600. To support that group, we created the E-playa Administration team, who work to ensure fairness in policy-making and disciplinary action by the administrators.
The Web Team collaborated with our Engineering team to implement improvements to the user interface, information flow, and copy of some web tools. Changes to registration questionnaires for the Department of Mutant Vehicles (DMV), art installations, and theme camps brought great praise from the registrants and managing teams.
In the coming year, we intend to leverage the skills of our larger team to take on some broad-scale projects. Changes will include driving web content through a content management system, thus easing our development effort and getting us closer to implementing the site entirely in Plone. We will also be taking a holistic look at the user interface and information architecture of the site, with particular regard to making our copy and layout more readable and easier to scan and search &mdash "web friendly" in the parlance. These are just a few of our goals, and we're excited for the opportunity to further evolve and improve our site, with the help of our far-flung teammates.
If you are interested in joining our team, we would welcome the addition of your HTML coding, image manipulation, PHP scripting, user interface design, and content creation. You won't be disappointed. You can work from anywhere in the world — all you need is an internet connection and the inclination to help.
Web Team Project Manager