Need: In 2011 the Burning Man festival’s ticketing demand famously exceeded its limited supply of tickets. As a “participatory” event where attendees are the attraction, this created a challenge. Furthermore, scalping emerged as an exploitative workaround—threatening the integrity of an event dependent on a gift economy, and a detachment from “default world” market economy.
Response: Wanting to help and exploding with ideas, I designed the Hera system—in partnership with executives at Burning Man (BOrg). Beyond simply the ticketing problem, Hera also addressed a number of other experiential yet practical needs that come with building, performing, living and exhibiting interactive art in a temporary utopian community of +50k humans, in one of the world’s harshest climates.
- How to manage “surge” sales with clear expectations management.
- How to curb scalping.
- How to encourage gifting of tickets, and allow for tickets to be transferred—but somehow, not scalped.
- How to digitize what is currently a very analog process, all built around—beautiful, artfully printed, thoughtfully crafted—paper tickets.
- Digitization was assumed to be a preferred medium to paper based on the digital savvy of most Burners, and my own anecdotal observation in the two years prior, that keeping track of paper was a struggle for dozens of theme camp organizers, individual attendees, workers, and volunteers.
- Paper had been assumed to be preferred, to avoid dependency upon “default world” devices such as smartphones; yet Burner behavior in the years leading-up to 2011, demonstrated other ways to embrace technology for BRC that could also leave default-world dependencies behind.
- How to digitize a host of other regulatory requirements, that slowly accrued over the years as the needs for a complete city of 50k developed from its 1990s numbers of several hundred—from the Department of Mutant Vehicles, to Early Arrival passes, to managing theme camps, to ordering RV sewage service, to attendee In Case of Emergency and medical registration, to USDA required health permits for camps distributing food.
- How to get someone to pay to get all of this built.
- The “surge” sales management component, alone, a significant and non-trivial technical lift.
- With many Silicon Valley luminaries known to be attendees, this felt hard—but far from insurmountable.
Reputational framework introduced to encourage ticket gifting, to allow ticket selling, and to discourage scalping.
Outcomes: I was paid for my work by an independent benefactor; however, the different paths established by BOrg management to either secure funding to build it themselves, or having an existing vendor build the system, I wasn’t comfortable with—for completely personal reasons—so I left the completed work in their hands. It was a fun project, and everyone involved, so wonderful. My asthma and general dislike of hot weather and techno have kept me from further playa adventures; so, I have no idea where BOrg is these days with their ticketing and event management. Good, hard working folks—so I hope it’s doing everyone well!