BoingBoing reader Tom Longson and friends pulled together a really cool social networking project at Burning Man this year that involving mobile, ruggedized Internet kiosks. I didn't have an opportunity to visit in person, but the project sounded insanely well-executed, and I hope that Burning Man organizers consider teaming up with Tom and crew to expand it next year. While I realize that many "burners" argue that part of the charm of the playa is total lack of connectivity, this sort of thing strikes me as an enhancer, not an inhibitor, of the experience. As a first-time attendee, one of the things that surprised me most was how flat-out tough it was to connect with friends out there. Cell and mobile data service don't work, and the nature of the experience makes it silly/inappropriate to lug around a laptop and check email every five minutes. What Tom and friends imagined -- and created -- adds up to a smart use of wireless computing that helps bring people together in physical space, under tough environmental conditions. Tom explains:
"In my quest for a max max cyberpunk fantasy, I attended Burning Man for my 3rd year with the goal of providing roaming kiosks to offer access to the yearly event's "Digital Directory", and to the Internet. I knew keeping computer equipment running wouldn't be easy, with the playa's huge amounts of fine dust, 75 MPH wind speeds, and baking sun. With the help of family and friends, we constructed three cabinets to keep the dust away from the sensitive CPU and monitor, while keeping them ventilated. With the help of The Embassy's satellite uplink and wireless network, we hooked up our kiosks to the desert's temporary network.
The kiosks allowed people to access Burning Man events, maps of the playa, and the chance to check back home via email. One burner, after checking his email, excitedly told me he got a job he had applied for. We plan to continue the project, providing more kiosks on the playa, and attempt to obtain a permanent trailer to spread our technomadic dream across the planet. Interested bloggers, computer artists, and donors please contact email@example.com."