Burning man - MyFace project

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NOTE: This page is a daughter page of: Burning man

Burning man is an annual event, representing an iconic experiment in community and art. You can read about burning man on my main Burning man page.... this page talks about a special project my friend Inferno (Jeff Carloni) and I created in 2019. We called it: "MyFace".

Final MyFace board at the time of takedown on Monday.... notice there's lots of wonderful connections between people (string) in the middle, and lots of people have colored messages they left in their mail slot (behind their pics). That's me on the left (no more fancy costumes for takedown) and Inferno on the right.

I'm writing this article to help others who are thinking about building their own social walls for their camps. We would really love that. :)


Imagine a version of social networking modified to be: (a) offline and (b) make people happy. That's the motivation of MyFace.

Our camp, WrongTown, is pretty large and international camp. 100 people, from all over the world, arriving different days, most of them (burning man) virgins and barely know anyone else in the camp. I really like that about our camp, but 100 people means it's impossible to know everyone.... and so we hoped this board would help people connect, learn names and leave sweet messages. To help make our camp more connected. And we feel it was a lovely success.

Main List of Features

The main "features" of our wall:

  1. Leave messages (behind someone's face).
  2. Make connections (with string).
  3. Update status (with magnets).
  4. See everyone in the camp (names and where they are from).

Inferno and I felt confident our wall would be awesome because: even if not all our "features" were successful, we knew at least one feature would be appreciated. For me, I'm bad with names, so just seeing a poster with all faces would have been great... but the message ability was my second favorite.


The Wall

To build this social wall we found two 0.43 in. x 4 ft. x 8 ft plywood boards (~$18 from Home Depot) and decided to paint them glossy black for contrast against the white photos. If we didn't have 100 pics, just one board would have been enough, but instead we used the configuration shown:

MyFace Design

Six feet high was about perfect.... actually I feel like to make it even better we'd have made it one wider and attached a $20 full length mirror I found to the other side to attract even more people to stop by off the street. People like to see themselves. :)

We jigsawed the word "MyFace" and to keep it upright we brought four 10 feet rebar stakes to hammer in and secure with 2x4 planks to drill them secure. In the middle we drilled 100 screws, one for each person.

On the bottom piece we bought for ~20 a tin sheet to attach our magnetic "status" pieces.

The Photo Sleeves

Inferno had the brilliant idea of buying 6x4 inch rigid sleeves.... we bought 100 for only ~$40 on Amazon, and these were a perfect size for people to slip in messages on 6x4 colored flash cards (~$6 for 300 - which was more than enough). We glued everything with wood glue, as an experiment the first 20 pics we put on top of the card, and the rest just slipped inside (pro: easier reuse, con: caught some dust while the ones on top stayed pristine).

Collecting Photos

We emailed everyone in the camp a Google form: [here's an old version of it]. We got about 95% of people to reply. I actually wish we'd left in the "status" question.... because then everyone would have said if they were "single", "in-a-relationship" or "mind-your-own" business. I actually think hitting on someone in your own camp is a bit risky, *but* it's really handy to know who's coupled up so you know not to flirt with people that might make things awkward. With our magnets, people could still have changed their status after the fact.

Printing the Photos

To print I actually reused a fun little "Acknowledgement Generator" piece of code I created internally in Google (trying to encourage people to make acknowledgement slides). Using this generator I created a nice little graphic for the 100 people, and printed on glossy 6x4 paper. Definitely use glossy photo paper.

If you understand JavaScript, you can reuse my code at JavaScript - Acknowledgement Generator (use the burning man setting).... if not you can use Google slides and insert all the photos manually.

Printing probably cost me ~$100 in ink etc.

Assembly. I had asked Bugs (foreground) to put the correct welcome message for every person because I was first chef that morning and couldn't be two places at once.

Magnetic Status

We ordered 6x4 stick on magnets (thickest we could) and cut them into 1x4 inch strips to stick at the bottom of each sleeve. Originally, we wanted to individually cut around words, like your fridge magnets.... meaning I could write something funny under Inferno like "matcho cheese poop factory". Sadly the magnets were not strong enough for this - Inferno realize it would be a moop nightmare, so instead we printed 1x4 inch pre-made "status" messages (messages here) with text like:

  • "Single, Sassy, Horny, Energetic"
  • "That’s private! Ask me, I want a candy, Multi-orgasmic"
  • "Engaged! My partner is: ________________"
  • "I forgot something... anyone lend me a: ______________ "
  • ... and we had some fun "wink" and "poop" magnets that people could put on other people.

The magnets are fun... and since they are printed we can use them next year... but kind of a pain in some ways! Not everyone used them - just enough to be fun, but it was a lot of printing time. I'm sure we spent over $50 in magnet strips etc.

Polaroid camera

Because not everyone could submit a photo, I thought to be inclusive (burning man principle) that I should buy a $100 polaroid camera (with 40 polaroids pics included)..... and the 6 or so people without pics appreciated it... but in retrospect, it was too much extra work and not worth the cost... I honestly didn't know how to operate it so most of my photos were washed out. We could have skipped it. My bad.

Box for the string and messages

For ~$16 at target I found a nice box Inferno nailed to one side and we filled with string, plus a pair of tethered scissors, plus the colored cards and pens for messages. This worked really nicely. Our fallback plan was to have the message cards kept in a plastic storage bin next to the wall and had we done that... honestly... I don't think hardly anyone would have wrote messages. It worked because it was easy. I wanted a plastic cover over the box to prevent dust, but it didn't matter that the string got slightly dusty... in 2019 there were no really big dust storms to cause issue.

Finished board again

A Social Networking Parody: MyFace

Number of People Matters

100 people in a camp is a lot. I've heard from various other camps that 30 (or 40 max) is the sweet spot if you want a camp where everyone knows each other. 100 people was also really hard to squeeze onto our display. Originally we were aiming for 80..... and with 100 screws it's really hard to see who's connected to whom - which is fine - it's a fun concept - but I do imagine the connections circle would be better suited for a camp of 30-40.... and fewer than that you'd not both with a connection circle.

Design Slides

One thing we did well.... Inferno and I created a Google Slides doc to refine our design idea. By using the format > size options, we were able to make our draft to scale, so pretty much what you see is what you get. Layout is important to make sure we could fit everything, and the lines we drew with gold and silver marker pens had just enough room to go from photos to the screws. If you look at our document, you'll see that the circle of screws was the only good option, because if was just connected pics the string would cover up everyone's faces.

Here's some screenshots:

Early Design
Motivation Slide

What we did Great

I'm a big fan of recapping any project with two questions: what we did great and what could be improved. For a first time I think Inferno and I did amazing! It was a fun project, and what went especially well:

  • Great team up - Jeff and I split the work really well, working together for full day then completing the rest by ourselves.
  • Jeff made our design MOOP safe with big magnets (small ones would have been bad).
  • I printed everyone a welcome message and a poem (I gave everyone a spirit animal and matching poem from my Animal Poems to help seed messages.
  • Our leader Marshall wanted to keep it secret - which has pros and cons... people didn't know exactly why we wanted their photo.... but for it's first year Marshall wanted an unveiling (hidden behind a sheet), and Inferno and I did a great back-and-forward presentation which was mostly tongue-in-cheek as if it was an actually new social network app with fancy technolgy, but also showed people some of the basic tricky things... like tying string was tricky and it wasn't *that* easy to slide a message into someone's slot. Oh yes, our presentation was a little suggestive too. After the presentation people crowded around the board, which was really fun to see..... I think our presentation was fun enough to help people already feel a little more connected, and I would notice people check the board pretty often for messages or to remember names. Once girl in our camp was excited that two guys from a neighboring camps had left her messages to ask her on dates. I'm not sure which one she picked, but it was a fun outcome! :)
  • Photos ordered alphabetically by first name was good - not everyone has a playa name - although sadly I messed up the order - we should have laid them all out before gluing (minor error).
  • Placement of the board in front of the kitchen, but still visible from the street was pretty good. If we'd put it on the street itself more people would have stopped for sure, but we didn't reinforce our board well enough for that level of wind.

What we might do Differently

  • We used a paintbrush and dodgy air brush when we should have done rollers.
  • Inefficient printing and cutting. I don't even want to think about how long printing took me. Including status messages etc, over 8 hours easily. Yup, that's what I said. I printed on glossy letter sized sheet and had to cut out 100 pieces individually then 100 more of a different design using the same pics to put on people's name cubbies (which we never actually used). I'm an idiot because I didn't realize my Canon printed had a smaller tray that I could have loaded 6x4 glossy paper from the very beginning to save hours of cutting. That would have been the whole beauty of 6x4.
  • Asking for photos earlier... next year hopefully uploaded a photo will be part of the process, meaning that if you register from our camp you only need one form. Showing people's name, playa name, biggest passion (in 4 words) and location was great, but I think we should ask for an initial status message as well.

Recommendation for Others

We kind of went all out with so many features. Ask yourself about where you'll put your "social wall". I've seen some camps just do a poster with everyone's picture printed in a grid and wow.... less cool perhaps but that would have been sooo much easier! Just roll it up and pin it to a wall that's already there and it takes up no storage space. You could probably make a hybrid model where you still have a system for messages.... maybe cutting little pockets into the back of your poster, or a "you've got mail" pins that sends you into a box...... and skip the string. And since magnets add extra expanse, if you wanted to skip that.... well technically you could just have sticky white package labels for people to stick over things.

See Also

Acknowledgements: Laurel Hodge for creating playa grinder! Camp Dusty Lusty (gayborhood) has an amazing “Playa Grindr” board Laurel Hodge has been running for years. You could take a polaroid of yourself and connect a string to someone you fancied. This helped seed our idea of using string to represent connections - although not sexual ones. :)