Burning Man Kicks Off Outside Lands Hackathon

outside_hacks_logo_2015_hackathon

Last weekend as part of the build up to the Outside Lands music festival in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, they threw a Hackathon at Weebly’s playful office in the Financial District. The idea was to make something that would enhance the experience of artists and fans at Outside Lands. I love this idea – a festival that can improve, based on ideas and input from its patrons. Call it Radical Community Reliance.

From Fest300:

This past weekend at the third annual Outside Hacks Hackathon, over 200 developers, designers, and technologists of all kinds gathered at the San Francisco headquarters web hosting company Weebly for the mission of “building something that enhances the experience for artists and/or fans at Outside Lands .”

For the uninitiated, a hackathon is an intense competition where teams of coders attempt to build an app, feature, or program in a limited amount of time (usually between 24 and 48 hours). Outside Hacks allotted its participants a total of 24 hours. One of the organizers of the hackathon Travis Laurendine says “Hackathons are like dance marathons, it’s like a sleepover party, except no one is sleeping.”

At the end of the long and hyper-intense 24 hours – which left many of the coders exhausted – the judges chose the app Dave Sent Me as the Grand Prize Winner. That includes a $5,000 cash prize, an Outside Lands VIP experience, and perhaps most importantly the integration of their app technology into the Outside Lands app.

Dave Sent Me is described as a “personalized Outside Lands schedule recommender.”

travis laurendine

Outside Hacks Organizer and “Entre-pee-neur” Travis Laurendine

New Orleans Burner Travis Laurendine is one of the geniuses behind AirPnP.

According to Fest300, Burning Man was involved in Outside Hacks too, kicking off the event with an address by social alchemist Bear Kittay.

…the symbiotic relationship between technology was a running theme for the weekend and its presence was as noticeable as the sound of hundreds of fingers hitting keyboards and the smell of pizza fueling the coders.

In the opening remarks, artist and social alchemist for Burning Man Bear Kittay addressed the hackers by saying, “We’ve got to remember that the intersection here between entertainment and technology is a really relevant space. It’s been separated for a really long time, but it’s not often we get together with all these brilliant engineering minds to solve some big problems right at the precipice of music and technology. Think about what a really disruptive tool you could create can be, that could really help to transform the way music and technology worlds come together.”

Travis Laurendine from the InMotion Hosting review site, has witnessed the hackathon significantly grow since its inception in 2013, points out that, “Art is often enabled by technology. A lot of art is dependent on technology. Technology has led us to new art forms. A lot of these people who have the mind for art also have minds for tech, and vice versa. That’s why so many incredible developers are also musicians, because they have the mind for it.”

The incredibly diverse and youthful participants in the hackathon were all united by their passion for music and their drive to make music a better experience for listeners and artists alike. Greg Cerveny, a founder of music startup Groove and one-man team, created his app Dance Commander to facilitate dance parties at the festival by people holding up their phones open on his app displaying a dancing stick figure, thus inviting other festival goers to join in on the dance party. Cerveny says his goal was to give “someone a more awesome time or a really awesome experience because they engaged in a dance social circle.”

[Source: Fest300]

Burning Man has been involved with a hackathon before, a “Burner Hack” conference being held at [freespace] in 2013. It’s not clear if anything was produced from this to help Burners. The event was linked with hacking again this year, with news that at least 200 people pushed to the front of the ticket queue by “routing around” the Ticketfly/Burning Man custom system. In a recent Medium story “Burners Don’t Hack Uber, People Do”, they described a smartphone app called “Burner” that is being used to hack Uber to get free credits.

The intersection of music and technology is a really relevant space. So is Burning Man in that space? Are we really at the precipice – what does that even mean?

Outside Lands is coming up in a couple of weeks. The lineup includes Elton John and Billy Idol.

outside lands 2015-date

Lie, Cheat, and Steal Your Way To Burning Man

Image: Simon Davison/Flickr (Creative Commons)

Image: Simon Davison/Flickr (Creative Commons)

“Usually people are hacking to steal things…these people were hacking just to get a chance to spend $400 to get a ticket”

89.3 KPCC radio did an interview with Brian Doherty, author of This Is Burning Man, about the ticket scandal. Listen here.

The media blitz has continued, with MixMag, NY Daily News, Las Vegas Sun, the Bold Italic, NBC Bay Area, the SF Chronicle, the San Jose Mercury News, and hundreds more.

It’s amazing how this narrative is so quickly being spun by BMOrg’s PR machine to “Silicon Valley techies hacked Burning Man and stole tickets from everyone else”, and away from “the ticketing system was not First In First Out and all you had to do to buy tickets was go through Ticketfly’s web site and ignore the queue”. Once again, the Burners get the blame – just for exercising Radical Self Reliance. And BMOrg, rather than accepting responsibility for the unique system they’ve designed and the problems it caused for tens of thousands of their most loyal customers, gets to play the innocent victim.

Despite the story going global, BMOrg haven’t even looked at the report from Ticketfly yet. From SFGate:

While Burning Man organizers confirmed they had been hacked — and that the suspected parties would be stripped of their tickets — they said they needed to see the report from Ticketfly to get into the details. Whether actual hackers posted their exploits on social media was unclear.

“We may have more information later, but Ticketfly is taking the lead on figuring out what happened,” Burning Man spokesman Jim Graham said Monday. “We don’t want to say anything that is incorrect.”

BMOrg confirmed they had been hacked? Not Ticketfly? Hmmm….

I was in at 12:00:56 and didn’t get tickets. Some were there at 12:00:02 and didn’t get them. Others logged in at 12:10 and later and bought tickets. THAT is the biggest problem, and is nothing to do with hackers.

Let’s take a condensed look at the ticket problems, as reported by Burners:

  1. People wrote scripts to connect to the link at exactly 12:00:00
  2. People looked at the source code of BMOrg’s web page and found what the URL would be for the link to the waiting room; entering this URL in their browser meant they didn’t have to wait until the button turned green to get in the queue
  3. Bots were for sale for $750 that automatically bought tickets from Ticketfly
  4. People logged in after the “Pause” and got straight through
  5. People logged directly into Ticketfly, chose Burning Man, and entered their code
  6. People on mobile devices on Verizon got straight through

[if you’re aware of any others, please share]

According to BMOrg, echoed through the world’s media:

200 Burners used sophisticated software hacking techniques to place themselves at the front of the queue

The comments to the WIRED article (and at Burners.Me) have been quite dismissive of the use of the word “hacking” in this story.

None of the numbered examples I listed require any hacking, or any code to be written, although #1 and #2 do require some very basic technical knowledge. So do all these methods get a pass, and there was another hack that we don’t know about? Or is BMOrg trumping up #2 as the scapegoat for all their ticket woes – before they’ve even received the report from Ticketfly? Is this whole story they’re telling simply based on speculation on Reddit“We found these 200 people in the queue before 12:00:00, they must all be hackers”.

Even if there were more techniques used to circumvent the system, including hacking directly into the servers involved…it does not change the appalling delay between the last ticket being sold, and the 60,000 unlucky Burners in the queue being notified that they were only waiting to make a donation. For that one, they can’t blame hackers.

Meanwhile, tickets are now being offered for $1 million each on Stubhub. No word how many Mistresses of Merriment come with a million dollar ticket…