August 28, 2006 4:00 AM PDT

Tech carries a torch for Burning Man

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Even as the Internet was affecting Burning Man, Burning Man in turn was affecting the Internet--and technology. Some of the earliest wireless Internet experiments were conducted during the event by people like Electronic Frontier Foundation co-founder John Gilmore, and some of the earliest Web communities were created by so-called Burners.

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One example is Bianca, a Web community built around sharing many areas of interest. Perhaps it's best known, however, for its commitment to the open discussion of smut, and for many years "Bianca's Smut Shack" was one of the best-known Burning Man theme camps.

"I don't know of (many) other communities that were online at that time (1994)," said Evil Pippi. "Techies knew how to search the Web to find (Burning Man) by only knowing its name."

Kahle agreed that the early Web and Burning Man communities went hand-in-hand.

"The communities are very interchangeable," he said. "There's a great deal of overlap; the open aspects of the Internet and Burning Man come from the same place."

Kahle also said that while people think of the Web as being dominated by commercial sites, the vast majority are non-commercial, nurtured by many of the San Francisco early adopters who also happened to be Burners.

"Burning Man and the Internet...disproved the 1980s myth that people will only do something if they're paid for it," he said. "With Burning Man, people would work for weeks and months and years to build things to just have done them and have them recognized by others."

Over the years, of course, countless other online communities sprouted that have little or nothing to do with Burning Man. And as many more people attended Burning Man, the proportion of hard-core Internet and technology early adopters from the San Francisco Bay Area diminished.

But that's not to say Burners don't still have a deep influence on new technologies and new forms of online community. In fact, some would argue that the very notion of online social networks--which with the immense success of has become mainstream--is something that originated with the Burning Man community.

Burners "were the earliest users of social networking in general," said Mark Pincus, founder of

But in the end, said Goodell, the Burning Man community has managed to find a way to embrace technology, without becoming consumed by it.

"We're into human interaction over online," she said. But "online just primes us for face-to-face."

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"It's like Brigadoon with nudity"?
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