Analog Census: What does Burning Man Mean to You?

Screen Shot 2014-05-29 at 10.47.19 PM In trying to process the Analog Census (see previous post on the Analog Census), we have been trying to make sense of everything participants wrote in response to the questions. In this survey, the answers where much more qualitative than quantitative in that the answers weren’t simply yes or no, or a number, or a date, or one of several choices. They were fill-in-the-blanks which where the blank space could be a whole page of free-form writing. As fascinating as it has been to read the diversity of responses, it has also been to figure out how to share this incredible data.

Example pages in 2013 Census Lab's Cargo Cult project

Example pages in 2013 Census Lab’s Cargo Cult project

We are continuing to explore this data and are open to researchers working with us on how to make sense of the responses. A couple of questions seemed like they could be efficiently illustrated not with charts or graphs but in word cloud form. So I ran the experiment using the site “” and just copy/pasting all of the responses into the input of that tool. What I have are two of the question responses. The first here is a word cloud associated with participants responses to the question, “What does the Burning Man Symbol Mean to You?” In this simple experiment, you quickly see the prevelance of words like “Freedom”,  “Self”, “Expression” and “Community”  which to some extent seems like a good insight into the population’s sentiment.

Screen Shot 2014-05-29 at 10.55.09 PM

The second question I found to have a useful result was the responses to the question “Which of the Ten Principles are Most Meaningful to You?” Here we see word “Radical” loom large over every other word which maybe expected given the frequency this word is used in two of the 10 principles, “Radical Self-Reliance” and “Radical Self-Expression.” “Immediacy” seems to have the next highest frequency of use. Then you see words like “Effort” perhaps reflecting various forms of “Communal Effort” but perhaps also derivations from the principle of participation, which also shows up relatively frequently. “Gifting” and “Gift” perhaps might be the next most frequent word, but what is fun is the number of other words which may illuminate what people feel like “love” or “unconditional” but also “coffee” and “communal” and “delicious!”   Enjoy exploring these word clouds as an unstructured glimpse into the minds of Burners who shared their thoughts with us.

For Bay Area Burners who are interested in this kind of thing, we will be holding some more Analog Census Data Entry parties in the coming weeks. Send email to or message me @scribbleBRC.

Written by: Scribble


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