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Thursday, April 25, 2013

WWDC signups are cruel and unusual

It seems Apple opened the doors for their annual developer get-together this morning... and then slammed them shut 68 seconds later. That is, they started selling tickets for WWDC at some point, and then sold out just over a minute later. This doesn't affect me in the slightest, but it's what I'm hearing from a friend who was affected by this. The whole thing seems completely wrong to me.

As he was telling me, in previous years, there was no way to know when they'd go on sale. You just had to be there when it happened to sign up. Not only was the time of day not known, but the day itself could vary greatly. It sometimes happened months before the event, but started creeping closer and closer to the actual event as time went by.

Last year, apparently it opened at such an early hour that people out here on the left coast were probably still asleep. A bunch of folks set up weird monitoring schemes to keep pinging the signup site which would set off alarms when it went live, but they still weren't always successful.

This year, there was a new rub. It seems they announced the exact time and date when tickets would go on sale, and so the entire world showed up right then. Instead of having it just happen at some seemingly random time, now everyone knew to purposely be awake and online this morning.

What happened is that while my friend got his ticket, this other friend of his who has historically gone with him was unable to get one. Now I'm sure there's a question. Does the one lucky person go alone, or does he cancel because it's no fun anymore? If he goes anyway, will the other person feel left out, or will it be okay in the end? I'm sure lots of people are having to face this dilemma right now.

This whole "race to sign up" thing seems so artificial and unnecessary. They could just as easily have people register their interest days, weeks, or months in advance. It might even be a bit you set on your Apple account (or, well, one of them, that is) and say "please consider me for WWDC". Then, once a year, they have this week when they randomly pick people from that set.

My understanding is that WWDC has enough room for 5,000 people. A week has 10080 minutes in it (assuming no DST transitions or other calendar oddities). That means they could start at midnight on Sunday and pick one person every two minutes for the whole week and would wind up with 5040 candidates.

Imagine how that would play out. Instead of some mad crush in which the entire Apple-loving world beats the hell out of some web site, people would be able to sign up at their leisure. There would be no need to hover over the computer and keep clicking reload. It would either work, or it wouldn't.

What's more, with the spread-out nature of selection, it would become an event unto itself. All of the usual suspects who care about this stuff would get to hop on Twitter and say "I won!". They'd get to bask in the glory for a few minutes or hours until someone else got to post their own good news. There would be "winners" in between, naturally, but not everyone is the sort to brag online.

Not only would the winners get their own little time in the spotlight as the latest lucky person, but other folks who hadn't "won" yet wouldn't feel nearly as bad. After all, even if it's already Thursday, there's still all of Friday and Saturday left! Any of those drawings could be the one in which they are selected.

There's more to this, too. If the selection process was sufficiently capable, then the "I won but my friend didn't" situation could be eliminated. Instead, you'd have an "all for one and one for all". Here's how. Both person 1 and 2 sign up as usual. However, when indicating their desire to go, they both add pointers to each other. That is, 1 says he wants to attend with 2, and 2 says he wants to attend with 1.

Now, instead of being two blocks of one, they are now one block of two. If they are chosen, the selection process just skips a round two minutes later so the number of slots remains the same. I wouldn't take this process beyond pairings. Bigger groups of candidates will just have to pair off and hope for the best.

Granted, this sort of week-long lottery won't whip people into a frenzy like the current system does. Maybe that's what Apple wants. That's pretty screwed up, if so. When you build up those expectations so high, people are bound to feel pretty miserable when they don't get in. That just seems mean.

Also, splitting up groups of friends based on the cold reality of who manages to get online and signed up within 68 seconds is just cruel.

There has to be a better way.