My WWDC Sob Story

I was ready this year. Oh boy, was I ready. I was ready for Apple's World Wide Developers Conference. Last year, in 2012, Apple made tickets available on April 25th around 5:30 a.m. PDT and tickets sold out in roughly two hours. I was fortunate to get a ticket that year. A colleague, stricken with mild insomnia, was awake and noticed the tickets were on sale. It was his email (or rather, the notification sound on my phone) that woke me from my slumber in time to purchase a ticket.

That year's WWDC was a blast. I met quite a few interesting people and enjoyed the technical sessions throughout the week. With that in mind, I did my best to prepare for this year's WWDC. Like many folks, I prepared a notification system that would let me know when the WWDC page changed. I was not willing to take the chance that the notification system would fail, so I decided to wake up every day at 5:30 a.m. for a month around the time I expected that the WWDC tickets might go on sale.

I had my first burst of WWDC-related adrenaline when my phone started going crazy with notification alerts around 5:17 pm. on April 22nd. The WWDC page was down for about an hour that day, and when it came back up I had to read the page twice to make sure that it still said '2012' and not '2013'. As it turns out, Apple decided to make a change to how it handled ticket sales to WWDC this year. Rather than just making the tickets available for sale at a random time (which upset quite a few West Coast developers last year), Apple decided to give developers a bit of a heads-up notice that tickets would be available at 10:00 a.m. PDT on April 25th. This was presumably in response to many developers who felt that they did not have a fair chance to purchase tickets before they were sold out. I had a bad feeling about this.

To prepare for buying a ticket, I decided to buy an item from the Apple store just so I could make sure that my billing and credit card information was correct. On the day of the tickets going on sale, I also logged into my account on the off chance that I could shave a few precious seconds off of the time that it would take to get through the checkout process. I had my chat client up and was communicating with a friend who was also getting prepared to buy a ticket. As the clock drew closer and closer to 10:00 a.m., I started mashing the refresh command like a monkey on crack. Finally, I was able to see the button to begin the process!

I clicked the button, but got an error page. I clicked the back button, and tried again. I tried again and again but still received an error message. Finally, I was prompted to sign in. I did so faster than I ever had before, and was taken to an odd page. It showed my account as logged in, with my name and Person ID displayed. There was something odd though...why was my team name displayed as something like 'Chris Philbin' when that is not even close to correct? I tried refreshing the page, but got that darn error page again. At this point, my friend mentioned that he was going to switch from trying to buy a ticket with Chrome to using Safari. I did likewise, but got this:

Not what I wanted to see.

Not what I wanted to see.

The current time at this point? 10:02 a.m. Just in case you think that was a typo, let me repeat it for you: 10:02 a.m.

WWDC 2013 sold out in two minutes. All 5,000 tickets, reserved in an instant. I didn't believe it was possible and thought that it was surely an error somehow related to the strain of having so many users hit Apple's servers at once. I had seen issues like this before with Apple's online store (particularly during the release of a new iPhone or iPad), and decided that I would keep hitting the refresh command. I did this for several more minutes. It was like the scene in a movie where the good guy keeps pulling the trigger on an empty clip.

Eventually, I accepted the fact that tickets had sold out. My friend and I chatted a bit more about this experience, and discussed options for attending alternatives such as 360|iDev or Cocoaconf later this year.

Later that evening, I spent a bit of time reading various articles discussing what had happened earlier in the day. John Siracusa, of Ars Technica and Hypercritical fame, wrote an interesting blog about WWDC:

After yesterday’s experience of watching WWDC tickets sell out in what I measured to be less than 2 minutes, I’ve changed my mind. If the tickets had sold out in, say, 10 minutes (and assuming no server errors—more on that in a moment), then dedicated buyers would have been rewarded. If you couldn’t be bothered to be online until more than 10 minutes after the tickets went on sale, well, tough luck. Someone else wanted it more. But tickets selling out in less than 2 minutes does not reward anyone’s dedication. We were all online at 10 a.m. PDT sharp, all ready to purchase, all equally dedicated. It was a de facto lottery, with an extra layer of pointless stress added on top.

This year's solution (pre-announcing the date and time that tickets would go on sale) was, in some respects, superior to last year's solution (random time to begin selling tickets). It still feels like there is some room for improvement to this process. Perhaps an actual lottery? That would still have some measure of stress related to not knowing if you'll be able to buy a ticket, but at the very least it would avoid the "extra layer of pointless stress" noted by Siracusa. I am hopeful that Apple will come up with a better solution next year.