The Lottery

In a recent podcast, I rejected the idea of a lottery system for selling WWDC tickets as too random. I wanted to preserve at least some aspect of the process that rewarded the most enthusiastic Apple fans: the people who are willing to be roused from bed at 2 a.m. and rush to their computers to buy tickets; the crazy ones; the people who just want it more.

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.

Apple’s servers performed admirably…for about the first 5 seconds after tickets went on sale. After that, it was a crapshoot. Even if the tickets had sold out in an hour, it’d still effectively be a lottery if that hour was filled with server errors. You’d “win” if you happened to get through the purchase process with no errors.

An actual lottery, pre-announced, with no time pressure for entry, would be more equitable than what happened yesterday. That’s what I recommend for next year.

The Heart of the Matter

Many more people want to attend WWDC than the conference can accommodate. There has been no shortage of interesting suggestions for how to fix this. Broadly speaking, WWDC has not changed in decades. Apple and its developer ecosystem, on the other hand, are radically different than they were just five years ago. Something has to give.

I’ve heard many non-developers discuss the rush to get WWDC tickets as if the big draw is the keynote presentation, where Apple typically reveals new products. That is the most interesting part of the conference for the public, but it’s not why WWDC sells out so fast.

Developers flock to WWDC because it’s a rare opportunity to communicate with Apple directly, human to human. The best way to decrease the demand for WWDC tickets is for Apple to increase its communication with developers throughout the year. And by communication I don’t mean throwing documentation or even video presentations over the wall to developers; I mean staffing up for more real, personal, timely, informal contact with developers outside the court-like atmosphere of the App Store review process or the artificial scarcity of Technical Support Incidents.

Apple’s decision to release WWDC session videos to all registered developers during the conference was long overdue, but it clearly didn’t decrease demand for WWDC tickets enough to make a difference. Maybe next year, after developers have experienced their first tape-delayed WWDC, it will make a dent. But I really believe that increased, improved communication between Apple and developers on all fronts is the best long-term solution.