John Siracusa’s excellent “The Lottery” summarizes most of my thoughts on the unexpectedly quick (and unexpectedly random) WWDC sellout.
What made WWDC so special to my friends and me in the past is that you could see the same core community there every year, because we were the ones who cared so much about getting tickets that no surprise or inconvenient timezone would stop us. The last few years, we’ve been on high alert for the entire month of April, and when tickets went on sale last year (and sold out in 45 minutes), most of us easily bought our tickets within the first five minutes. We were ready.
Every year, that community got larger and larger, but the conference’s size has been bounded by practicality and its venue. Apple has faced a significant problem growing the conference: every year since 2008, some people haven’t been able to get into WWDC who wanted to. And every year, that number has grown substantially.
Before, it was effectively merit-based: whoever cared the most (and had the money and ability) to get a ticket could get one. Now, no matter how much you care and no matter how early you get there, it’s a lottery.
Many people complained that Apple’s sudden availability in previous years was unfair, and they were right. Everyone didn’t have a fair chance at getting a ticket — only the people who devoted the most to getting one had a good chance of it. Most people who weren’t expecting tickets to go on sale soon, didn’t create or use alerting systems (or slept through them), or just needed time to get approval from their bosses were locked out last year.
This year, by giving everyone advance notice for the first time, Apple did fix that problem: it is more fair. A similar percentage as last year of interested developers got tickets (or didn’t).
But now, that core community that I’ve enjoyed for years is fragmented. Our elaborate hacks and dedication previously allowed almost all of us to get tickets, but now, we have the same success rate as everyone else: some got tickets, most didn’t. Apple eliminated our unfair advantage.
It’s hard for Apple to come up with a better solution if fairness is the goal (and it probably should be). This is the new normal.
I’m going to miss what we had. But like everything else in this business, it was temporary. That’s what makes it such an exciting business. WWDC will go on, but it’s going to be very different for my friends and me. Here’s hoping that the community finds creative ways to replace what will be lost. Fortunately, it usually does.