Yesterday was the day of the Boston Marathon, the world's oldest annual marathon.
Last Friday, as I was returning home from Logan airport, the shuttle busses and subway were already filled with marathon visitors, comparing stats, qualification times, and some other strange terms that I wasn't really familiar with, like "running", whatever that means...
Apparently, the marathon itself is not the only race in this story. What I wanted to focus on is not the marathon day, but the events surrounding this year's marathon registration back in the fall. The 2011 marathon was sold out in a record 8 hours and 3 minutes, compared to the 2010 marathon which sold out in 65 days, also a record at the time. Many long-time Boston Marathon runners, and many others who prepared for this marathon for months, even years, and made the required qualifications preliminary competitions, were not able to register. Some complained about the fact that thousands of non-qualifying runners who signed up to promote various charities and fundraising efforts were taking spots that should have been reserved for the competitive runners. The organizers of the marathon even made raised the bar for the qualifying scores of next year's marathon. However, I am not sure that the issue is with the Boston Marathon's organization. This is part of a much bigger trend.
Google's developer conference, Google I/O, sold out in 59 minutes. In 2009 it took 90 days to sell out, and in 2010 it took 50 days. I am happy to be one of the lucky ones going this year, but I also feel bad for so many developers who wanted to go. Here too, some of the disappointed ones pointed out that many registrants are doing it just because of the cool gifts and gadgets Google has been known to give out, while pushing serious developers aside. But again. I think its more than that.
Apple's WWDC 2011 sold out in 10 hours, nearly 20 times faster than in 2010 (which took 8 days to sell-out), nearly 70 times faster than 2009 (one month), and nearly 150 times the 2008 conference (two months). Burning Man Festival's first three tiers of tickets were also sold out in record time, and there's even talk on reaching the cap on the total number of available tickets. Conan O'Brien's 42 show tour sold out in several hours. Charlie Sheen's tour sold out in 18 minutes.
The world is not just getting flat. Its getting fast, super fast. Like a good restaurant in New York City, once the word is out on a lucrative event - everybody gets in line. Information that used to spread in closed circles of the hard core fans and advocates, is now instantly trending on twitter and the other social sites, and the race is on. Scalpers and second market sellers are part of the game too. A google I/O Academia ticket, originally prices at $450, sold for over $2000 on ebay. and many others over $1000.
This whole thing is starting to remind me of high-speed trading on Wall Street. Firms placing their computers closer to the stock exchange to gain a few extra microseconds on a transaction. People modifying the TCP/IP stack to make their algorithm act fractions of a second faster. Already the tech savvy (and persistent) have an advantage - when Google I/O's servers crashed mid-transaction, some of them were able to rescue their unique registration key from the browser session that crashed, and re-enter it in the URL field to continue their registration even after the official site already announced it sold out. Are we going to start seeing software like e-bay's automatic bidding apps (e.g. EZsniper) pop up for concerts and conferences? Will people start setting up their servers close to Ticketmaster headquarters?
The world is not just flat. The world is flast. And getting flaster.