April 03, 2005

I'm a Nerd! NerdNerdNerd!

But I did actually pay for my U2 San Jose ticket, something that this article fails to mention. Maybe I failed to mention it, though. I'm surprised that I said something as pigheaded as "morally reprehensible", but then if it's in the papers, it must be true!

Anyway, my old Nexus colleague David Downs has a much better take on why all of us sheeple called "U2 fans" are having ticket trouble: Roboscalpers!

Jim Johnson has never interacted with Mori, but someone with similar skills contacted him in December of 2004. A doctoral student from Michigan e-mailed him an offer to sell such a program for $20,000, or for a monthly fee. Johnson says he has tested it and was satisfied, but won't pay up until the guy flies to California, installs it in person, and trains him how to use it. After all, $20,000 is a lot of capital for a small businessman to drop on a potential scammer out of the Midwest.

Still, scalping is his livelihood. Johnson never meant to make it his life's work, but he's a good organizer and planner, and scalping rewards such skills. He isn't one of those street hustlers out there in front of Warriors' games on cold nights with badly printed counterfeit tickets and no teeth, parking cars during tough times. And times are tough. U2 is the exception, not the rule.

If Johnson had used the hacker's program during the past half-hour, he might have scored rare seats worth thousands of dollars more. Could he increase his yield similarly by investing $20,000 in more traditional runners and contacts? He just isn't sure. In the meantime, he wonders, "Am I getting screwed here?"

Johnson might feel a bit more certain if he were to discuss the matter with a representative of Ticketmaster or Tickets.com, its biggest online rival. Officials with the two companies would grudgingly tell him that, yes, automated programs are trying to buy tickets on the Internet. They have been since the day tickets were first available online.

Tickets are a commodity and Tickets.com CEO Ron Bension says people will do anything to get their hands on something with this kind of markup, on the order of $15-$30 billion per year for scalpers worldwide. Bension has been dealing with bots buying up tickets on his Web site for years. In fact, his own company used bots to scour Ticketmaster's site for prices, until the industry titan sued Tickets.com in the late '90s and got it to stop.

These days, Bension says, Tickets.com receives bot attacks constantly and recently installed a character-recognition test similar to the one on the Ticketmaster Web site. Successful bot activity dropped by 90 percent, he adds, but some hackers are still getting in. "Every major broker has one, and they are innovating," he concedes.
Okay, okay, "morally reprehensible" probably fits here. I'd feel better about that if the robots could actually, you know, get their feelings hurt by it.

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