Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Why are online festival bookings so rubbish?

On Sunday I kindly offered to attempt to make my children's bookings for Radio 1's Hackney Weekend. It was an experience all too familiar to anyone who has attempted to make an online booking for a ticket for a major festival.

To begin with, the site simply crashed with the sheer weight of people trying to get on it, producing error messages that suggest it didn't like your IP address, but I think were simply just its way of saying 'I can't cope!'

For the next hour, every attempt put you through to a holding page that said the booking page was too busy. What was mildly fascinating about this (you take fascination where you can when you are spending an hour repeatedly clicking the refresh button) was that the design of the screen seemed to change several times. I'm not just referring to the times when it only half-loaded and you got a text version, but even when you got the whole thing there seemed to be at least three different versions of it.

Then - joy, oh, joy, the buying screen came up - only to time out before all the information could be input.

For the next 20 minutes elusive sightings of the buying screen would disappear with dashed hopes, especially when over-enthusiastic clicking meant that the refresh button was clicked when the buying screen was on its way, returning me to the holding screen.

But finally, finally, I did manage to get them both a ticket. One and a half hours of mind-numbing tedium. Were they grateful? That's another story.

What I was struck by, though, was the sheer awfulness of a website for this sort of task. If you were designing a real computer system to deal with this, an entry module would hand out queue numbers (behind the scenes) - you'd go into a queue. While you were waiting you would gradually bubble up the queue and your position could be shown on screen. When you reached the top of the queue you could join the however many people the buying screen could cope with and have (say) 5 minutes to complete your transaction. It would be painless, there would be no fiddling about and crashing as 50,000 people tried to access the same web page simultaneously.

In the real computing world this should be relatively easy. Booking systems are not exactly a new idea for computing. Is it really beyond the wit of web programmers to embed some sort of queueing system into a web database? A lot of brownie points would go to the people who sort this out.


  1. Actuator said...
    Brian, I just finished reading "How to Build a Time Machine" and am somewhat disturbed. I believe time is easy to explain. Time is the result of an organism with sufficient brain power accomplishing the following:

    1. Observe
    2. Record observations
    3. Recall observations
    4. Sequentially analyze observation

    Take any of these abilities away and time no longer exists for the individual and there are numerous medical cases that establish this. You mention comas in the book. Anesthesia that shuts down the brain during surgery is another. When I have a colonoscopy, for 25 or 30 minutes time ceases to exist. Humans have devised electro/chemical/mechanical devices that do all of these things better than our brains do. So time is really a perception.

    When we measure time all we really measure is the motion of the Earth. We relate that motion to a single orbit and call it a year. One arc second of one Earthly rotation we call a second. Then we proceed to measure everything against these motions as a basis for our perceptions of just about everything in the universe.

    What is a specific time/date. It is what, as the real estate folks say establishes the value of real property, "location, location, location." If you want to go back to a specific date, perhaps 8:00 A.M. EDT on 9/10/2001, consider this. At that specific instant wherever you were trillions of neutrinos were in your body going somewhere. The Earth was at a specific point in its rotation and was at a specific place in relation to Sol, which was in a specific location in relation to the galaxy which was in a specific location relative the local cluster...and just go ahead and extend this out to the entire universe. For it to be 8:00 A.M. EDT on 9/10/2011 requires every quantum bit of the universe to be where it was at that instant or it is not 8:00 A.M. EDT 9/10/201. The problem for time traveling is finding a way to put every quantum bit of the universe back where it was at the point you want to get to. In the vernacular of the Southern U.S. "It ain't happening".

    Ron W.

  2. Thanks for your comments Ron. I think maybe you have a different concept of time to Einstein's spacetime. The trouble with your picture, I think is that time is universal, but Einstein showed it depended on your frame of reference - effectively how you are moving - and that brings the whole edifice crashing down.