Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Caren Explains... How Ticketmaster Plans to Seat You Next to Friends

Yesterday Ticketmaster announced a thoughtful new feature that allows you to see where your friends are sitting at an event... even if you didn't make plans to go to said event with said friends. Ticketmaster relies on Facebook Connect to do this and will reveal that layer of information on top of the venue map before you complete a ticket purchase.

Concerts are an inherently social experience, so this is a no-brainer. I've been to nearly 300 concerts and can't tell you how many times I have run around trying to find friends who I wanted to meet up with at the show. This new feature could end dizzying rounds of text messages suggesting "Meet me at the merch table!"

While the aim is discovery (see which of your friends are at the event) it could also lessen the stress of social coordination. Here is an example of how I normally take charge of group ticket buying when I'm the one in-the-know:

1. Email a group of friends who may be interested in the event.
2. Wait on responses; maybe chase it with one last email before tickets go on sale.
3. Gauge sensitivity to ticket prices (should we sit on the lawn or in actual seats?)
4. Buy tickets for everyone so that we can all sit together.
5. Collect payment from friends, either by PayPal or at the show.
6. Distribute tickets, either by:
- Emailing the ticket PDF (should that option be available)
- Waiting at the gate for friends to come pick up tickets
- Going to the event all together (more coordination required)

In the future, Ticketmaster could lessen that burden. I would love to see some functionality that allows you to hold a block of seats and send your selected Facebook friends a message so they can grab them up if they act immediately. As it is, Ticketmaster will hold a block of seats for you for X-minutes before releasing them. If I could grab six seats, hold them, assign each seat to a friend, message my friends with a link so they could input their credit card information, I'd be a hero amongst friends.

Just as with any check-in or location-based service, there will be some strange social consequences of this "sick" new feature. One positive consequence is that it might help you discover new things about your friends and your shared interests ("Oh, wow, I didn't know Jane likes Wrestlemania, too!").

Yet it may also reveal things your friends didn't intend for you to know ("Jane likes Wrestlemania?"). It could also be disheartening if you realize your friends didn't invite you to an event you were interested in ("Jane KNOWS I like Wrestlemania!").

This is a tradeoff we make as we allow our personal data to be used in more places, and perhaps a reminder that we should be more careful to maintain privacy and anonymity. As our Facebook friendships become looser and the social graph grows, there are inevitable tradeoffs between privacy and problem solving.

I consider how angry my father would be if he bought the family tickets to a Redskins game and found out a brown-noser from the office bought the seats next to ours, proudly proclaiming "I saw you were sitting here on Ticketmaster." Then again, that is why my father isn't on Facebook.