What Could Go Wrong with WWDC? Nothing. (Right?)

Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference has always been about giving developers the information they need to build great apps. Along with that, there are some fun events, parties, and Apple Design Awards to stir the imagination of developers. Now, however, Apple’s success in the marketplace has placed immense strain on the WWDC attendees, and only acolyte-fever, for now, can overcome it.

When an event that hosts 5,000 people sells out in one day, that’s good for Apple. Each year, lately, the event sells out faster and faster. Last year, WWDC 2010 sold out in just eight days.

Of course, the crowds, excitement and anticipation are good for Apple. Will Steve Jobs give the keynote? Will the iPhone 5 be announced? (Only rumors say no.) What will Apple have in store for us with Mac OS X Lion and iOS integration? It’s all very exciting, and it looks good for Apple.

Nevertheless, there are downsides. Apple announced the opening of ticket sales early on March 28, and the event was sold out later that day, U.S. time. Developers in eastern European and Asian time zones may have gone home or gone to bed and found, when they woke up, that ticket sales were announced, opened, then closed to them before they could react.

Some corporate developers have to get approval, but that’s hard to do when the event sells out before one can even submit the paperwork.

Apple’s purchase system allows one to buy the ticket, but activate it later by someone else. That means that astute entrepreneurs with credit card in hand could jump on a ticket, then sell it for far more than the face value. TMO reported one ticket for sale on eBay for $2,500. Apple may enjoy the fenzy, those who have to foot the bill for inflated tickets do not.

wwdc crowd

Attendees will find that they’ll have to be in line by 6 am on June 6 to guarantee admission to the main hall and keynote. Maybe 5 am this year. Otherwise, overflow will be directed to another hall where people can watch the keynote on TV displays. That’s a long way to travel at some expense to watch the keynote in another room via TV.

Attendes will find, once they are granted admission on June 6 that the halls in Moscone West will be crowded to the extremes. One has to leave a session early to avoid a long, stressful line to get into the restrooms. (Of course, amazingly, no lines for the ladies.) One has to get in line early for the sessions or risk being turned away. A WWDC badge no longer guarantees that one will be able to attend the session of choice because of SRO, then a lockout. One ends up watching the session weeks later via podcast.

This is all great for Apple PR, of course. It looks good to the press. There are impressive lines, and the Apple acolytes are buzzing with excitement. It’s hard to complain about this kind of success, something Apple sought for so long. I think it’s great.

Even so, upon reflection, the event now seems to have a circus atmosphere that doesn’t reflect well on Apple. When people and events are driven to extremes, like former Las Vegas events that failed, the scuttlebutt eventually sours everyone. Stressing people, no matter how eager and loyal they are, to the limits has its own built-in limits.

I won’t offer solutions here, for solutions are hard to come by. Some developers, however, will start asking themselves if there are better ways, other events, to obtain the information they need at a lower cost. Apple, which traditionally loses money on this event is likely loathe to expand beyond Moscone West, but, hey, if you’re going to lose money, why not lose just a little more and spread out for the sake of the attendees, not Apple’s convenience. But I do know that when organisms are highly stressed, they change and adapt in unpredictable ways.

For now, Apple is all too happy with the fun. Next year, the event will sell out in 60 minutes. When things are going well, it’s hard to forecast what could go wrong. Nothing can go wrong, right?