Keeping the internet fair: Queue-it's commitment to online fairness

Online fairness has been at the core of Queue-it’s mission from the start. A decade and billions of visitors later, we’re still focused on making sure the internet is fairer for every citizen and customer accessing goods and services. Here’s how the humble queue makes life on the internet fairer for all. 

Published:
Updated: 16 Nov 2021
Ipad with virtual waiting room on it

"The power of the web to transform people’s lives, enrich society and reduce inequality is one of the defining opportunities of our time," wrote Sir Tim Berners-Lee on the 30th anniversary of his invention of the World Wide Web.

"But if we don’t act now—and act together—to prevent the web being misused by those who want to exploit, divide and undermine, we are at risk of squandering that potential."

Over the past 30 years, the Web has become a core part of culture and society. It allows for knowledge-sharing on a global scale. It lets us communicate with family, friends, and strangers. It gives us a new level of access to public and private sector goods and services.

And the Web has made life fairer.

People in regional areas, those working long hours, and those with disabilities now have access to knowledge, goods, and services that were once difficult or impossible to come by.

Libraries, shopping centers, tax offices, even medical services have all been brought into the comfort of our homes through access to the internet.

Things are far from perfect—access to the Web remains skewed to first-world countries and the upper-class—but the internet has made them fairer than ever before.

More people now have access to more goods and services on more equal terms.

But as the Web has grown, so too has people’s capacity to take advantage of it, creating challenges to the ideals of online fairness.

That’s why Queue-it has joined Berners-Lee and thousands of other people, businesses, and public bodies in signing the Contract for the Web, a commitment to making our online world safer and more empowering for everyone.

It’s why we’re doing our part to create online fairness.

two girls in line
two girls in line

What makes the World Wide Web unfair?

The Web has grown far beyond Berners-Lee’s original idea. It’s become a multi-trillion-dollar industry, affecting almost all parts of society.

The sheer scale and potential of the internet creates competition for goods and services. And where there is competition, there are people who’ll work hard to win. Where demand exceeds supply, there are people who’ll take more than they need.

We see this in almost all online spaces with more demand than supply: sneaker and NFT drops, limited-stock sales, ticketed events, vaccination registrations, and housing and university applications.

We've had bots and people writing exploits to be able to bypass the queue! So for us, bot protection and fairness features are really, really important to our process.

Pierre Dominique Putallaz, Senior Front-end Engineer, QoQa

We all know the frustration of missing out online. You go to your browser to get a concert ticket or good deal at a sale and somehow the items are already sold out. The next day, you see the tickets or products listed on a resale site for double the price.

Why does this happen? Why do some people always get in first while you’re always missing out? Why does the internet feel unfair?

There are a few key reasons:

  • Bots have advantages over regular people purchasing and registering for online goods and services, including online shopping, vaccination registrations, and ticket releases
  • People with fast internet and close proximity to servers can access pages and complete transactions quicker than others
  • People make a living off reselling items to desperate customers and citizens, and they have more time and resources to dedicate to snatching up high-demand products and services
  • People with low tech skills have issues accessing and using online services, especially when they’re up against lightning-fast bots and resellers

In short, we have access to more goods and services, but not always on equal terms.

This is the key challenge to online fairness that we’re working to remedy.

Bot in line with people

How does Queue-it create online fairness?

The reality of high-demand limited-stock sales and registrations is that you can’t make every customer or citizen happy. If there isn’t enough to go around, someone will always miss out.

But online sales and registrations can be made fairer.

Virtual waiting rooms take advantages away from resellers and bots who are out to game the system. They level the playing field and give real customers a more equal chance of getting in first.

“Everyone who arrives before [a sale or registration] will get a random place in line, “ Queue-it CEO and co-founder Niels Henrik Sodemann told Fortune Magazine. “After that, it’s first come, first served. The idea is that whether you have a fast or slow computer, you have an equal chance of getting a low number.”

Just like a raffle, randomization creates true fairness for all visitors who arrive early for a release. After this, our first-in, first-out system secures everyone’s position in a queue. This means no one—not even bots—can cut in line.

Raffle balls randomizing

The building of queue and shuffling of customers before entrance to the ticketing system, makes sure our customers experience a fair and transparent distribution of tickets, where demand and capacity do not match.

Tim B. G2 Review

In physical queues, the first person who gets in line is the first person who gets access. Some would say this is truly fair queuing—whoever's there first gets in first.

But in the physical world there are opportunity costs to queuing for long hours, for example for a Black Friday doorbuster or sneaker drop. People lose sleep. Take time off work. Lose quality time with their families. They earn their right to first access through the sacrifices they make for it. 

In the online world, there’s no real cost for visitors to keep a webpage open for hours or days before a sale.

Say a sale starts at 10AM, with a first-in, first-out online queue beginning at 9AM. A visitor can open the webpage at 9:01AM and be productive in the meantime. He can run errands, grab a bite, and take the kids to school all while he’s in the online queue. And he’d have an advantage over someone opening the page at 9:02AM—even though the sale isn’t supposed to start until 10AM.

Effectively, all you’ve done is shift the start time of the sale to 9AM.

What’s more, this approach means savvy resellers and faster-than-human bots will continue to snag the first spots in line by arriving milliseconds after the new “effective” start time of 9AM.

That's why randomization is so important. It means sales and registrations start when you say they will.

It means everyone who shows up on time gets an equal shot at access.

Once the sale has started and the online queue is formed, new visitors are added to the end of the line on a first-in-first-out basis, which is the default mechanism for continually running queues.

Pre queue functionality

Queue-it further protects against abuse and bots with Proof-of-Work CAPTCHA challenges, soft-blocking of suspicious traffic, and options to limit queue numbers to one per validated user.

But creating fairness goes beyond the technical aspects of our service.

It’s not enough to just make sales and registrations fair—they need to feel fair.

Queue psychology research shows that how people feel when they wait matters far more than how long they wait. Waiting is easier when people understand why they’re waiting, when they can see their progress, occupy themselves with other activities, and when they know the wait is fair and their spot in line is secured.

Virtual waiting rooms tap into these tenets of queue psychology to put customers and citizens at ease. By focusing on the user experience and facilitating communication and transparency, a virtual waiting room ensures waiting is as fair, simple, and painless as possible.   

We’ve worked with companies to provide tailored bot and abuse defenses, partnered with Akamai to make vaccination registrations fairer, and given tens of billions of users a more equitable and stress-free experience by redirecting them through our virtual waiting rooms.

Online fairness for all

Like Tim Berners-Lee, we believe in the immense potential of the World Wide Web. But like Berners-Lee, we also believe there is much room for improvement.

No one should have to pay a 1,000% markup for a pair of sneakers or a concert ticket.

No one should have to pay third parties to help them book COVID-19 vaccinations.

No one should lose their chance at accessing a product or service because they’re slow entering their details.

No one should visit government websites for essential services to find the website is down.

No one should be disadvantaged because they live in a rural area or can’t afford high-speed internet.

In short, an individual’s location, personal resources, or technical skills should never stand in the way of them getting a fair chance at goods and services that are intended for all.

We’ve spent the past decade-plus working to make this ideal a reality. To make online services more fair, accessible, and reliable.

And this is what we’ll continue to work towards.

Because that’s what we at Queue-it strive for: online fairness for all.

Want to create online fairness on your website or app?