By Russ and Tiña De Maris
Ever tried making an online reservation for a popular campground – say Yosemite Valley – and just couldn’t get a spot? Maybe you set your alarm clock for the morning those precious spots “open” for reservation, and parked your coffee cup right next to your computer mouse. As the clock ticked away to the opening bell, you diligently clicked – and clicked – to no avail.
Well, you may be competing with computers, who are a lot faster than you at making reservations. We learned about this on the website of KQED in the Bay Area.
Here’s a stat: There are 459 campsites at Yosemite Valley. Each year, four million people pass through the gate of that same park. Plenty of those four million want to stay on. With so few spots, and so many people, it’s a certainty that a lot of people wanting reservations will be disappointed. The same holds true for popular campgrounds around the country, in national parks, state parks and other public campgrounds. But the statistics of supply and demand may not be the only thing keeping you from “winning the campground reservation lottery.” It just might be a bot.
ACCORDING TO SOME COMPUTER EXPERTS, where you can make a reservation by computer, there could be a “bot” or piece of computer software that can take away the human clicking on a mouse and automate the process – making a bot reservation faster than is humanly possible. If you’re competing with a bot-user, you could be a loser.
The largest campground reservation system, ReserveAmerica, claims that it screens bots attempting to make reservations. They point to the CAPCHA system – you know, those little boxes where you’re supposed to decipher a couple of distorted words and type them into a box to prove you’re human. CAPCHA is supposed to stop bots from making reservations, but the reality is, there are “workarounds,” that can game the system. And even if bots aren’t actually reserving sites, they can still be used to get a huge leg up on the competition. How so?
Let’s say you’ve tried to get in on the first wave of available reservations and found everything was filled up. What happens when somebody cancels a reservation? Whoever swoops in and snags the site first, wins. There are bots available on the Internet, if you know where to look, and how to use them, that will simply repeatedly check for cancellations and alert you electronically when an opening comes up.
Is it legal? Unless the “terms of service” of the reservation service specify that using bots is illegal, then, yeah, using bots for checking for cancellations, or even booking a site, is technically legal. Are they moral? Much depends on who you ask. For those who are techno-adept, why not? If you’re one of the masses who struggles to do e-mail or toe-test the waters of social media, then it might be likened to doing math on paper while the rest of the class is using a calculator. Like somebody said, “‘Tain’t fair, McGee.”
But unfair or just techno-smart, as long as RV manufacturers roll off thousands of new rigs a month and the supply of available public campgrounds remains the same, getting a reservation is going to be a frustratingly difficult thing — with or without bots.
To read more about this visit kqed.org.