As you’re probably well aware, we live in a world full of bots. All of those women you’ve never met following you on Instagram, the reason you can’t get decent seats to a concert, half of your likes on Twitter—all bots. And if you’re a streetwear fan, then you’ve no doubt encountered those bots snatching up your Supreme goodies before you can even get them in your cart.
But where do these bots come from? And how do they always seem to stay ahead of the companies that try to deter them? Wired recently did a deep dive on a few of the botmakers out there who’ve targeted brands like Supreme and Nike, and the moral of the story is: Unless you’re actually using a bot or are physically at the store, good luck getting any of that hyped gear.
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The first bot prototype—basically patient zero for the current breed—was launched in 2012 in response to a release of the Air Jordan Doernbecher 9. The sneaker was a collaboration with an 11-year-old kid named Oswaldo Jimenez, who was a patient at the Doernbecher Children’s Hospital in Portland. It was part of a series of Jordans created to raise money for the hospital, and due to the special and limited-nature of the sneaker, it was getting a lot of attention from sneakerheads.
Knowing this, Nike tried a technique where instead of just selling the shoe in stores or on its website, it announced the shoe in a tweet, and then to reserve a pair, you had to direct message back via Twitter with your name and size. Unfortunately, a number of sneakerheads figured out how to game the system by writing scripts that would scan Twitter API streams for keywords like “Doernbecher” and “RSVP now,” and then automatically replied as soon as the tweet went live.
From that first Twitter bot sprung a slew of others, all thanks to a pack of industrious sneakerheads who knew their way around a bit of code. Bots like RSVP Sniper, Another Nike Bot, Better Nike Bot, and EasyCop Bot (built by a teenager in Connecticut), soon flooded the online sneaker marketplace. And then, largely because of the built-in elusiveness of Supreme, they trained their sights on the popular streetwear brand.
Supreme bots essentially come in two setups: simple add-to-cart services, like Supreme Saint, and those with more advanced settings, “like the ability to add a short delay to the checkout process to fool a potential security measure,” says Wired. And both are apparently quite lucrative for their creators. According to the article, for the Air Jordan 5 Supreme collab, the man behind RSVP Sniper netted $250,000. That’s a quarter of a million dollars. For one drop. Which begins to explain why it’s so damn hard to get your hands on a Supreme box-logo tee.
And what makes it even harder to stop is that bots like these exist in a sort of legal gray area. From Wired:
New York and California have laws that make bots designed to capture event tickets illegal, and the federal BOTS Act of 2016 made bot ticket scalping illegal. Beyond that, companies whose sites have been gamed by a bot could conceivably win if they sued the botmaker. But that only matters if a company does sue—and no sneaker or clothing company has.
Instead, companies have tried to find ways to neutralize the bots. Adidas has its Confirmed app, which only lets people reserve sneakers that they can then buy at a brick-and-mortar store. And Supreme built its own e-commerce framework to make the site harder to game. For the most part, though, Supreme’s battle of the bots simply comes down to banning IP addresses that are too successful at buying its clothes. In March, the company did add a captcha—a program intended to distinguish a human from a machine—to the site, but as one of the botmakers featured in the article says, “There will always be a loophole.”
So basically, as far as the most coveted Supreme drops are concerned, it looks like bots will be running the show for the foreseeable future. All hail our machine overlords! Maybe they’ll find it in their coded hearts to throw a Supreme hoodie our way once in a while.