March 13, 2013
Dear AHA Members,
For this year’s National Homebrew Competition, the American Homebrewers Association (AHA) used a new online registration system. That system did not work as intended, leading to multiple unfortunate issues, including frustration for those trying to register and pay for their entries, instances of overpayment, and some entries having to be moved to alternate judge centers due to capacity issues. As director of the American Homebrewers Association, I take full responsibility for the failures of the new registration system and offer my sincere apology to everyone who had a challenging experience attempting to register for the competition.
What about AHA Conference Registration?
While the user experience for the National Homebrew Competition may have seemed similar to the experience with registration for the National Homebrewers Conference, they in fact had different causes. The issue with the National Homebrewers Conference registration was an underestimation of our server capacity needs for conference registration, which led our web servers to crash. For the National Homebrew Competition, we greatly increased the server capacity, and the servers performed fine, but the registration software got bogged down under the strain of so many people trying to register at the same time. While we had conducted thorough testing of the registration system prior to launch, it was not tested under the kind of load we actually experienced when we launched registration. We were probably overconfident that the system would perform well because it is a modified version of a competition management system that has been used by hundreds of competitions over the last several years.
To a large extent, the problems experienced with the National Homebrewers Conference and National Homebrew Competition can be attributed to a level of naivete that comes when a small association like the AHA grows very rapidly. In the last five years, AHA membership has grown by 124 percent, averaging 20 percent annual growth. It is difficult to anticipate the challenges that come with that kind of growth, but we learn from our missteps. In the case of the National Homebrew Competition, we will implement more robust testing of the registration system prior to launch in 2014.
Since closing competition registration two-and-a-half hours after launch, our staff has been focused on addressing issues with those who registered for the competition. Overpayments have been reimbursed and entries in overextended judge centers have been redistributed to other centers (entrants whose entries have been moved have had their entry fees waived). The total number of entries first registered was fewer than the total number of entries the competition could accept. There were a large number of people who registered themselves for the competition but were unable to register entries before we closed the registration system. Those people were then given the opportunity to register entries. That left 450 entries spread across five judge centers. We re-opened registration on Monday, March 11 and the remaining entry capacity was filled.
A Note about Competition Growth
The AHA recognizes that there were many people who wished to enter the National Homebrew Competition but were unable to do so. For this year’s competition, the AHA Governing Committee Competition Subcommittee devised several changes to the competition to allow it to accept more entries, including adding another U.S. judge center and setting a limit on the number of entries an entrant may submit. Those changes allowed the competition to accommodate 447 more entrants than the 2012 competition, an increase of 26 percent. Ultimately, the competition is limited by the number of qualified judges available to judge the competition and the locations that can handle a competition the size of a first round NHC judge center. The reality of the situation is that interest in entering the competition has outpaced the rate at which new judges have become available. For future National Homebrew Competitions, the AHA Competition Subcommittee will consider potential changes to the competition, including many suggestions submitted by members, that will allow the competition to continue to sustainably grow while ensuring the quality of the judging.
Again, I apologize for the less-than-great experience that National Homebrew Competition entrants experienced with the entry registration system. Having spent the last 13 years of my life dedicated to serving the members of the American Homebrewers Association, it is disheartening for me to know that something we did fell short. We can and will do better in the future.
American Homebrewers Association Director