Social Networking & Location Based Games in 1812

Today is the draw for Spain’s Christmas lottery, known as El Gordo. It is indeed a big lottery, the biggest in the world. Tickets cost €20, but there is a very large number of prizes and some are very big. The ritual draw has been conducted in the same was since 1812. Wooden balls spin in large globes, one containing numbers and the other prizes. One school child sings the winning number, and a second sings the value of the prize. This shepherd like singing wafts from televisions, radios, and web browsers the length and breadth of the land and it goes on for hours.

The Christmas lottery is hugely successful. One report puts the participation rate at 98% of the population. Many people who do not gamble the rest of the year, buy a Christmas lottery ticket. But the lottery’s success is due to more than tradition and scale. Despite its age, it has two very modern ingredients: social networking and location based gaming.

One aspect of the Spanish lottery that makes it different from that of other countries is that a number of people share the winning number. It is common for family members, friends, or work colleagues to each buy tickets with the same number. If one wins they all win. This adds an unusual social dimension to the lottery. Tickets are also physical objects and unlike the computer generated tickets of modern lottery systems a winning ticket will be purchased a particular place. All of the winners of a large prize might be customers of the same bar. Tonight’s news will have reports from the village or town where the main prizes were won. Many Spaniards buy a ticket when they visit a town or go on holidays.

So the morning of the lottery many Spaniards will have their collection of tickets laid out on the table and it represents both their social networks and a log of the places they have been. For each ticket he or she will be able to identify the social group to which it belongs or the exact place it which it was purchased. It is this connection with people and places that makes the Spanish lottery so special. It seems that almost 200 years before Facebook and Foursquare, the lottery discovered some of the secrets of their success.


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