The resurgence of Meetup.com

A few days ago, Bob Barr's election campaign established a goal for their ambitious "60 seconds for Bob" promotional campaign as "Join a Bob Barr Meetup!" In response, I wrote a note to them (which went unanswered, not that I mind) explaining why I won't be attempting to spend that 60 seconds for Bob.

Today, Austin Bookcrossers informs me that they have re-opened their meetup group. In the process of writing a response, I got to wondering "didn't I blog on this issue...?"

I mean, the reason I don't (and won't ever) participate on meetup.com was a long painful decision reached over the course of several months. There's an entire section of the forum archived at meetup.com, to this day, that goes into great detail as to why the membership at meetup.com was going to bail out, and why a great many of us were never going to return.

The local libertarian group has been bugging me to join, virtually since the day I deleted my meetup.com membership and watched the two groups I had organized get flushed down the bit bin, but I never thought to elaborate on why I won't do the meetup thing.

When I first ran across meetup.com, it was related to a political event. If I remember correctly, Howard Dean used it extensively to promote his candidacy in 2003 (in fact, he should have been the Democrat nominee) The Libertarians followed suit, and I consequently joined meetup as part of a promotional effort to get more Libertarians active on the local level.

Or maybe it was a fandom event. Rings on the Range (a local Austin LOTR fan club) was active on Meetup at or about that time. In fact, their meetup page still features a picture of me at one of their meetings (in 2003!) That's what I call an active group.

Whatever it was, I became a member at Meetup.com. After awhile, I conceived of the idea of getting Austinites together again, to watch SF movies and discuss SF we liked. I had started a Yahoo! group for the Star Trek organization that I had been active in years previously, and there wasn't an active SF group anywhere in Austin at the time (these days there is Austin Pan-Geeks. You might want to check them out) so I thought "what the heck, let's see what's on Meetup.com."

There were already 20 or so people signed up as interested in SciFi in Austin when I checked on meetup. No one had stepped up to organize the group. After making sure that there were no financial liabilities (that is the important bit of information) I signed up as organizer, and actively started promoting the group. After discovering my love for Firefly, I volunteered to organize the local Firefly group, hoping to roll interest for that show into a large active group of SF fans in Austin.

That dream ended abruptly when Meetup.com's new management hit upon the idea of charging organizers a monthly fee for their groups. Fan groups run on shoestrings. There is no money available to pay for flashy organizing tools and whizbang graphics. Most of them meet in the back rooms of cheap restaurants for free, because they can't afford to rent a room to meet in.

Consequently the majority of meetup's membership objected to the change in policy. But the management at Meetup was adamant that they were going to start charging. When they did, I left, as I had promised to do. As did more than 3/4's of the membership. What was once a vibrant open community became a virtual ghost town.

...Until the next election rolled around. Elections that are awash with cash to spend on things like organizational tools.

But I'm still not interested, not even if it costs me nothing personally. I like open systems. Systems that invite average people to join and contribute. Meetup is not one of those systems. Consequently, I don't have the time of day for them, much less the inclination to bolster their ranks and justify their decision to charge for services.

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