Category Archives: meetup

Meetup launches NewMeetup amidst grumbling

Flickr photo by ginamarr

Bob Putnam and I have long been interested in Meetup.  It was a serious contender for a chapter  in “Better Together” (by Robert Putnam and Lew Feldstein) on an example of technology that builds social capital.  And I wrote a paper on an earlier iteration of Meetup concluding that it helped the social-capital-rich get richer.

Meetup now has 7.8 members, turned a profit in 2010 and launched “NewMeetup” on January 24, 2011; the interesting story of Meetup and how “Bowling Alone” was inspiration for its founding can be read in this New York Observer article.

Meetup’s new slogan is “Use the Internet to Get Off the Internet”

Previously they launched “Ideas for Meetups” which made Meetups more effective by generating 500,000 ideas from Meetup members, but it wasn’t streamlined with the groups themselves.  Meetup wanted to increase membership activism and engagement by letting members suggest ideas and to help the organizer, what Meetup calls “let’s” (as in “let’s have an event”, “let’s form a new Meetup on a given topic”).  As you suggest an idea, it enables others to participate and help provide ideas about times and places.

Meetup enables lead organizers to shut off this feature, but this seems to have been lost on many lead organizers.

What sounds like an unabashed good, enabling anyone in a Meetup to organize an event has encountered criticism because the official Meetup lead organizers are the ones who pay monthly organizer dues to Meetup.  While lead organizers can share these fees with members, often times they don’t.  Lead organizers griped about why they need to pay fees if others in the Meetup could organize events at no charge.  [See Twitter criticism with hashtags: #newmeetup and #meetuporganizersunite.]

And the fact that Meetup has also recently helped refund some of the fees it has generated from marketers trying to reach Meetup members — $1,000,000 refunded to groups so far — hasn’t seemed to quell the criticism.

Competitors to Meetup like BigTent and GroupSpaces are trying to take advantage of the grumbling to recruit new members.

We hope that Meetup finds a way of communicating disgruntled lead organizers that they can simply turn off this feature if they don’t want the ideas of members, although this probably sends a bad message.  In general, we’re entirely in support of Meetup’s plan as member engagement is a critical component for ensuring that members want to stay engaged, an essential element for the success of Meetup more generally and the group lead organizers.

The unveiling of new features can be found here.

Advertisements

Turning the Mall into a community

obamanametagI heard about the great joint effort of MeetUp.com and the Huffington Post to distribute 500,000 name tags yesterday at the Inauguration in an effort to get the 1.8 million attendees to meet each other.  The name tags read “Hello my fellow American, my name is…”  Attendees were asked to write their name and where they were from, so other attendees could say, “Oh, you’re from Chicago, do know my cousin Harold.”

MeetUp founder Scott Heiferman and  Jeremy Heimans noted that: “We want to turn a crowd into a community. We all need a little reminder that we’re not just spectators and that Inauguration isn’t just for celebrities. We can look at each other, and not just at the Jumbotrons. As Obama says, “We’re the ones we’ve been waiting for.”


Waiting to hear from some of those at the Inauguration whether it really worked.  Look forward to any comments from attendees.

Apparently the back of name tag had a 4-point guide on how to strike up a conversation.  We assume it was more sophisticated than “Come Here Often?”

This may be the closest we’ve come yet to Joseph Porcelli’s vision of “National Name Tag Day.”

See also Nancy Sciola’s post on this for TechPresident.

The looming financial crisis and middle class engagement

Selling Apples (Flickr photo by SirPoseyalKnight)

Selling Apples (Flickr photo by SirPoseyalKnight)

David Brooks, in “The Formerly Middle Class” (NYT, 11/18/08) writes:

“[T]hey [the new middle class] will suffer a drop in social capital. In times of recession, people spend more time at home. But this will be the first steep recession since the revolution in household formation. Nesting amongst an extended family rich in social capital is very different from nesting in a one-person household that is isolated from family and community bonds. People in the lower middle class have much higher divorce rates and many fewer community ties. For them, cocooning is more likely to be a perilous psychological spiral.

In this recession, maybe even more than other ones, the last ones to join the middle class will be the first ones out. And it won’t only be material deprivations that bites. It will be the loss of a social identity, the loss of social networks, the loss of the little status symbols that suggest an elevated place in the social order. These reversals are bound to produce alienation and a political response. If you want to know where the next big social movements will come from, I’d say the formerly middle class.”

I agree with David Brooks’ first fear.  That said, since social networks have always been the backbone of social movements (from abolition to civil rights to women’s suffrage) it’s hard to fathom how this isolated ex-middle class constituency is going to build a movement out of vaporware.  But with time on their hand, and the Internet at their disposal, maybe this will be the test of whether Internet tools (from Meetup to Facebook to virally circulated YouTube recruiting efforts) can be put to use to engage these displaced Americans and give collective voice to their frustrations.

Use of technology in the 2008 Obama-McCain contest

Howard Dean’s presidential run in 2004 unlocked politicos imagination about the power of online politics to shape the race.

While Dean’s bid imploded with his Iowa rant, Dean’s rapidly growing Meetup.com following in the campaign’s early days convinced the media that Dean was a rising force. The Economist in a story this week notes that Dean “changed the way campaigns are organised. Using social-networking tools, Ron Paul’s supporters generated a “money bomb”–$6m in one day, shattering the previous record. Huck’s Army, an online network of Mike Huckabee’s supporters, rallied 12,000 campaign volunteers. Both networks meant that Mr Paul and Mr Huckabee stayed in the race a lot longer than they might otherwise have done….

“Mr Obama took it another step, raising more money–seen in real time–from the grassroots than any campaign ever. In June alone he raised a near-record $52m, of which $31m were donations of $200 or less. Arianna Huffington, co-founder of the Huffington Post, says that he has “succeeded in translating what was happening online to getting the vote out”. Mr Obama has 1.3m supporters on Facebook, a popular social-networking site; John McCain has only about 200,000…The Democrat is using Twitter, a social-networking and micro-blogging service featuring instant messaging (each answer, or “twit”, is limited to 140 characters). By signing up to Mr Obama’s twitters, the campaign at once signs up to yours.”

And this go-round, YouTube is placing a newly important role. Will.i.am’s (of the Black-eyed Peas) “Yes we can” video has gotten some 9m views in six months

and the McCain Girls’ “Raining McCain” video got 1.9 million hits in 4 months. Obama’s videos on his YouTube channel garned 52m views to McCain’s 9.5m on his channel. Several million of McCain’s hits came from his sleazy campaign comparing Obama to Paris Hilton ; which inspired Barack to launch his “Low Road Express” (mocking McCain’s “Straight Talk Express” mantra). Even Paris Hilton hit back at “white-haired dude” McCain with her bikini-clad bid for the “pink house.”

Barack’s speech on race in America has been viewed 4.7m times on YouTube in its entirety, while Jeremiah Wright’s incendiary sermons have also been seen by millions. YouTube moderated highly interactive debates among Republicans and Democrats during the primaries, and has now asked YouTube users to submit 2-minute videos explaining why they support McCain or Obama (with the prize being a trip to the convention).

And it is not just YouTube. The conventions promise to also feature”Twitter feeds, Facebook pages, My Space profiles and Flickr…” Obama sent an e-mail one week ago to supporters indicating that they could sign up to be the first (several million?) to receive an email or a text announcing his choice for vice president.  The real benefit of getting this million person list will come near Election Day: “What Obama is creating is this army of individuals, these grass-roots activists, who are out there trying to change the world in 160 characters or less,” said David All, a Republican techno-political strategist.

It appears clear that something transformative is happening, but not enough careful research has helped us to understand the social consequences of this media, other than the fact that YouTube and cellphone cameras mean that future candidates will have ever diminished chances of privacy without one mistake being aired for everyone to see.

But will the new technologies help to stoke the 9-11 Generation’s interest in politics (that Bob Putnam and I have written about). Will the technology enhance people’s ability to make connections with others active in the campaign or weaken those ties relative to “old-world” technologies of political parties and rallies and door-knocking? Will the technology make us more likely to stay involved after the campaign or not (evidence on the latter front may come from a September poll issued by the National Conference on Citizenship’s Civic Index for 2008)? And will the new technology exacerbate class and racial gaps in the patterns of political participation (or see this link) or ameliorate them? Brave new worlds indeed….

For full article, see Economist’s “Technology and the campaigns: Flickring here, twittering there” (August 16, 2008), including the fact that more of the online role comes from the millennials (those born between 1978 and 1996) who comprise 50m voters, are 90% online and two-thirds of whom are on social networking sites.

The on-line threat of Meetup to voluntary associations?

Meetup.com used to be the only Internet-driven game in town where Americans could find others who shared their interests and meet regularly with them face-to-face (F2F) locally. [BTW: Meetup.com’s home page has an interesting feature for anyone wanting to watch social capital growing — it shows real time as people across the world sign up for a group or RSVP to attend one, or a new group is formed. Mesmerizing.. Well, actually less mesmerizing than Jonathan Harris‘ “We Feel Fine” project which scans the blogosphere for how blogophiles are feeling and portrays it with beautiful visuals, but the Meetup data is capturing real civic engagement instead of raw emotions.

Meeup also has a neat video on their home page that shows how Meetup helps individuals find others to meet with.] Meetup has also expanded in new directions, providing resources for Meetup organizers to help them to recruit others, run good meetings, etc.

In addition, Meetup is trying to mimic some of the resources of pre-Meetup groups, to federate with each other, form alliances, etc. Say that the chihuahua group in Denver and the poodle group in Denver (and other Denver dog Meetups) want to collaborate to fight a new proposed leash law in Denver, Meetup Alliance helps them do this. MeetupAlliance, in any interesting approach, actually lets groups ally with each other, not limited to Meetup groups: one can include Google groups or Yahoo groups, Facebook Causes, or MySpace groups. One can see a dynamic list of the largest alliances to-date (at this point Ron Paul, and an alliance of women-helping-women groups).

In the same way as Craigslist has caused newspapers to hemorrage cash (as they used to get a lot of money from want ads that are now often listed instead wtih Craigslist at free or reduced rates), one wonders whether Meetup might be the nail in the coffin of bricks-and-mortar chapter organizations.

Voluntary associations used to do several things:

1) provide options for individuals to meet regularly about their shared interest

2) have political clout through numbers

3) select officers/leaders through their members

4) meet annually or quarterly at conferences to learn about what was happening in a field, form social capital, etc.

5) provide educational activities: books, pamphlets, courses, etc. that are offered to members to further their knowledge about the topic of the voluntary association (be it nursing, or home-schooling, or …).

Meetup used to just do #1 (arranging meetings). Now they do #2 (enable political clout through affiliation). #3 seems somewhat of a no-brainer (it would be easy to have electronic votes of members and position statements). #4 might be a challenge, although presumably there may be good event-planners and coordinators that would collaborate with Meetup to offer #4. I’m less clear about whether #5 is easy to contract out, but with a more transparent platform that shows how many members there are in each alliance or group, it may be easier for freelance writers to market their books or materials to Meetup groups that share an interest in what they are writing about.

Meetup writes in their FAQs for MeetupAlliance: “Can existing Chapter-based organizations use MAP [Meetup Alliance Platform]? Absolutely! MAP removes many of the headaches of running an organization with chapters. To learn more e-mail us.”

But the key question will be what the value proposition: how much bang do members get for the buck? Members of Meetup chapter organizations presumably will pay a lot less in dues than the old bricks-and-mortar chapter organizations?.The real question is the quality of the meetings, the social entrepreneurship and political clout that these groups can have, the quality of their social capital and what they continue to learn through educational activities.”

Of course, there are always countless claims of how technology is going to do away with the old. Remember the “paperless office” we were going to work in? So I certainly wouldn’t count chapter-based organizations out — there are probably more people meeting in Texas in a given month through bricks-and-mortar voluntary organizations than worldwide with Meetup in a month. But if Meetup is really smart about figuring out how to teach others to run efficient meetings, how to aggregate political clout on-line, how to run organizations well, how to outsource efficient annual meetings, there could be something transformative going on here. I know Scott Heiferman (Meetup.com) founder aspires to this. What’s important about Scott is that he is wise enough to realize that there are lots of things that people cannot do on-line that require face-to-face contact which is why Meetup was all built around regular F2F meetings (Meetups).

One final note: while Meetup seems way ahead of the curve in thinking about how on-line groups might start to replace bricks-and-mortar voluntary associations or chapter groups, the “finding your tribe” space has become more crowded recently along with sites that enable one-time get-togethers. Facebook‘s causes enables people to form looser tribes and use this to spur philanthropy; and Facebook has launched its own events services to enable simple confabs (and has the advantage that users already have some of their friends listed on the site). MyPunchBowl (like evite) enables people to plan simple events and invite others on-line but seems less focused around regular meetings. Yelp (primarily focused on user ratings of restaurants, services, things to see in a city, etc.) now also features a service “Invite Friends” that enables users to plan events. Meetup obviously has a huge head start on these other groups but it will be interesting to see whether they are as smart about trying to offer a deep civic alternative (as the bricks-and-mortar chapter-based voluntary associations do).