Thursday, February 10, 2005

The Site That Almost Worked: MeetUp

Have you used Have you found it to be a success? I tried it. I spent months failing to find any of the groups I hoped to; but finally, I attended my first meet.

For anyone who doesn't know, MeetUp is all about finding groups of people who meet locally. These groups are based on a particular interest. Groups range from politics to hobbies. After all, Time Magazine said, "No matter what your interest, there's a Meetup for you." Time loved the site so much, they listed it in their 50 Coolest Websites.

However, my experience hasn't been "cool" in the least. I started my search with some of my hobbies. Perhaps it's my geographic location, Texas, but snowboarding just isn't popular enough in to get a meet going. Fair enough, but I know mountain biking is popular in my area. However, it apparently is not popular with the Meetup user base.

After searching long and hard, I finally found what appeared to be an active Meetup community - the Dallas PHP Users Group. So, I took the time to attend the next meeting. At 185 members strong, I was excited about meeting a group of PHP professionals and hobbyists in my area. Granted, the meeting was a "leadership" meeting, and that would suggest a smaller turn out. However, I anticipated the small turn out to be comprised of leaders in the community.

In total, 8 people showed up. Most of them (if not all) were PHP novices. Furthermore, I felt like youngster in the group. I think, perhaps, generations older than me are more accustom to learning directly from other humans, rather than from online sources. While these mature folks were a wonderfully nice group, this was not the Meetup I'd hoped for or expected.

Later in the meet, I learned that the largest meet thus far approached 30 attendees - a little more than 15% of the Meetup group count. It also became clear that the attendees were mostly comprised of PHP beginners looking for mentors and teachers. It's no wonder that so few advance users sought interest in the group's activities.

From my experience, has ample room for improvement. While the tools themselves could be more robust, that does not seem to be the core problem. The community simple does not have the draw it needs to be successful. One of my early suggestions for the Meetup staff - long before the much needed visual overhaul - was to work with other existing community sites. Basically, is competing against almost every special interest community on the Web. Why not offer tools and APIs that allow other community sites to integrate features in their own Web space? This could be mutually benefitial both to and hundreds, maybe thousands of existing online communities.

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