Meetup's Challenge

Rob Hof

Following BusinessWeek's story on the meeting site Meetup's plans to start charging group organizers to use the site, clearly a lot of members are unhappy. I've seen this happen with eBay, and it's wise not to put too much stock in the most vocal complainers. But I got a thoughtful email from one Meetup organizer that reveals the challenges--and opportunities--that Meetup will face in making this difficult transition. ...

Here's some of what Diamond, from London, had to say:

I myself have been an organiser of meetup groups in London, England before they even had organisers on the site. I took one Business meetup group from one where you'd be lucky to meet two other people a month to one where we'd get a good 30 to 40 a month coming and it remained that way until another chap became the official organiser.

I think it's fair to say most organisers were shocked, and most of the ones I've spoken to will simply cease organising for their groups.

For myself as organiser of 11 groups, I'd be looking at having to fork out over $2,500 a year to Meetup in order to volunteer my services to them. But the fact is it isn't just the money. We simply don't have time to go around collecting money off of people at the events, nor should we have to. Most organisers I've spoken to feel if they want to charge people to use Meetup, they should charge all users a very small fee of say $12 a year. This would help weed out inactive members and leave only the ones that really want to be part of Meetup. Instead, they chose to place the burden of payment on the shoulders of the people who have already been working hard to make real meetups happen.

Once the charges come into effect, I'll simply leave Meetup to continue without my help. I plan to concentrate my efforts to continue to provide Londoners with at least two free events a month to go to in the big city and will concentrate my efforts on, the website I started to help the 7 million+ people in my town to meet.

In London, we find many Meetup groups exist, but people hardly ever show up to a real meetup - so I began the Mega Meetup concept where we club together with other group organisers and hold a London Mega Meetup. We'd been doing this for 3 months until Meetup's announcement. The result was meetups where we'd be getting maybe 3 or 4 people show up went to ones where we'd get 70 to 90 people coming. We then expanded and started doing more Mega Meetup Events such as Salsa Dancing, which proved a huge hit. All of this was done for free. There was no money being made for us and no money being charged to people that attended. It also meant we could involve other sites such as Lycos, whose members would also come along, and, which was a website I set up over a year ago to get people in London meeting up and making friends with each other.

There isn't anything Meetup is doing these days that users can't simply do on their own and more effectively, and there's plenty of open source software out there to make use of and create your own website as I have done.

I think it's fair to say Meetup's latest decision will either make or break the company.

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