Saturday, April 16, 2005

Meetup Starts Charging Organizers

"Organizers will soon have to pay a monthly fee on behalf of their Meetup Groups," it reads. Meetup is...or was...a free community events and networking service, kind of a cross between Yahoo! Groups and Evite.

I should have seen this coming. After all, the advertising model wasn't working. Wait a minute. Was there advertising at Meetup? I don't remember. It was free, so who cared? Anyway, if an organizer agrees to the fee now, he pays $9/month until year-end. Thereafter, the charge is $19/month. The new fee could be the kiss of death for small groups, predicts AP via Yahoo! News. In Meetup's favor, they've added several new support tools, presumably to justify the cost.

Organizers can pass the new fee on to their members, if they choose, and the site provides the mechanism to do so. But with the high attrition rate of online groups, who wants to risk it? I'm not the only one to balk at the change, as evidenced by a discussion thread actually started by Matt Meeker, Co-founder of Meetup.com.

But enough about him. Let's talk about me. [wink wink]

I spent several months trying to get a Meetup group off the ground by posting flyers, handing out cards and invitations at local events, sending notices to the local newspapers, and launching similiar promotional efforts. Meetup didn't add anything extra to the equation. And a downloadable business card layout isn't going to change that, either.

But that's not the only reason I stopped using Meetup. For starters, they had no threshold of participation or other pre-qualifying criteria before allowing people to appoint themselves as organizers. Anyone could sign on and immediately start running the show, provided no one else had beat him/her to the punch.

Ok so, this is a bit weird. I went in to read about what it takes to be the organizer and somewhere along the line I got signed up for it. So now the site says I am the organizer and I have never even been to a meet-up! -- skoke22000 on The Rochester Altered Books Meetup Group
Compare this to more established groups on the Web, or even around your own town. For example, Meetup proposed to connect Tucson-area altered book enthusiasts, but it looks like many people who signed up for this group are beginners. I wanted to meet other experienced people. Since I live in Tucson, I joined the Sonoran Collective for Paper & Book Artists a.k.a. PaperWorks. They have a Web site, mailing lists, and regular meetings with special educational programs. I only have to go to one event all year to make it worth the $25 annual fee. Compare that to what I might pay on Meetup. At least at PaperWorks, I can be sure the organizer is an active member and artist, and her emails are always relevant to my interests.

Which leads me to my other beef -- the Meetup staff's relative lack of concern for content. You can hardly blame them, since the once-free site boasts 150,000 groups and over a million members, making it impossible to police. But why pretend to care at all?

At the bottom of the site is a link to report inappropriate content. One day, I clicked through after repeatedly receiving spam from a group organizer leveraging his position to promote his business. I guess we were an opt-in email list ripe for the picking. Meetup's response? Maybe this was his way of trying to get the group off the ground. But wait a minute. I had joined because I was interested in a particular topic. Apparently, this newbie organizer figured anything was fair game, especially when he could exploit the group for free. On other services I had grown loyal to over the years, I was accustomed to organizers providing educational, actionable content rather than spam. At least their ads were limited to 5-line blocks of text that stood out as such.

Finally, the quality of Meetup's membership base has declined as it's grown. At Meetup, you fill out a profile to introduce yourself. Several profiles looked like they belonged to a dating service or perhaps the member needed some serious counseling.

"I am 5 foot 4 inches. i have brown hair and eyes weigh 99 lb. and am told im pretty! IM me and we can talk together!" -- mary lorraine on the San Antonio Alias Sydney Bristow Fans Meetup
Unless I join groups like newlysingle.meetup.com, modeling.meetup.com or even acting.meetup.com, I won't find this type of profile useful at all. But I'll bet online pedophiles do, since the rail thin member claims to be 13.

And then there's Jimmy, a member of the Tucson Web Design Meetup Group, who doesn't believe in revealing more than is absolutely necessary. "My name is Jimmy," reads his four-word profile, as if we couldn't figure that one out. Wow! I can hardly wait.

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