Meetup’s Ambitions and Its New Design

By | February 21, 2010

Meetup logoMeetup has announced some major changes to their site, that make it more of a social networking site, while trying to retain the core of their mission, which is to promote meetups (people meeting face to face).  This change has generated hundreds of comments on their blog, most of which are negative.

Their move appears to be an attempt to get really big, YouTube or Facebook big, as hinted by some posts by their founder Scott Heiferman, who hopes the changes will dramatically increase the number of groups on the site, as well as the success of the existing groups.  Why not a million Meetup groups, he says.

I’ve been doing a lot of comparing between the old and new views. I agree that the old view is not optimal in encouraging activity, but the new view is a poor implementation of a fix.

I will go through some of the major items and why they will work or not work as intended.

Activity Feed

I agree that for some types of groups, the new activity feed will be a boom to the group, both online and offline, because it will become a central location for people to congregate, and therefore be exposed to upcoming events more, and therefore be more likely to come. But you will also get a lot of lurkers too.

But notice that I said for some groups. Less tech savvy groups, or groups that don’t like Facebook style interaction will not benefit, in fact may even suffer because of the new format. Once size does not fit all. You have to look at the demographics of the individual group.

Events on Front Page

I also agree with everyone else that the events themselves need to be more central, and more events with more details needs to be on the front page. Fees are collected by the group from people attending events, not for coming to the website, so that should be up front. Also, if a group is busy, the front page does not give enough information about upcoming events.

Think about this: a group that meets once a month can have up to 5 months of events listed on the home page, but a group that meets 2 or 3 times a week would only have 2 weeks of events listed on the home page. Now that sounds ok, unless, the big featured event is 30 days away and should be featured, and also causes problems is you have the same event on different dates at different venues more than a couple weeks away.

Perhaps what would be more useful is an option to show the next 10 events, or even events for the next 30 days. More information about the event should also be shown as well, such as time and venue, which seems to be missing in the new view.

Calendar

There needs to be easy access to the calendar. You guys seems to have a split personality about it. Before when the list view was default, you forced everybody to the calendar view. Now suddenly you are forcing us back to the lists view.

In reality, in some situations one is better than the other, and some people also prefer one over the other. So I would recommend giving people access to all three views (past events list, upcoming events list, and calendar) right from the front page, in an easy to access and obvious way.

For groups that meet once a month, the list view is much easier to read. For groups that have multiple events a month or even multiple events per week, the calendar view is usually more useful. And then you have visual people who simply prefer the calendar view because they are visual people, and the list view does not allow them to “visualize” the data.

Forums Posts Listed in Feed

This is a good change for those of us who want to use Meetup for both online and offline collaboration.

I still have to chuckle that at one time you tried to force everyone to switch to mailing lists and were trying to push people off the website by trying to shut down the message boards. I’m glad you finally realize that message boards are the way to go because they generate activity on the site.

All or Nothing Approach (Arrogance from Above)

I have been following your changes to Meetup for sometime. One issue that I see is that you seem to have a “my way or the highway” approach to change. This is not good.

I know you actually do listen to your users and listen to the data, because you have backtracked on many of the decisions you have made in the past that didn’t work as planned. You may not see it that way, but to me it is apparent if you look at the longer view of Meetup’s past (i.e. calendar view vs. list view, and mailing lists vs. message boards).

It is this perceived arrogance that upsets people more than the changes. I say perceived arrogance, because I have actually met you guys in New York a few years back and visited your offices thanks to American Express OPEN.

I think that you really do want to make the best site for your users, and I do know you are passionate about what you do. Just the way you implement changes on the site is a public relations disaster, and comes across as arrogant to your paying users who do not understand what you are doing or why and how it benefits them.

More Choices Equals More Groups & More Members

(Or How to become a Facebook or YouTube)

Right now you have several demographics on your site. Basically, you are saying that your site is not appealing enough to go YouTube or Facebook big. And you are right. People meeting face to face is a niche market. There are less people who want to meet in person than want to participate online.

Facebook is huge because of the flexibility it has in how people use it.  They don’t force you to use it to meet classmates, they don’t force you to use it to socialize with friends, they don’t force you to use it to organize meetings, they don’t force you to play Farmvilele and Mafia Wars and Cafe World.  They don’t force you to give and accept hugs.  They don’t force you to promote your business on Facebook.

What Facebook does that makes them huge is they give flexibility, allowing people to use Facebook how they want to use Facebook, not forcing them to use Facebook how the founders originally envisioned.

There is a way to get big without alienating your core existing audience:

If you want to grow exponentially, what I would suggest is giving us choices. Go ahead an change the default to the new view so they can try it out, but give people the option of continuing to use the old view.

Giving people choices means you will have MORE people use your service, since it can be customized and tailored for each specific group.

By giving choices, groups that only meet in person, who do not like doing all that online stuff will love your view that caters to them. And the people who interact online and off will love the view that gives them interactivity and allows them to be a part of the group online and off. But you can only cater to both audiences if you give us choices.

Different Views for Different Types of Groups

I would recommend building three views and letting organizers decide what is most appropriate.

1. Current / Old View – perfect for groups that only use Meetup for the events and have little interest in online activity. Meetings are central, activity is minimized.

2. New View (Activity Dominant) – Great for groups that want as much activity as possible, both online and off. Groups that are more active online will benefit greatly from this view. You can attract a whole new audience with this view, groups that rarely meet but participate online, while at the same time encouraging them to do so.

3. Compromise View (Meetups Dominant with Activity Highlighted) – This view would be a compromise between the old and new, with the Meetups in the central wider column, and the Activity in the narrower right column. This would be great for groups that want to foster online activity, but want their events to be the primary focus.

Give people a choice, and you will attract more people. You will keep the meeting only crowd, which is most vocal against the change and you will embrace the new social networking crowd that wants more ways to interact with each other. Giving choices will give you (and us) the best of both worlds. And most importantly it will allow you to attract more diverse audiences than you can with a one size fits all approach. Choices & flexibility is what is going to make you grow exponentially.

Online / Offline Community Replacement

I really like your approach to making Meetup a way to meet online and off, but that is not appropriate for all groups, or event wanted in some cases.

If you give people more ways to interact, and give us more choices on how we want to interact, you will see an explosion of users, since Meetup will be flexible enough to cater to offline groups, online groups and groups that participate online and off. But flexibility is what will give you new users in new markets, not a rigid one size fits all approach.

If you want to embrace new markets, go ahead and do so, just don’t dump your old market for the new, instead give options so the new market comes, and the old market stays.

Since this is an Open Message to Meetup:

I want to say to Meetup, thank you for your time. I hope you consider some of the things I have mentioned.

You guys have great ideas. You just need to realize that one size does not fit all, and giving us choices is a much better model.


 

Scott M. Stolz

Entrepreneur, Educator, Author.
Helping people embrace life's opportunities.™