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Computer as ultimate concierge

Web site Meetup is a jumping-off point for people with similar interests to connect with their neighbors.

January 16, 2003|Carolyn Patricia Scott | Times Staff Writer

Ever yearn to meet up with folks who share a single, powerful passion? It might be "Xena: Warrior Princess," knitting, ferrets, the French language, jewelry making, the video-game Ultima, motherhood, live journals or any one of more than 700 different interests.

Enter Meetup, a free Internet-based service that organizes local gatherings about anything for anybody in any city in any country. It's designed to nudge people off the couch, away from too much TV and computer time, into face-to-face interaction with people who have similar interests.

The initial irony is that anyone interested in Meetup must start at a computer and sign on to www.meetup.com to connect with like-minded others. "You kind of need to get online," admits co-founder Myles Weissleder, "but it [the computer] is only a conduit to the community."

The Meetup site is designed to be the ultimate social organizer, the connected concierge, the special-interest matchmaker that allows an individual to register, select an interest group and be matched with neighbors who share that interest.

The brainchild of Scott Heiferman, Matt Meeker, Peter Kamali and some of their friends, Meetup relies on a computer to get things rolling -- it sends out invitations to interested parties, allows them to select one of three suggested public venues for their meetings, tallies votes, sends out final invitations, collects RSVPs and makes reservations at the chosen meeting site. Everything that follows is up to the participants.

"In six months we've already got 123,624 people signed up for meetups in local cafes [and] community meeting rooms in 540 cities across 31 different countries," Weissleder says. And the numbers are growing. Islamabad, Pakistan; Bogota, Colombia; Jakarta, Indonesia; Bristol, England; Tartu, Estonia; Bucharest, Romania; and Waterloo, Belgium, are the most recent additions to the list of participating cities.

Why don't crochet addicts in Islamabad, Chihuahua lovers in Toronto or pagans in Pasadena just find each other and get on with it? Heiferman asked himself that question.

He'd been reading "Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community," by Harvard professor Robert D. Putnam. Putnam observes that American society was eroding as individuals disconnected from their families, neighbors and communities because of longer commutes and more time spent watching television and cruising endless Web destinations. It was Sept. 11 that motivated Scott and his partners to go to work on some tangible way of fostering community.

Kamali built the system from the ground up, and in just six months the concept has taken off. New York City has the largest numbers of meetups, with London and Toronto coming in at Nos. 2 and 3. Santa Monica, at No. 10, is the only Southern California city in Meetup's Top 10.

"Meetup is a great way to meet other Francophones that I would not otherwise have the chance to meet," wrote Coco, of a Seattle-based group of French students and teachers, whose letter is one of many enthusiastic responses posted on the Meetup Web site. "It provides me with much-needed conversation."

The feedback works two ways. To alleviate users' concerns about who they might be meeting, every Meetup page includes a link that allows users to report abuses, and Meetup coordinators continually monitor site postings and reports on meeting activities.

Though the name "Meetup" might suggest that the service could be used to make random social connections, Weissleder says, "We're trying to shy away from being a dating service." Meetup does have a category called "New in Town," so that people in a specific locale can connect as a support group and make friends.

Meetups generally happen on the same day of each month in every city and country, which allows traveling members to join a meeting in another city on their regular meeting night.

Those who log on to the Web site and choose an interest group can expect from four to 12 people to show up at a given Meetup get-together. Anyone can suggest a Meetup venue. In fact, the meeting places can change from month to month. Once participants enter their e-mail address and password under a given category, that's all there is to it.

Meetup takes care of the rest -- via e-mail, of course.

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Meetup . . . with a few categories

More than 700 interest groups include such focal points as poker, knitting, drug reform, event planning, vegan meals, the Chinese language, knitting, vampires, and the Sci Fi cable channel series "Farscape." Below are some examples.

Xena: Warrior Princess

More than 1,000 fans marvel over the weaponry skills, fashion sense, camaraderie and adventures of Xena, Gabrielle and other characters on the mythologically rooted series.

Posting from wandiaz:

"Great to be with Xenaversal sisters & brothers ... As long as we battle on, there is hope for humans yet ... May Aphrodite strike me blind with love and when she does, I hope I am amongst Xenans ..."

Meets the first Monday of the month.

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John Edwards in 2004

Not to be confused with TV clairvoyant John Edward. This JE group is looking to make a connection with the North Carolina Sen. John Edwards, the presidential hopeful.

Posting from dcfichera:

"I am from Los Angeles, Calif., and I want to learn more about the Senator's ideas."

Meets first Tuesday of the month.

*

Ferrets

Ferret lovers cuddle up to their favorite, er, topic--the weasel-like animal belonging to the genus Mustela, related to the European

polecat.

Posting from

ferretangel:

"Love to meet others that love fuzzies as I do!"

Meets the fourth Saturday of the month.

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Slashdot.com

Technofiles, come offline just long enough to log some face time with fellow techies.

Posting from littlebear42:

"Long time Slashdot Lurker ... These meetings sound interesting

Meets the fourth Thursday of the month.

-- Carolyn Patricia Scott

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