One thing I love and would recommend to anyone when traveling or moving into a new country is meetup.com, an online portal that brings people together and makes it really easy to make new friends! When I tried my first ever meetup in Paris in 2008 I was wary of what to expect: I wasn’t into singles events like salsa classes or speed dating… But there we go, that very day I actually met one of my close girlfriends, Alex, who I still hang out with even though we’ve lived in 5 different countries between us since then!
International meetups in Paris were great at the time! So much fun and great people to meet and to connect with. The organizers really made an effort to introduce people to each other, mix with the crowd and the groups were big enough to negotiate free food with the bars where events took place. Being hosted in smallish bars they had a rather local character and you were sure to bump into the same people of the area most times. A feel of home in a HUGE expat city. Can you imagine?
Let me tell you another great experience: Later on I moved to Ravensburg in Germany, a smallish town in the countryside near Lake Constance. Having been an expat for almost 10 years and not having spoken German properly for probably the last three of those I felt pretty alien in Swabian country. The first year was tough. I didn’t get them AT ALL (and they probably didn’t get me either). They even thought I spoke in a French accent during the first few months?!? However, luck was with me when I met a fantastic bunch of expats via the local English meetup. I even became co-organizer together with my then new best friend Blair from the US. We had so much fun together! Meeting good friends changes everything in a new place.
And here is the thing: life is tough in a small community. Meetup.com charged 72$ per 6 months! I guess in most meetup groups only around 15% will be active and we were a group of maybe 10 regulars out of 50 members. That’s not big enough to ask bars and restaurants to sponsor you. Not even the local expat restaurant owner was up to support us after numerous events at their place. We weren’t able to survive because we didn’t want to make members pay for socializing and changed to Facebook.
Funny enough my experience with Meetup in Paris also changed when I came back end of 2010. The group had become more commercial with about 2000 members and organizers pushing to meet in bigger venues with entrance fees. For my part that killed it, the people changed and it wasn’t the friendly pint in the neighbourhood anymore. It was business. How do you chat in a noisy club? How do you get to know people open mindedly in a dark venue that reeks of single stalkers on the hunt? Is that the way it goes? Are people even forced to run it like a business to cover their expenses?
And then, there is Barcelona, where they turn meetups into jobs for those who don’t fancy paying tax, BIG time! I didn’t know what to think of it at first, I had mixed feelings: yes, I know it can be tough for a small group to pay the fees and I don’t mind paying 2 EUR for a good cause or an extra value like learning new skills or making valuable business connections. But meetup seems to be a different story here. In a city like Barcelona it’s so easy to gain members. And again, meetup is business. Most international meetups groups are run by 4-5 people, most of whom organize a handful of different language exchange or sporting events each and for multiple groups, charging between 2 and 4 EUR “to cover the costs of organising”. And with a lot of them you can tell they don’t do it for love, they are in it for the money! Sad to say, but I felt being ripped off having to pay a 2 EUR entrance fee to have an overpriced beer in an average bar. The organizer hosted without co-organizers and never mixed with the crowd, probably to avoid missing out on coining 60 people. What a great hourly rate for him! What a strange experience! I guess the crisis taught people to be creative. Is that even legal? Isn’t meetup becoming a tool for earning money? Does anyone declare tax on their income when running it as a full time job?
Don’t get me wrong, I love Meetup for what it can be, helping people to make friends in a new place. I even met my partner at a meetup in Paris! However as a user (vs organiser) we should all be aware of the business side to it. And sometimes be prepared to support a great cause, and sometimes be aware that we might support a money making scheme.
I never used meetup outside of Europe and don’t know what the perception is there. I personally think meetup.com should be free to small groups, let’s say up to 300 members. Those who turn it into business should register it as such on the site. Then maybe as the end user we’d get a better overview of what we are actually paying for.
What is your experience with Meetup.com?
There are plenty of other free social networks that help people to meet like Facebook, InterNations, Global Dinner Network for (business) women or Couchsurfing. Which ones do you use in your country? Please share under comments.