Meet you later?
Meetup.com is a cyber-meeting space where people arrange to get together over shared interests. Many users say they’d like the service better without the monthly fee
It was Friday night, and my cell phone hadn’t vibrated me outof solitude yet. I told myself that other people all over Reno were in the same situation. Yet, it seemed odd that in contemporary society, with its cars and airplanes, cell phones and corner espresso stands, it’s nearly impossible to connect with actual people. It would be nice to find someone here in town to actually talk to, in that old fashioned, face-to-face way. And then I had an epiphany as I moved my mouse and clicked on the link.
An online directory that listed social groups according to location appeared on the screen of my laptop from the Web site Meetup.com. I typed my zip code in the search field, and a list five pages long filled the screen. I felt as though I’d found a treasure, and I scanned groups in the Reno area that were both appealing and appalling.
I realized, however, that though scores of groups are listed very few actually have group organizers or people who plan meetings. The lack of organizers narrowed my choices considerably, which is too bad, because the range of “meetup” groups is amazing. Take, for instance, this short catalogue of interest-based groups that can be found in Reno alone: vegans, beagle enthusiasts, conservatives, graphic designers, Elvis fans, polyamory people (whoa!), knitting, small business—the list goes on and on. I’m sure there’s something for anyone. If there’s not, you can actually create a meetup group and organize it yourself, once you’ve created an account and paid the $19 fee.
After scrolling through several pages, I found a group that was “meeting up.” The Reno Goth Group had a location and members who had RSVP’d. I decided to check it out. Unfortunately I was called into work and had to miss the 1 p.m. meeting. Still wanting to connect, however, I called the number listed on the goth group’s site to get the scoop.
Two friendly female voices gave me their take on Meetup.com. Sadie, the goth-group organizer, said she found out about the site while looking on the Web for goth groups in Reno. Her opinion of Meetup.com is anything but positive.
“It hasn’t helped me organize anything,” she said. Currently, the Reno Goth Meetup Group has 71 members, but only about 11 of those are “active,” which means they’ve visited the goth meetup site in the last six months.
“It’s a myth that there are a lot of good meetup groups,” co-organizer Onyx said. “Maybe everybody’s really lazy, but I’ve had more luck with my Yahoo! group page—which is free, by the way.”
But I was determined, and so I went back to Meetup.com to search for other local groups. After navigating page after page, I found the Reno Scrabble Group, complete with organizer. The meeting was at Borders Books at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday. I was nervous as I walked through the glass doors, not knowing what I’d find on the other side. I haven’t played Scrabble since I was in high school, but I hoped nobody would notice. I’m sure, however, they did.
Lisa Stiller, the group organizer, sat at the table next to a faded red Scrabble box, armed with her Scrabble dictionary. A brunette with glasses, she enjoyed employing words on the Scrabble board that no one uses anymore because they look too much like the Greek they came from.
“It’s a word!” she’d say to calm our protests, pointing to an open page in her pocket-sized gospel.
For the first round, I drew five “S"s, a “G” and an “A,” leaving me with the oh-so-classy choices of “A-S-S,” “G-A-S” or “S-A-G.” So much for first impressions, I thought, placing my three-letter word on the board. I guess I could have used “S-A-S-S” but I was feeling naked without my own dictionary, and I began to wonder if some words were really “real” words at all. Cheryl, a woman in a blue sweater from Carson City, looked over my shoulder and offered me tips to improve my game.
“I hope you don’t mind,” she said, “but I’m a teacher.”
We began a second game, joined by Bill, a man who touted the benefits of travel with a GPS gadget and a laptop, and Trish, a woman who just published an essay on Nevada in a literary anthology. By the end of the night, I was placing words with more than one syllable on the board—but, more important, I was having fun.
“We’re joining Yahoo! Groups,” Lisa told me as I was leaving. She cited Meetup.com’s $19 monthly fee as her reason for switching to Yahoo! Groups. “But we still meet every Tuesday night at Borders at 6:30 p.m.”
Another night: I’m back to the computer (I think I’m obsessed). Though Meetup.com charges a monthly fee, there are some benefits to using the site. For one, groups can keep track of who is coming to their events via the “RSVP” function. I also appreciate the way the Web site allows people to contact you without giving your e-mail address to the world. I found this handy while checking out the local Dungeons & Dragons fans.
I signed up for their group (sans organizer) but received an e-mail from a local gamer, Newt Peterson, asking me if I was still interested in playing. “Let’s meet at a café,” he wrote, “and we can talk about the game. I’ll be the 6-foot guy carrying a silver helmet.”
Though that’s not the most reassuring line to read before meeting someone you’ve only talked to online, I drove to Dreamers Coffeehouse. Turns out, he had a helmet because he drives a motorcycle (I was relieved it wasn’t some sort of eccentric accessory), and he was normal, almost disappointingly so.
“I’ve been looking for a group to game with, and I stumbled across Meetup.com and your post,” he said. “Do you want to play?”
So maybe I’m wrong about this Internet thing. Maybe—just maybe—it can bring people together rather than keep them apart. I’ve actually found it’s the $19 fee that keeps people apart more than anything else.
“I would start a D&D meetup group,” Newt mentioned, “but it is $19 a month, and I’m just not that desperate yet.”
But, if you are, Meetup.com is where the future of social groups lies. With the click of a button, friendship can be uncovered from the safety of your own home.