I want some of whatever Union Square Ventures is smoking!

meetup I cannot recall when exactly I happened upon Meetup.com, but it seems like a long time ago. I thought it was a neat idea and signed up. I never got much use out of it though, as there weren’t many other users in the Edmonton area. I forgot about it for the most part. Eventually I checked the site out again when they announced that it was no longer free to organize a meetup. It’s been on my radar since then, but I still don’t pay it much attention.

Today they announced that they have accepted funding from Union Square Ventures:

So why take an investment? Because the world needs more Meetups — and more powerful Meetups.  We’re at-risk of living in front of screens, endlessly Twittering and not forming powerful local community groups. There’s endless possibilities to make Meetup  better able to help people self-organize powerful local groups! With a shaky economy, it’s best to secure and strengthen Meetup for the future with an investor.

I feel obligated to point out that “endlessly Twittering” can in fact lead to worthwhile and enjoyable face-to-face meetings with others, both individually and with a large group such as the EdmontonTweetup.

The justification for the deal makes sense from Meetup’s point-of-view. Frankly, I’m surprised they haven’t taken funding until now. The justification from USV made me do a double take though:

Organizing people online to make a difference offline has been the central mission of Meetup since the beginning. The team there has always understood that there was a difference between collective intelligence and collective action.

So we are thrilled to be an investor in a company that has been organized since its inception around the key insight that we believe will drive the next several years of innovation on the web – the need to solve real problems in the real world for real people.

I’m confused. A company that charges $19 a month in exchange for a glorified mailing list is going to “drive the next several years of innovation on the web”? I don’t think so.

I agree with the argument that Tim O’Reilly, John Battelle, and indeed USV themselves are making about harnessing collective intelligence on the web and using it to make a difference in the real world. I get that.

What I don’t get is how Meetup is supposed to help us accomplish that, nor how they are supposed to drive innovation on the web while doing it? Last time I checked, we didn’t need Meetup to organize the EdmontonTweetup, or DemoCamp, or BarCamp, or Northern Voice, or smaller meetings for drinks, or coffee, or lunch. I don’t think any of the major fundraising initiatives (such as the CIBC Run for the Cure) use Meetup, though all of them certainly use the web.

Granted, there are certain niches that Meetup is very successful in. As Brad points out, the company “organizes over 2300 moms Meetup groups in 1100 cities in 11 countries.”

Still, I’m confused. Meetup is taking the money basically to stay afloat during a shaky period in the economy, and hopefully to grow. USV is giving them money to make a difference in the real world and drive innovation on the web. Something doesn’t add up.

Either Brad and Fred know something the rest of us don’t, or they’re smoking something really good.

A business model? What a novel idea!

Some of you might know that Meetup.com recently announced that the service is no longer free, and they will charge $19 a month. Basically the site has run into the “how do we keep this going” moment, and decided that the service is worth paying for:

If you’d like to explore alternatives we encourage you to do so. Really. As big believers in the expression “you get what you pay for” we think you’ll realize that Meetup’s worth the cost.

Today Marc Canter posted about the changes:

One good thing they did – they put their faces next to what they describe as “the bad news”. Me – I don’t consider it bad news. There’s a time for every social experiment to grow up, smell the mustard and get real. MeetUp has – congreats!

Did I read that correctly? Did Marc really say “There’s a time for every social experiment to grow up, smell the mustard and get real,” or am I misreading this? Nope, checked my glasses, I appear to be reading correctly. So what’s the big deal?

Ourmedia is a brand new site, and I’d definitely describe it as a “social experiment.” It depends on having a community of users, and because no one knows where it’s going to go, its very much an experimental project. So then, Marc, why is it a good thing for Meetup to have a business model, but somehow Ourmedia doesn’t need one? I still don’t buy the “Ourmedia will always be free” marketing spin – someone, somewhere has to pick up the bill. And just because one wealthy individual is paying for it today, doesn’t mean he’ll be paying for it tomorrow.

Ourmedia hasn’t gotten any stellar reviews, and I think the only reason they are still running is that they are free, so people give them the benefit of the doubt. They don’t expect good service, because they are not paying for it. So with that in mind, perhaps Ourmedia’s model isn’t so bad after all right? Wrong. Yesterday I mentioned that Google Video Upload was launched, and it too is free. I’d be willing to bet Google will make sure it works and is well-liked, just like all of their other free offerings.

Meetup.com got away with being free for so long because their service worked, and was relatively unique. I think it’s quite clear that the same is not true for Ourmedia – it doesn’t work, and there are better alternatives appearing every day. Maybe Ourmedia needs a business model. Maybe they should create a service that is worth paying for, and then charge for it. Maybe the people in charge should grow up, smell the mustard and get real.

Successful Weblogger Meetup!

Just finished the first Edmonton Weblogger meetup, and it went quite well! We went to Cargo & James Tea and most of us ordered coffee, go figure. On the plus side, there was wireless Internet! If you didn’t make it to this one, we hope to see you out at the next one!

We asked everyone who came to answer, “what is the funniest thought you’ve ever had after you were done doing the nasty?” Here is what they said:

Dickson: “When I woke up it was all over!”
John: “I want my money back!”
Felicia: “I should never have attended that weblogger meetup.”
Megan: “Thank god for twins!”
Mack: “Where did they go?”
Melissa: “I’m never wearing pigtails again.”

See you next time!