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.