Meetup.com (also called Meetup) is an online social networking portal that facilitates offline group meetings in various localities around the world. Meetup allows members to find and join groups unified by a common interest, such as politics, books, games, movies, health, pets, careers or hobbies. Users enter their ZIP code (or their city outside the United States) and the topic they want to meet about, and the website helps them arrange a place and time to meet.
Some of Meetup's earliest press coups resulted from active initial support from the Slashdot community. They ran their software on similar platforms, and had a large, successful "International Slashdot Meetup Day" in early July 2002. As a result, Meetup got frequent publicity boosts from Slashdot before and after that event, and were soon a byword in geek circles.
From 2002 to 2004, Meetup.com was one of the fastest-growing online social networks in the world. It took center stage in the American political consciousness in 2003, when it attracted the attention, first of campaign staff for Presidential candidate Howard Dean, then of pundits in New York City and Washington, D.C., and was soon being used by a number of candidates for the Democratic nomination, to build and energize their grassroots support. By January 2004, 30% of the site's members were signed up for the three most popular topics: Dean in 2004, Clark in 2004, and Kerry in 2004. Following Dean's departure from the race, the "Dean Meetup days" became the model for similarly-organized "National Democratic Party Meetup Days. Meetup.com has also been used by conservative Internet organizers, including the Heritage Foundation's Townhall.com and the re-election campaign of George W. Bush.
Interest from hobbyists and fans of all stripes grew steadily. Their next surge in popularity and exposure came early in 2003, when politicians campaigning for the Democratic Presidential nomination collectively started to use Meetup to coordinate their grassroots movement. "In Meetup.com's original concept, the sessions are leaderless, just folks with similar interest," Knight Ridder reported in February 2004. "But it didn't take long for savvy political campaigns to have a staffer or volunteer show up to collect names and addresses and hand out material for the candidate." Jerome Armstrong is credited with first promoting Meetup for Howard Dean's Presidential campaign through the blog MyDD, "Mr. Armstrong figured Meetup could help Mr. Dean and urged Mr. Trippi to hire the company.
Howard Dean's presidential campaign took Meetup very seriously, and by February 14, already had 1200 supporters signed up; a month later, there were over 5,000. "We fell into this by accident," Dean said later. "I wish I could tell you we were smart enough to figure this out. But the community taught us. They seized the initiative through Meetup. They built our organization for us before we had an organization." His first personal realization of Meetup's potential occurred when he attended a New York City meetup on March 5, 2003 where he found hundreds of enthusiastic supporters waiting to greet him. "I've never seen anything like that, with no advance people, totally self-organized by a bunch of citizens," said Dean campaign manager Joe Trippi. "It was a really great moment."
By the time Dean suspended his campaign for the candidacy in February 2004, there were over 180,000 supporters signed up via Meetup worldwide. Soon after Meetup began acquiring this political sheen, media attention blossomed.
After John Kerry and John Edwards emerged as the first- and second-place contenders in the January Ohio primary, the number of Meetups for Kerry and Edwards supporters spiked up dramatically. "Registrations for Edwards rose 44 percent to 3,949 people, up from 2,751. Kerry's registrations rose 22 percent to 22,076, up from 18,140," reported the National Journal.
Meetup's main revenue source changed from listing fees paid by venues to monthly subscriptions paid by local Meetup organizers. Meetup announced it would begin charging organizers on April 12, 2005. These fees were implemented starting in the month of May 2005 and initially resulted in considerable criticism.
As of May 1, 2005, Meetup reported having 1,595,165 members worldwide, with 194,472 local groups covering 5,454 different topics. The most popular topic of all, with 143,403 members, was "Democracy for America", which directly replaced the Howard Dean Meetup topic upon the termination of Dean's Presidential campaign.
In July 2005, Meetup began to remove from its site the listings for local groups without paying organizers, starting with the organizer-less groups with 5 or fewer members. Thus, as of July 21, 2005, Meetup reported having 1,642,652 members worldwide and 5,484 different topics, but the number of local groups listed had dropped to 99,731.
On July 22, 2005, Meetup reported 1,643,497 members, 5,486 topics, and 58,878 local groups, while "Democracy for America" remained the most popular topic. On November 11, 2006, Meetup reported 18,368 groups and 3,540 topics.
As many of the ad-hoc Meetups formed on the service while it was supported by venue listing fees began to drop off -- paid Meetups began to take their place with accountable organizers in place.
As of October 3, 2006 Meetup lists 16,769 paid Meetup Groups and 3,532 Meetup topics (interests).
Although these numbers are a far cry from when the service was "free", the fact that they are now vested organizers in place has provided for a more stable base for the continued growth of Meetup groups worldwide.
Ironically, MeetUP.com had an earlier connection to the Democratic Party, years before Howard Dean came on the scene. In September 2000, the original MeetUP.com was sold to Event411.com. Event411, Inc., as it became known, had just showcased its online event registration at the 2000 Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles. The MeetUP.com hotel block management technology was integrated with the event registration functionality of Event411, Inc. into one suite to provide a single online experience for event delegates who could research a meeting or convention, register for the event, and book accommodation from event hotel blocks.
Event411, Inc. eventually left the Internet landscape after selling the MeetUP domain to the existing owners, and a portion of its technology to Event Housing market space leaders - Passkey.com.