A website that builds community: Meetup
This week I got an email that shares the story of how the website Meetup got started after 9/11.
I have been a Meetup member myself since moving to Washington, DC 3 1/2 years ago. I looked at it as a way to learn about interesting activities that were happening in my neighborhood, as well as an electronically-urban-cool way to meet the people in my neighborhood.
Back on the farm, if you spent a few minutes standing by the mailbox at the end of the driveway you’d be assured that a friendly wave would snare a neighbor or two for a roadside chat. In a city, everyone walks around with their IPhones plugged in and nobody has a front porch. It is difficult to meet neighbors unless you work hard at it. I decided that standing in front of my house watering the 4′ x 8′ tree box garden while the locals were walking home from work was one way to run into neighbors on purpose.
I wanted to meet my neighbors because coming from the country I knew how much we had to rely on each other for the everyday things that happen: cows getting out, lending a stick of butter to avoid the 15 mile drive to the city, or knowing whose tractor was big enough to pull the wayward driver out of the swamp and back onto the road.
In the city, I found that just living nearby to someone doesn’t carry the same sense of interconnectedness that it does in the country. Except when something big happens…and all of a sudden people realize that their fear, wellbeing, and fate is cast together with a bunch of strangers who they miraculously trust, help, and protect as if they had known each other for years. It turns out that’s how the internet phenomenon Meetup started, and how it functions to help we urban humans build local communities just like we left back in the country, just like humans all across the world.
Here is the Meetup story from one of its founders:
Subject: 9/11 & us – Sent: Saturday, September 10, 2011 9:40 AM
I don’t write to our whole community often, but this week is special because it’s the 10th anniversary of 9/11 and many people don’t know that Meetup is a 9/11 baby.
Let me tell you the Meetup story. I was living a couple miles from the Twin Towers, and I was the kind of person who thought local community doesn’t matter much if we’ve got the internet and tv. The only time I thought about my neighbors was when I hoped they wouldn’t bother me.
When the towers fell, I found myself talking to more neighbors in the days after 9/11 than ever before. People said hello to neighbors (next-door and across the city) who they’d normally ignore. People were looking after each other, helping each other, and meeting up with each other. You know, being neighborly.
A lot of people were thinking that maybe 9/11 could bring people together in a lasting way. So the idea for Meetup was born: Could we use the internet to get off the internet — and grow local communities? We didn’t know if it would work. Most people thought it was a crazy idea — especially because terrorism is designed to make people distrust one another.
A small team came together, and we launched Meetup 9 months after 9/11.
Today, almost 10 years and 10 million Meetuppers later, it’s working. Every day, thousands of Meetups happen. Moms Meetups, Small Business Meetups, Fitness Meetups… a wild variety of 100,000 Meetup Groups with not much in common — except one thing.
Every Meetup starts with people simply saying hello to neighbors. And what often happens next is still amazing to me. They grow businesses and bands together, they teach and motivate each other, they babysit each other’s kids and find other ways to work together. They have fun and find solace together. They make friends and form powerful community. It’s powerful stuff.
It’s a wonderful revolution in local community, and it’s thanks to everyone who shows up.
Meetups aren’t about 9/11, but they may not be happening if it weren’t for 9/11. 9/11 didn’t make us too scared to go outside or talk to strangers. 9/11 didn’t rip us apart. No, we’re building new community together!!!!
The towers fell, but we rise up. And we’re just getting started with these Meetups.
Scott Heiferman (on behalf of 80 people at Meetup HQ), Co-Founder & CEO, Meetup
New York City, September 2011
Is there a Meetup, near you that could help you become more involved in your neighborhood?