Picking up the pieces and moving forward, part 3

Part two concluded with my last attempts to reach out to the Houston WordPress Meetup organizers.

It was bad enough that not only my emails, but those from other people trying to get the meetup going again, were ignored. To make matters worse, the staff at Meetup.com are no help:

Hello Shawn,

I’m really sorry to hear you and your fellow group Members are going through this. Unfortunately, because Organizers pay dues to run their Meetup Groups, they are essentially the owners of their Meetup Groups. We’re really not able to take any action on an account unless we hear directly from the Organizer of the Meetup Group.

It’s a difficult situation, but I do hope you’ll consider starting your own group. You sound like the kind of passionate, determined person we like to see become Organizers. I’m not sure if it will help, but I’d be happy to create a 50% off coupon for you to use to get started.

If that sounds like something you’d like to do, please let us know.

Translation: “We own meetup.com, we are the real owners and we can do something about this, but we are choosing not to and instead call the organizers, including ‘zombie organizers’, the real owners of the site. We don’t care about the 400+ pawns–I mean members–that are in your dead Meetup group, only the $19 your absentee organizer is giving us. But we’ll happily take your money, because that pads our bottom line, and that’s what we really care about.” (If this seems crazy to you, I’m sorry, but this is how I read it.)

Needless to say, I’m not taking up Meetup.com on their “generous” offer. $9.50 is more than I want to give this excuse for a company. (Unfortunately, I can’t stop other well-intentioned people from doing so… more on that in part 4.)

The idle group looks bad on not just Houston’s WordPress community, but the Meetup brand, and possibly the WordPress brand as well. This can’t be the first time this has happened. Of course it’s not. This smells, looks, and waddles like a canned response.

Think about this for a bit: If just 100 organizers keep their groups open, but inactive, that’s $22,800 per year extra for the owners of Meetup.com. And I’m pretty sure at any one time there are probably many more such “zombie groups” out there. Add it up and annualize it, and in all likelihood there’s an obscene amount of profit being made off of absentee organizers–I wouldn’t be surprised if it reaches into seven figures. (For those not good at math, it takes only 4,386 zombie organizers to reach $1 million annually.)

So I’m going to ask all my readers out there: if you have ever been an organizer on Meetup.com, please make sure you are not paying for a “zombie group.” Do the right thing, and ask someone else if they are willing to take it over. Or, better yet, start migrating it away from Meetup.com entirely. There’s no reason to pay for a “zombie group” and contributing to a for-profit company for nothing. If you really have an extra $19 per month you won’t miss, I’ll happily recommend a list of charities that could make better use of it. Just paying the monthly dues is actually one of the worst things you can do for whoever is left in the Meetup group, especially if they still care about organizing meetups for the group’s topic.

If you’re currently an active Meetup.com organizer, I think it’s time to start looking at alternatives. They are out there, I haven’t researched them thoroughly so I’m not making any specific recommendations at this time (if enough readers ask, I might do a post on the alternatives I find).

If you’re on Meetup.com as just a user, you can consider doing what I did: winding down your participation on the site completely. The good news is when you leave a Meetup group, you can send a message to the organizer saying why you are leaving. Use this opportunity to ask for an alternative way to keep up with the group. The bad news is, Meetup stupidly assumes since you left a group, you want to sign up for more of them, so you have to keep going back to your home page to leave each group in turn. To whatever user interface designer at Meetup did this, shame on you. It should not be that big of a pain in the ass to leave several groups in a row, and send the same message to each organizer (the latter problem, fortunately, is solved with copy and paste).

If we can get enough organizers to leave Meetup.com, eventually they will figure it out. The only way to talk to a company which does not otherwise care, is through their bottom line. Honestly, right now I flat out don’t give a damn if Meetup goes bankrupt. People have been saying Meetup is on the decline for years, including Matt Mullenweg himself back in 2005.

More troubling, perhaps, are the non-profit organizations, specifically including NetSquared and the WordPress Foundation, pumping money into Meetup.com. I don’t have exact numbers, and I’m not even willing to make a more exact guess, but it does not take a genius to realize it’s probably a good bit more than $19/month. There’s no easy way to say this, but I really think any non-profit organization of any reasonable size has no business serving up revenue to a for-profit company who clearly cares less about the people than about its income stream. This goes double in the case of the WordPress Foundation, given that Meetup is at least as bad (and in many ways, actually much worse) than buying a proprietary software package and running it on a web server. WordPress (either as a single- or multi-user install) with the proper plugins should be able to do most things that can be done on Meetup.com, at least as of the last time I looked into this some months ago.

Coming up in part 4, the events which have transpired in the last few weeks, including those who felt slighted by the neglect of the existing Meetup group re-organizing and re-booting the Houston WordPress Community.