Meetup.com 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 such as politics, books, games, movies, health, pets, careers or hobbies. It operates as a free service; users enter their zip code and the topic they want to meet about, and the website helps them arrange a place and time to meet. Its primary revenue comes from restaurants that pay $29 a month to be listed on the site as possible meeting venues. Participants vote where to hold a meeting, and eateries pay a finder's fee if their establishment is chosen. In addition, Meetup members can choose to pay $29/year to sign up for "Meetup Plus" that gives subscribers more options for planning meetings.
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 Dean campaign staff, then of pundits in New York City and Washington, DC, 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.
As of March, 2004, more than one million members were using Meetup to arrange regular gatherings of more than a thousand groups.
"The primary inspiration was the book Bowling Alone, which is by Harvard sociologist Robert Putnam about the decline of community in America and how people don't know their neighbors anymore," Heiferman said. "The Internet does a number of wonderful things, but it treats geography as irrelevant. We still live in a world where the local level is extremely important. ... We are providing a service that revitalizes the Internet for local communities." 
"The founders of the company knew people were staying in front of their computers, DVD players and TVs more and more, and losing personal connections," explained Meetup vice president Myles Weissleder. "After 9/11, they started thinking they could help do something positive in the world by having people reconnect - not with people in chatrooms across the globe - but in their own communities." 
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. 
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."
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."
"Meetup quickly became the engine of Dean's Internet campaign," reported Wired magazine's Gary Wolf. "Back then, the leading group on the site was a club for witches. Zephyr Teachout, Dean's director of Internet outreach, describes sitting across from campaign manager Joe Trippi in the early weeks and hitting Refresh again and again on her Web browser. 'I was obsessed with beating Witches,' she says. 'Witches had 15,000 members, and we had 3,000. I wanted first place.'" 
"His rivals grudgingly concede that Dean, 54, has clearly tapped into something," the Washington Post reported in June 2003. "He is attracting the largest crowds of the nine Democratic contenders -- which his staff attributes almost entirely to his campaign's Internet reach. His supporters arguably are the most intense for this early in the process, tens of thousands of them self-organizing in about 300 cities once a month through their online contact, a Web site called Meetup.com."  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.
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- Meetup.com main site
- Meetup.com Wikipedia site
- Official collection of press clippings at Meetup.com
- Jim Cashel, "Interview with Scott Heiferman, MEETUP," Online Community Report, August 2002.
- Debera Carlton Harrell, "Meetup.com Links Together the Like-minded," Seattle Post-Intelligencer, March 8, 2003.
- Lisa Napoli, "Like Online Dating, With a Political Spin," New York Times, March 15, 2003.
- Gary Wolf, "How the Internet Invented Howard Dean," Wired, January 2004.
- Chris Gray, "MeetUp.com Working to Become a Force in Politics," Knight Ridder, February 8, 2004.
- Nathan Kaiser, "Interview with Scott Heiferman," nPost, April 20, 2004.
- "Howard Dean's Internet Love-In, CBS News, June 4, 2003.
Note: Portions of this article were taken from a similar article in the Wikipedia.