Interesting BBC News article about the popularity of meetup.com as an activism tool in the post-Howard-Dean era</a>. You all know meetup.com, right? It's a get-people-together social software web site that is to Evite as USENET is to LiveJournal, being focused around specific topics rather than specific members of the public. There are somewhat over 4,000 topics, so browsing the list of topics about which Meetups are held is akin to reading the old alt.* hierarchy group listings. I didn't know such a thing as breatharianism existed (like vegetarianism, except with breath instead of vegetables) until I saw word of its existence on Meetup. There ain't a lot of breatharians about, and I am having to restrain myself from adding a snarky and intolerant comment such as ", strangely enough".
LiveJournal folks will likely be familiar with meetup.com; if you have sufficient interest in social software to run a LiveJournal, you might well be as interested to meet people because of entries on their interests list in real life as well as on LiveJournal. In addition, the LiveJournal Meetup (that is, a meeting intended to be of people whose common factor is that they keep a LiveJournal) is the ninth most popular of the four thousand at press time. Admittedly, Brad gave it a dumpload o' publicity back in the day, probably on news, which helped considerably. It's a neat facility, and it benefits (as does the world at large) from not having any direct competitors.
I hadn't looked at Meetup for a while; it was interesting to see some slight changes. There are now fifteen cities in the UK with Meetups; recent introductions include Nottingham, Derby and Falkirk. It seems slightly wasteful to me to have separate Nottingham and Derby Meetups - perhaps they could have a joint "deciding what the East Midlands Airport should be named" Meetup - but, hey, that's the free market economy for you. Besides, there are separate Liverpool and Manchester Meetups rather than having the two constituencies both commute half-way to Warrington, a trick used back in the day to find somewhere local to both metropoles. It's all one big conurbation anyway, really.
This is not directly of use to me; despite the fact that Middlesbrough is bigger than Falkirk, our nearest Meetup locations are Newcastle, 35 miles to the north, and Leeds, 55 miles to the south; sadly, both are slightly too far away to have good public transport connections home after the time that a Meetup would end. Nevertheless, if there is to be another Meetup between the two, somewhere on Teesside would be appropriate. I think that Meetups are really most likely to work on a conurbation-by-conurbation basis; surely many Newcastle meetup visitors travel from Gateshead or Sunderland, there's no need for Wolverhampton or perhaps even Coventry to meetup separately from Birmingham, and so on. It would be interesting to compare the success of the single Meetup zone of New York City with the many small county-by-county Meetup zones of Greater Los Angeles.
OK, this is technical stuff, but it's a practical application of Metcalfe's Law; the value of a network is proportional to the number of connections it makes, so proportional to the square of the number of users that it connects. This is why a Teesside meetup would be considerably more useful than a Middlesbrough one or a Stockton one (let alone a Hartlepool one or a Darlington one) and why it would really be useful to get the whole of the Tees Valley to get behind a (sub-)regional identity, whichever one is chosen. It's also the reason why you ought to stick with LiveJournal instead of jumping to GreatestJournal or Journalfen or somesuch, but that's another point.
The practical consequence of this is that not a lot of Meetups really do happen; potentially all the intersections of 4,000+ topics times 650+ cities could happen every month, the real-world number of ones that make it to fruition is probably in four figures monthly. Using Meetup to find another Breatharian in Falkirk seems unlikely, alas; unless the number of 1.2 million registered users swells by an order of magnitude or two over the years, then you will still need to live in one of the bigger Meetup areas or to be interested in one of the most popular Meetup topics in order to have a good chance of attending a Meetup that actually takes place in practice rather than in theory. (Bonus points for not being the only person to turn up, obviously.) This is why the stats lists of most popular cities and topics are important. Incidentally, it would be interesting to know whether popular topics and popular cities follow a Zipf distribution, or at least a close-to-power-of--1 power law.
But that's being geeky. Being practical, I looked to see which Meetups were most popular in Newcastle, as it would be quite nice to go to Newcastle and meet more interesting people. Now obviously you wouldn't expect the Meetups dedicated to American politics to be popular in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, so it's not too surprising to note that Newcastle's two most popular topics are "Witches" and "Bookcrossing" (the latter referring to the BookCrossing pay-it-forward book-recycling scheme) these being the two most popular Meetups worldwide excluding the Dean, Kerry and Democratic Party ones. What's Newcastle's #3 topic?
"Meetup with other Vamps, ages 16-19. There are no posers or role players allowed. THIS IS FOR REAL TEEN VAMPIRES."
I'm scared. But not quite in the way they intended. (Their capitalisation, by the way.)
Now, let's be fair. Newcastle's #1 and #2 topics are consistent with the global trend, as discussed. Am I hiding the fact that the Teen Vampires community have all jumped on Meetup? Looking further, it seems that the Teen Vampire community is #11 within Cultures & Community with 2600+ vamplets; Zipfing it up means that Teen Vampires is likely to be somewhere towards the lower reaches of the top hundred. Additionally, looking at the chart of where Teen Vampires hang out, the constituency does skew English. (But Sex In The City skews heavily Asian, which I really would never have guessed.) Outliers happen; realistically, this is an outlier that probably only approaches significance without actually reaching the outer few percent. Other popular Meetups in Newcastle include Ghost Tracking, Goth, age-inclusive Vampire, Anime, Emo (...Phillips? Hmm) and - er - Daniel Radcliffe.
Nevertheless, not quite my cup of tea, nor my neck's cup of tea, so I am not tempted to dive in - recognising, of course, this "looking and deciding not to play" is the attitude which will stop 1.2 million becoming 12 million and the thought of Teesside (or, for that matter, Oxford) getting its own meetings. It's a real shame that there don't seem to be many people who like Imaginitive Toys in Newcastle.