Internet

How Meetup Screwed Up

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The last 24 or so hours at Meetup.com is a good case study in how not to rollout a major site upgrade. Since the controversial upgrade, the only “official” response has been one lone representative in the organizer boards, who seems to spend more time locking threads than responding to issues. @Meetup has also posted the following tweet:

We don’t have any plans to roll back the design. :-/ Anything we can do to help? You can contact us here: http://meetu.ps/7JF2

Umm…yeah, is anything you can do to help, Meetup? How about: Roll back your design! I wish we could have taken a look at the best gun safes before buying one.

Into this leadership void, competitor Groupspaces.com has jumped in, by not only tweeting their info to the #newmeetup Twitter crowd, but with a full-on blog post:

In light of the recent updates to Meetup.com, we realise that many organizers have been left with a site that no longer satisfies their needs. In response to all your enquiries, we’d like to say hello, welcome and tell you more about how GroupSpaces can be used for running meetups with a quick guide to using our site.

[More here: http://blog.groupspaces.com/a-free-alternative-to-the-new-meetup]

They even found my blog here and posted a comment responding to my concern over lack of local search functionality. You can bet they are going to add that soon, making them an even more viable option to Meetup.

So here is a quick list of things of where Meetup went wrong:

1. Not getting their organizers and members on board to help with beta testing, feedback and QA on the new upgrade. And let’s get our terms clear here: It’s not just a new “design,” but a new functionality that drastically changes the core way Meetup works, by making it into more of  a “flashmob” style web application instead of a basic event calendar with social tools.

2. Not responding more proactively to the complaints when they came in. I emailed my complaint early yesterday and so far, I’ve only received a canned response. I’ve gotten no official email from Meetup explaining their position either way, and I would have expected by this time that they would have sent out a mass email saying something, even if it was to justify their mess. They also should have posted some sort of blog or announcement to the community that they were listening. Instead, they have stuck their heels in the sand, defensively trying to justify their choices and shutting off any suggestions to roll back to the previous design.

3. Completely misunderstanding their customers and audience. It’s clear from the lame attempts at casual lingo (“Count me in!” instead of “RSVP”) that Meetup is trying to go for trendy rather than functional. I’m wondering if they have anyone on their team who is older than 30. What they don’t get is that Meetup has been used by organizations and groups who are run by and frequented by adults. Some of them quite mature. Here’s a snippet from one comment by an organizer on the board:

Sudden, radical changes to functionality have to stop. My average member is 60 yrs old, and is not the type to “click around” the site to figure out how to do things the new way. They also become frustrated when they do not find functionality they used to have (e.g. Maybe) because they cant find it. They dont know that Meetup REMOVED it.

The human factor engineering is sadly lacking at Meetup. How many DESIGNERS and QA TESTERS do you have that can look thru the lens of a 50, 60, 70, or even 80 y.o.? Thats MY membership – 187 of them. I have retired from 40 YEARS as a designer, developer, tester, and customer advocate in the software industry. I look at your product’s usability and would fire you all for your lack of knowledge of your customer’s needs.

Any company that wants a big piece of the Internet pie and ignores aging baby boomers online is run by idiots.

Unfortunately, at this point, it’s not looking good that Meetup will respond to their customers and go back to the old Meetup. They seem to be driven by some sort of “vision” – and I’ll be it’s one of those egotistical, pie-in-the-sky things, like “We’re going to change the face of online to f2f community!!!!” – rather than getting down to business.

Now, there’s some history of Meetup pissing off its base. 37signals shares the following in an article called “Scott Heiferman Looks Back at Meetup’s Bet-the-Company Moment,” back when Meetup went from free to charging organizers:

Meetup wasn’t expecting the harsh response. “We were really naive,” says Scott Heiferman, founder of the site. “We figured that if people didn’t like it, they would just say, ‘OK, I’m not going to do this.’ As opposed to really taking it personally. Because this wasn’t like we were taking away their medicine. But people were so upset and we got such anger and such vitriol. The backlash was very bad. And we were surprised by that.”

[More here: http://37signals.com/svn/posts/2751-scott-heiferman-looks-back-at-meetups-bet-the-company-moment-]

You’d think Meetup would have learned from the first time around, but it looks like it may be the reverse. They’ve had more success after pissing people off the first time, so why not piss them off again? They must be thinking they’ll recover from this.

I’m not so sure. While there will be a lot of people who stay with Meetup out of inertia or entrenchment, I’ve seen more who are not already ready to go, but have packed their bags. See, the difference between then and now is that it’s one thing to take something you’ve gotten for free, and start charging for it. It’s quite another to mess up a product that people have been paying good money for and investing their heart and souls into. Meetup is not cheap and can end up costing around $200/year for organizers. That’s no chump change.

Many organizers, who have spent years nurturing their communities, feel absolutely betrayed by Meetup. And they’ve also lost trust in the company. Certainly, I would think twice about relying on Meetup at this point, simply because I can’t say for sure when they might pull the rug out yet again and totally change their functionality on a whim.

I have this sense that Meetup wants to go beyond just groups and become some sort of flashmob Twitter/Facebook hybrid. Well, that’s all good and dandy, but that’s not something I want to pay for. Heck, I wouldn’t even use it if it were free. But you know, I’m 40 and not interested in teeny-bopper stuff anymore. But Meetup doesn’t get that there’s an audience of people past 30 who go online….and believe it or not, we spend money too!

Into this gaping hole of opportunity rush hungry companies like Groupspaces, which has already proved it is a bit more on the ball in regards to responsiveness than Meetup. Hubvine is a new start-up shared by a now former Meetup organizer as a new and upcoming calendar/events application.

Will they learn from Meetup’s mistakes? Or get sidetracked by their own sense of self-importance. We shall see…

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