In this article, I use "MeetUp" (CamelCase) to refer exclusively to meetups on MeetUp.com. I will continue to attending Less Wrong meetups, SSC meetups and so on. I also plan to continue using MeetUp.com to meet locals when traveling. This post is concerned with attending MeetUps as a local.
I added MeetUp.com to my website blocker today. It all started two weeks ago when I was leading a hiking MeetUp. I had hoped to meet interesting people. The people I was hiking were so boring they literally cascaded me into the Dark Night of the Soul for the first time. Going hiking with these people somehow managed to be less interesting than sitting motionless in silence while staring at a blank wall.
The hike was productive in the sense that it brought me closer to Universal Truth. It was a waste of time in the sense that I didn't make any friends. This isn't unusual. I have never made a new friend at a MeetUps. It is not for lack of trying. I have participated in language exchange MeetUps, technical MeetUps, spiritual MeetUps, outdoors MeetUps, lockpicking MeetUps and educational MeetUps. I have attended MeetUps, founded MeetUp groups and organized events for established MeetUp groups. I have attended MeetUp group regularly and bounced around. I have never, in several years of using MeetUp, made a long-term friend via the platform.
MeetUp.com generates fewer friends for me per unit time invested than social dancing, sports, camping, drawing clubs, conversation exchange, dinner parties, Less Wrong meetups in meatspace, SSC meetups in cyberspace and even blogging.
MeetUp is supposed to be an efficient way of making friends. MeetUp.com is actually an awful way of making friends. MeetUp.com suffers from the same problem as legible cities. The top-down design homogenizes everything.
It's hard to design a utopia that isn't a dystopia because top-down design imposes homogeneity. Homogeneity is dystopic. Eutopia (a society that maximizes fun) is dishomogeneous. You never know what's on the other side of the mountain.
Mediums overpower messages. On MeetUp.com, the medium is an event posting. Organizers get one image, a time, a location and a block of text. Individual groups cannot express themselves through branding. They can't even use hyperlinks. MeetUp groups have less creative freedom than the ads in a physical newspaper. They are stuck with MeetUp.com's corporate branding.
Environmental context is really important when you're creating a community. When I hosted the Seattle Robot Cult, everyone reading about it instantly understood that this would be a savage no-nonsense no-excuses club of stubborn tenacious people. Because I put it on top of a mountain.
MeetUp.com is a bad place for making friends because individual MeetUp groups lack the freedom to build their own sub-websites. MeetUp.com like Facebook.com. Facebook.com sucks.