Going online to Meetup

Katrina Breen
Summary 
Meetup is an online community where anyone can start a group and post events for people to meet face-to-face. It has hundreds of groups in Victoria, and for all kinds of interests. The site is easy to navigate and you can receive email notifications of events. Groups for people with disabilities in Melbourne include The Treehouse for people with Autism Spectrum Disorders and their families, and the Melbourne Wheelchair, Disability & Friends Social Group. Through Meetup people have found groups to do activities with, made new friends and had positive experiences which may never have otherwise happened.
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Katrina Breen on 24/06/2014
Four men sit around a table at a restaurant.
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You can make new friends.

Meetup is an online social community portal that people join in order to meet other people face-to-face. Most groups are free to join and many have free or very low-cost events. People who set up and organise their own Meetup group pay a small fee to advertise on the site.

I discovered the site because I had been trying to find online groups that had members living in or near Melbourne that I could regularly meet. Through Meetup I have attended bike rides, walks, business networking events, coffees, a book discussion, and personal development/spiritual groups. I like knowing that any time I might want to get out of the house and meet with people, Meetup is there for that purpose.

How Meetup started

Scott Heiferman and a small group of people in New York City began Meetup following the 9/11 terrorist attack. They noticed that suddenly New Yorkers were being friendly more towards each other and helping one another. They decided they would try to devise a way to grow local communities online. Ten years later, there are approximately 100 000 Meetup groups around the world and ten million members.

The Treehouse

The Treehouse is a very popular social support group in Geelong for people with Autism Spectrum Disorders and their families. Sharon and John Demopoulos have two sons on the autism spectrum and they run the site. Sharon used to use a free website to promote The Treehouse but then moved the group to Meetup. She found a number of advantages in using Meetup including its ease of use for both her and the group's members. Like most group organisers on Meetup, Sharon is able to post events herself. Other functions of Meetup include RSVP features, online discussions, automated email notifications and reminders for members,

Wheelchair, disability and friends

Lou Ellen Deyzel started Melbourne Wheelchair, Disability & Friends Social Group about a year ago. She did this after finding very few social groups existed for people with mobility challenges.

Lou speaks of the sense of relief amongst the participants of being able to go out and about with friends and enjoy each other's company. Recently they were watching the penguins at the zoo and she recalls the good time they had together.

We laughed and laughed and laughed, she says.

Lou has continued to use Meetup for her group because a large number of people now use it. According to Lou, there is a market for groups like Meetup where you can go to a website and look for groups to join and have some fun.

Zora's Explorers

Divine writer Bernadette Lancefield set up her own Meetup group a few years ago. The group's name Zora Explorer's was named after her seeing -eye dog Zora.

Bernadette had been unable to find a social group that was ideal for her, or outside of office hours. Since she has set it up, like Sharon, she has liked the ease of setting up events and the automatic notifications.

It is better than sending out emails, says Bernadette.

People can easily navigate the site, seeing future and past events that illustrate what the group is about, and this makes it seem more official than some online groups. As a group organiser Bernadette likes being able to know who is attending or not attending an event, to read people's profiles, and to know which members are currently active in the group because it shows when a member last visited. A downside is that it is not completely accessible with Screen Reader for people with a vision impairment.

Zora's Explorers has worked really well but because it is small group and now has very few people joining through Meetup, Bernadette has decided to close down the Meetup group when the current paid period expires. She has decided she will instead use a Facebook group and email and phone.

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Zora's Explorers on Divine

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