I’ve come to realize that the uphill battle Meetup faces isn’t just getting people away from the screen to go offline & face strangers — nor even having them embrace community or realize the power of self-organized groups. Perhaps the biggest challenge is getting people to see the value in institution, in organization, in structure… a “Meetup Everywhere about Most Everything” means there’s a grounded community organization in-place when you need it. When your social network can’t do what you need. The social graph is great for a lot of things (eg. relationships & help & events), but there’s a need for Organizations. Just-in-time organization is flimsy. It’s not there when you need it. Relationships aren’t in-place. Infrastructure isn’t there. Commitments are weak. Engagement begets durability — structure & relationships that weathers storms.
Based on our growing experience operating Front Porch Forum, I think he’s on to something. People increasingly see FPF as part of the infrastructure around our pilot area. And often the initially weak social connections that happen through FPF grow strong over time because they are made with clearly identified nearby neighbors.
And some folks want FPF to be more than it is… to become an “institution” as Scott describes above. But it’s not that (yet)… FPF is best at introducing people and catalyzing connection and community among neighbors. But they still need the bowling leagues, neighborhood associations, churches, scout troops, schools, etc., to be there over the long haul.