MeetUp.com has changed a lot since it was originally founded in 2001. The website that heralds itself as a place where it is “easy for anyone to organize a local group or find one of the thousands already meeting up face-to-face” came under fire—not for the first time—last year after its re-launch included layout and design changes that users felt looked cheap and unattractive, and which downgraded photos, and allowed any member of a MeetUp group to organize events despite the fact that only lead organizers were hit with MeetUp’s high monthly fees. Since then, loyalty to the site has splintered, and the idea behind it: that the accessibility of the internet makes it the best way to meet people, and that meeting people in person is the best way to utilize the advantages of web organizing, has given birth to a number of alternative websites which offer a variety of features for people looking to organize groups as well as those looking to meet-up.
Here’s a list of some of the best MeetUp alternatives the web currently has to offer:
A free and well designed site that offers its organizers lots of special features like customized membership forms, and secure, highly-searchable, databases (especially useful for larger groups) that members can use to update their own information, and that can be refined for privacy, allowing the organizer to determine what information should be visible to the group, and what information should be kept at the administrative level. The site also allows members to share management responsibilities with a feature that grants administrative access to a single area, or to share the ability to manage the entire group. Other perks include: membership dues which can be tracked and processed through PayPal or via credit card, automatic renewal reminders, the ability to create subgroups, discussion forums, news blasts, and member polls, document archives, and a classifieds section.Their events calendar can be synced to Google, Outlook, or iCal, and unlimited storage for shared photos is readily available. And if you already have a website, you can link to it and publicize it through Bigtent.
This website is free for groups with fewer than 250 members, charging $8/month after that for up to 500 members. Another carefully designed website, GroupSpaces allows organizers to customize every aspect of their group site—color, text, background, and advertisements can all be personalized. Members of this site can personally message each other and connect via Twitter and LinkedIn. Their photo gallery allows photos and images to be added to pages, newsletters, events, and the group’s homepage. Special features include: Facebook integration, which allows events to be simultaneously posted to Facebook, a database (similar to Bigtent’s) for membership information storage and tracking, newsletter templates, and a wiki feature that uses group knowledge to benefit everyone.
More geared toward professional groups than other like-minded sites, GroupLoop offers free monthly membership for groups with fewer than 25 members, one committee, 3MB of file storage, and only 12 calendar events, but after that the fees start to pile up. For a Silver group (that’s a group with 500 or more members) GroupLoop offers the ability to create up to ten committees, and use 500MB of file storage, but the monthly fee is $99. As a group grows so does its allowances regarding how many calendar events it can use, and how much storage is offered—the fees reflect those increased offerings. GroupLoop offers many of the same features as other group networking websites, but gears itself toward Chamber groups, non-profits, Boards, and Associations. This may be a website for meeting-up with people you already know or work with more than it is a website for meeting new, like-minded individuals.
Calling itself the largest social group in the world, and decrying the joys of making friends in the real world using the web, this site is not for the aesthetically delicate. While its utilitarian design may not inspire awe, it is completely volunteer run, and completely free to use. The site makes it a point to emphasize how very free their services are by explaining: “at a dinner event you pay the restaurant, but the host is not allowed to charge extra fees.” This site is the opposite of GroupLoop, the banner running across its homepage even discourages using this kind of social networking under the pretense of making business connections. Meeting people is fun, and fun is what MEETin encourages its members to have.
For people who are only planning to organize free events, this is a good website to use. SureToMeet charges dues only if event attendees are required to pay. Similar to MEETin, this site could use a few finishing touches, and it is considerably less easy to navigate than Bigtent or GroupSpaces, but for all intents and purposes it offers many of the same quality features as other, more visually blessed websites. For those users tired of organizer fees, and other MeetUp changes, SureToMeet may not be the best way to meet people, but it will definitely be better.