Scott Heiferman shares was he has learned about creating community in his experience as the founder and CEO of Meetup.com, a social networking site that facilitates real-world networks. Read Scott’s full bio here…
Click here to watch the Scott’s full interview, “MeetUp & the Return of the Offline Community.”
Ramona: You’ve said a decade ago that you were a tech-minded introvert who predicted that virtual connections would trump face-to-face. What changed?
Scott: Well you know, I think that in its sort of over-anonymous, over-industrialized culture you realize that local is important and face-to-face is important. And you know, the story of Meetup is that when 9/11 happened you know I talked to more neighbours in the days after 9/11 than I had in the previous years of living in New York and what that was about was realizing that you know there is a value to face-to-face, that we’ve evolved as a species to get something out of face to face that we don’t get in virtual worlds.
What’s on the screen is only going to get more interesting and more interesting, and more interesting. But there is something about face-to-face too. And so it’s not one is good and one is bad but we do get something from face to face that can’t be replicated on a screen.
A return to the local?
Scott: We actually, like you know, have a terrestrial existence and the idea of your best friend being in China and your food coming from Australia, there’s an unsustainability of that existence. If you indeed get something out of face-to-face, that’s really vital to your being, and there’s less face to face happening, and if everything is from “there,” then it is a um, anonymous culture.
People are going to care for each other more if they’re interacting and doing commerce with people that they actually have some contact with. There’s actually a necessity for some trust.
How do we facilitate trust?
Scott: We’re really fighting for at Meetup is not just like “it’s about online vs. offline” it’s about saying that are there actual real local communities of people who can depend on each other for different things, help each other out, work together, collaborate, converse, cooperate, and you know do the stuff that a real community does. Be what a real community is. And it just so happens that it is really unlikely to be that kind of community with your relationships if there isn’t some bit of being offline.
Ramona: It almost seems like a huge sigh of relief to feel like, wow we can actually trust each other, and wow, if we don’t have the money, we can help each other out.
Scott: it’s all I think very early in that revolution and this is a generational shift.
Are we redefining community?
Scott: To participate is to be alive you know, and you know there has been such a misuse of the word community through the years. Any media brand or whatever they’ll say, “we have this community of people,” – a community of people who have never met each other, who don’t talk to each other, who are not turning to each other.
The revolution that’s going on is people turning to each other. They were turned away from each other and looking at you know, big media and eating big food in a world of big finance and big industry and they’re saying, “Hey no wait, we can entertain each other, we can sell each other’s stuff, rent each other’s stuff, share each other, we can babysit each other’s kids which happens coming out of the mom’s Meetups. We can read our scripts at the scriptwriting Meetups. This is just simple, real life stuff, you know and participating means like just being alive.
Ramona: Based on the success of Meetup there is something that we can learn about in fact about humanity – what people are drawn to, and what kind of groups and why people want to be a part of these groups and those experiences that you’ve seen.
Scott: Yeah, absolutely you know, we’re coming up on a hundred million RSVPs to all the Meetups and one of the most common words we hear coming out of that experience of people is… or when they describe what happened at a Meetup is they say “well we said let’s.” You know that there is this beautiful sort of wake-up.
We’ve been pulled apart, not turning to each other, not looking to each other for a long time and now saying, “Hey, we’ve got a lot of power together as people.”
- There’s a quality to face-to-face interaction that cannot be achieved online
- Technology can be used to facilitate communities coming together in the real world
- A real “community” is one that people participate in in offline
- Meetup helps groups of people find each other and get together to collaborate, cooperate and help each other in the real world
- Participating and getting involved in society is an essential part of living