Note: Thanks much for the link love from Green Tech Girl, who wrote about this issue more eloquently and knowledgeably than I ever could!

OK, so it’s probably not as ominous and dramatic as that, but still, I’m a very unhappy camper. :(

Today, I woke up to see that my beloved Meetup group had been thoroughly discombobulated.

Like many organizers on the site, I was crushed to see that the look, content, and ease of use of the group I’ve kept running (and growing) for well over four years could be decimated by the whims of a CEO looking to maximize profit without listening to the users who keep the company afloat.

Meetup never did any beta testing, usability studies, or even asked the people what they want. They simply redesigned our pages, without warning, to maximize the visibility of Sponsors (who aren’t even really sponsors, but people offering 10% off coupons), and minimize everything the organizers do to keep groups successful…as well as make the site look thoroughly unappealing to new members. It’s a slap in the face that a company that I, and many others, have supported throughout the years and credit for the opportunity to build important friendships, relationships, and meaningful experiences, would make these choices.

Worse yet, despite the fact that virtually everyone dislikes this choice, Meetup is not listening. They’re closing down threads on their “forums” that are full of thousands of people listing their complaints. They’ve closed accessibility to their customer service hotline. Concerns are not even being heard, much less addressed. An official statement from a member of Meetup HQ said:

“There are no plans to revert back to the old version of Meetup. If you have suggestions for improvements, or if you’ve come across any bugs that you’d like to report, please take a look at Andrea’s post for more information.

Because we have no plans to revert to the prior version of Meetup, we’ll be closing threads on this forum that are requesting that we do so. Please let us know if there’s anything specific that you’re having trouble with, or any tools that you’re having trouble finding.”

I think this is shameful, and I feel sad, because it’s the first step toward something that’s been an important part of my life on many levels falling apart. I did everything I was supposed to. I built a successful group that is of benefit to many people, to the community, and represents the Meetup idea well. And, still, it’s been damaged and diminished by forces outside my control.

I love Meetup, not only because of the opportunities it’s provided me to contribute to the world in some small way and grow as a person, but because of the role it’s had in my life over the past few years. It introduced me to my boyfriend of over two and a half years, as well as some significant relationships before that. It introduced me to both my present roommate, and my roommate before that, who has become one of my closest friends. It’s introduced me to not just acquaintances, but true friends that are like family to me after just a few years. It’s allowed me to meet people and have experiences, in both my own city and others, that I may not have had otherwise.

And, because I love Meetup, the way they’ve made choices that severely impact my group without consulting me is really a slap in the face. It’s a sad day for me. I feel a little bit like I’m going through a huge breakup I didn’t see coming, with an ex who refuses to communicate with me. :P

For anyone who cares, here’s the letter I sent to Meetup HQ, which they will never read:

Dear Meetup HQ,

Please, just bring the old Meetup back.

Organizers spend a lot of time and energy on putting together what they do. All of that is not only not appreciated, but completely undermined, by a new layout that hides the content Organizers write, overrides the designs they’ve created, and instead features Sponsors (who truly don’t offer anything except discounts off of purchases), and fosters an attitude that Organizers are unnecessary, since almost anyone can do it.

This direction that Meetup is taking is driving people away, both Organizers and community members. As someone with an active group of nearly 1500 that’s been going strong for years, I wonder why the focus on changing what works? The new layout is not friendly, not inviting to new users, and doesn’t give the impression of a community so much as a scheduling tool. That’s not what most are looking for in this site, organizers and users alike.

After nearly a decade of my group being hosted by Meetup, it is a personal affront to me that the group might be harmed by the new layout; members are leaving, I received numerous complaints by people who thought the changes were my responsibility, and people want the old functions back, like the Meetup Stars, and the ability to post comments directly from the Meetup page. Also, just because someone suggests an “Idea” does not make it a “Meetup In The Making”, and it doesn’t mean it’s going to happen…I personally don’t want it lumped in as a “future event” unless it’s something I have planned, not simply something a member suggested.

95% of the Organizers I’ve spoken with agree with me. If Meetup is supposed to be about community, why are you not listening to your community members, rather than rolling out features without asking those that pay to use this service what they think? Even Facebook allows beta testing of new features, and the ability to go back to the old version if you don’t like the changes.

People are leaving this website and investigating alternatives simply because of these changes, so I hope that the CEO and management of Meetup listen. I’d hate to see a great service die because someone took it in a direction the users did not want it to go. (see: MySpace.) Those who are loyal to the vision of Meetup will stay, but only if our interests are being served.

Meetup should at least give us the option to revert back to the old format if we’re not interested in using this new one. The organizers are essential in keeping this site going, and we should have a say, too.

Are you listening, Meetup.Com? No, I didn’t think so.

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