Connective Technologies: Meetup with the State Department

Yesterday I attended a Meetup with the State Department at NAPA. The theme for the event was connective technologies and how can we use the internet as a catalyst to bring people together. The speakers were Alec Ross, Senior Advisor for Innovation in the Office of Secretary of State; Scott Heiferman, Co-Founder & CEO of Meetup; and Andres Glusman, VP of Strategy at Meetup.
How can new technologies be used as a way to dissent?
Alec Ross, opened the session and described the role of new technologies in dissent. He addressed the increasing disruptive effect new media can play in closed societies. Ross talked about his recent trip to Syria and how even as a closed society that has blocked many social networking platforms, the youth have found ways around this and have an active community online, including on Facebook. His main point was looking at how we can harness and service these tools and how technology can be an application for action and advocacy.
How can new technologies aide in assembly and association of individuals?
One thing that Heiferman said that I really liked is that networked information, does not lead to networked people. What he meant by this is that people can be connected on platforms like Facebook but not pursue those networks elsewhere. You can “like” something, but that doesn’t do you any good unless those “likes” can turn into actions. Thus, networks can create “pseudo” members and that does not translate into real members who take action. Fans and followers are not a movement. To have a movement you need self organizers you need “a story of me” to “turn into a story of we.” We need to “use the internet to get off the internet.” Heiferman said that a “movement is not a campaign, trend, media, or awareness” but rather, a movement is “when people identify with it,” “I am an environmentalist”, “a feminist” and etc. And web sites can be instrumental in this. Web pages should enable people to meet up, to organize, and make things happen.
Why Meetup is cool.
The vibrancy of Meetup was highlighted by Andres Glusman. He outline 5 themes around Meetup:
1. Cannot centrally plan or predict how people will meet up. When Meetup first started, the creators had no idea how big this would be for political discussions, or that the the largest demographic would be moms.
2. Anyone can declare a monthly holiday. Anyone can meet up any day and say this is XYZ day.
3. A little love goes a long way. Reaching out an letting people know that another human being cares for them reinvigorates people in many ways.
4. Stroke friendly competition. Competition among groups increases excitement.
5. Don’t be afraid of commitment. Meetup asked users to check a box that say you commit to create real time, face-to-face communities. They thought it would turn people away but instead they saw an increase by around 20% of people meeting face-to-face.
The session concluded discussing the sustainability of Meetups. When people take on roles and responsibility, that is when an event turns into a group and that can turn into a movement.
I definitely see the benefit of connective technologies like Meetup, but I’d like to see more case studies done on Meetup to fully gage its impact. Heiferman touched on some instances abroad that Meetup has been instrumental in engaging political debate.
Do you have any successful (or unsuccessful) stories of using Meetup?
If you haven’t used Meetup before, do you think this can help you or your work?

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