This post may well come out sounding like an ad for Meetup.com. Not my intent, but so be it if that's how it comes across.
I'll also state clearly that I don't have any formal connection with Meetup, although I am a co-organizer of the DC/Baltimore Windows App Developers Meetup, and I've also written a couple of APIMASH Starter Kits that leverage the Meetup API.
And last, but not least, I want to emphasize that this does NOT represent the official position of Microsoft, nor my advice as a Technical Evangelist. This is my PERSONAL opinion as someone who's spent many, many years speaking at, attending, and participating in user groups in the DC area and beyond. Reasonable people can certainly disagree, and almost certainly will. And if you're one of them, feel free to leave a comment with your reasoning.
Making the Case for Meetup
The title of this post is a pretty bold statement, as it's meant to be. As background, while I've not run a technical user group of my own, I have been a part of the technical user group community in the Washington, DC area for more than 15 years (and the Mid-Atlantic as a whole for nearly a decade), both as a speaker and in my current role as a Technical Evangelist for Microsoft. During this time, I've seen user groups face numerous challenges with their online presence, including:
- Domain names expiring, due to leadership transitions
- Infrequent (or no) updates to online presence
- Meeting announcements posted only days before the actual meeting
- No formal means of knowing how many folks are going to attend (which makes ordering the right amount of pizza very difficult, I can tell you)
- Poor (or no) communication to members
- No discoverability mechanism for non-members
- Limited extensibility
Now I'll grant that not all user groups have all of the above issues.