Sunday, September 28, 2008

"Bloggers of Sydney Meetup Group is closed"

My still-fledgling Bloggers of Sydney Meetup Group was closed yesterday "because nobody stepped up to become the Organizer", or so said the Meetup email message. Quelle surprise!

"But don't worry!" it continues, "There are over 48,963 groups on Meetup with 128 groups near Sydney. You can join another Meetup Group and meet up with real people who share your interests."

Oh yeah?

Meetup started out as a free site, and it's still free to join up. As a few very strange individuals have proven, it's possible to join every one of those 128 Sydney groups and make out you are into every hobby, pastime or interest listed, but never turn up to any of them. Eventually, Meetup started to charge group organisers a fee - you can run three groups for the monthly charge, which is very reasonable if you run a moderately-sized group and everyone dutifully tosses a coin into the hat at each meeting.

What it doesn't cover are the groups that attract only one or two other people to each meeting - usually a different one or two, frustratingly enough. I've corresponded with a TV interest group out of New York, whose coordinator boasted his false advertising of a "free trip to Hawaii" prize (his co-leader was going anyway), and supplying enough free alcohol at meetings to get the women tipsy so the guys who attended would have a better chance of scoring for the weekend. If that's what I was supposed to do to attract more people to Sydney Meetups, then "No, thank you".

Re the Bloggers group: I still don't understand it. People joined with such enthusiasm - we gathered about 30 people over the first six months - but it was as if the act of joining was the end of all participation. The inaugural meeting was very encouraging, but it was to be a one-off success. The worst event involved me travelling into the city (from the outskirts of Sydney) on a weeknight - additional to my regular Thursday night trip - because a few people had said Thursdays were impossible. So we tried a Wednesday, and I was expecting to meet seven other bloggers at the Attic Bar of the ArtHouse Hotel. An hour later, I was still sitting there alone for an hour, with my pathetic little sign on the table - and then Neerav turned up, after having already RSVPed "No". (I was so glad to see him, but all we could do was commiserate and try to understand why no one else could keep commitments.)

The other local Bloggers group supposedly has over 100 people - and only about five of them have even gone back to the site regularly since it was reactivated, even though they'd all get regular automated emails from it, and I did several mail outs. Strange. I've stepped down from an organisational role with their group, too. Maybe someone else can resurrect that particular phoenix, but I doubt it.

Way back in about 1998, I joined an Australian site called School Friends, which expanded to include New Zealand, then UK and is now international and known as Friends Reunited. It, too, was originally free, then started charging a smallish fee to be able to send messages. Receiving messages, and replying to old, stored messages was still free. I chose not to pay but there was nothing more frustrating that to get an unexpected email about an old friend or work colleague, and have to consider if they were worth paying a fee just to be able to read the contents of their message. Savvy use of Google was often enough to track them down via their other web presences, but that didn't always work.

Friends Reunited eventually locked all old correspondence stored on the site, unless you became a paying member. Interestingly enough, earlier this year, Friends Reunited again became completely free - Facebook and MySpace would be huge competition to pay sites - but I've have very little reaction to attempts to contact people from those now-free Friends Reunited lists. Probably people haven't returned to update email addresses.

Only this morning, a penpal in the USA mentioned a scam from a big, similar reunion site he'd joined. When first joining, as a free member, he'd performed a search for someone but they weren't listed. now, he's received a message that records show that person has signed up to look for him. He can't read their details (beyond some very sketchy ones) until he becomes a premium paying member of the service but... he originally signed up with a pseudonym, so there's no way that person was searching for him under that alias.

How long before Facebook starts to charge a monthly fee, I wonder, or will the advertising keep it afloat?

A bizarre little item while playing around with Facebook last night: a message on a friend's page that said something like, "You would not believe what someone just said about you on this blog...", and when you click on the hyperlink provided, it takes you to a facsimile of the Facebook page, and puts up a "Please enter your username and password to read this message". Curiouser and curiouser... A quick glance at the URL revealed "fanebook", not "facebook". It was yet another phishing expedition!

Where there's a will there's a scam.

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