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Montgomerynews.com - Meeting people via the Web
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By: Ilena Di Toro - Correspondent

Montgomerynews.com - Meeting people via the Web

Remember when you were in college and thought you would have it made when you graduated? Great job, great friends, great life. Now that you've graduated and are busy working at your great or not-so-great job, you don't have the circle of friends you once did. It's a matter of who got married, who left the area, or who didn't make much of his or her life. So where does that leave you when it's Friday night and you want to have fun? Do your resign yourself to going out alone or staying at home and watching the latest reality show?

Actually, new friends and adventures await you and they are no further than the Web site MEETin.org. Its slogan is "MEETin groups make friends, NOT money." MEETin.org was started by Mike Heard, who lives in suburban Washington, D.C. In 2003, he wanted to meet other people in the D.C. area, so he started a Yahoo group to post messages for upcoming nights out. (I became a member of the MEETin Philadelphia Chapter in 2004 and have taken part in 17 events.) The unique thing about MEETin is that it is not a dating service. Married people, single people, people in committed relationships are welcome to join. As the MEETin group grew, members wanted to post photos and send messages to each other, so it became necessary to build a Web site. That's how MEETin.org came about. Don't worry - MEETin has a corps of volunteer webmasters to make sure that members aren't spammed or are victims of cyber stalking. Unlike most social networking sites, such as MySpace or Friendster, the focus of MEETin is on local events that bring people together. Also, members, known as meeps, don't have to be a business owner, executive or graduate of a top-tier university to join. According to Heard, a typical meep is someone who is fun, adventurous and has an open mind. "This is what makes the spirit of MEETin so interesting," said Heard in an e-mail. (The interview with Heard was done via e-mail and phone.) "Everyone is here to meet new friends and we all know it." That's not to say that marriages haven't happened. According to Heard, almost every MEETin city has experienced a marriage where the couple first met at a MEETin event. "There have even been reports of MEETin babies," he said.

MEETin has spread from Washington, D.C. to chapters in cities from Albany to Zurich. It is free to join. Each chapter is run by volunteers and events are pay as you go. In July 2006, there was a MEETin.org Convention in Paris, in which 200 members from 14 U.S. and six European MEETin cities, as well as Heard, gathered, had fun and in his words, "...saw parts of Paris that most Parisians don't see." The Paris Convention was the first time a MEETin Convention was held outside the U.S. Previous MEETin Conventions were held in Las Vegas in 2004 and Washington, D.C. 2005. Two members from Paris wanted to host a European version of this event. "[T]hey originally thought it would be a way for European cities to meet, but it turned into a far bigger, more international crowd," said Heard. "One thing we [learned] was not to call it a convention as many Europeans had thought this to be a work related event and not a big party." What do MEETin meeps do when they are together? There are Happy Hours, barbecues, visits to coffee shops, movie events, visits to museums and dinner parties. There are even separate interest groups in MEETin, such as 40+ Members, for those meeps age 40 and above, and a Dieting/Fitness Club. The meeps in MEETin Philadelphia recently did a touristy thing, known as a Photo Trek. This involved participants taking photos of different historical sites in the city, such as Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell Pavilion. During the Photo Trek's lunch break, I asked a few members why they joined. Darryl Spencer, a photographer and DJ from Philadelphia and a MEETin Philadelphia event planner, said, "I needed a bigger circle of friends, since many of my old friends got married. I also needed new ideas of what to do." In a follow-up e-mail he said that the experience has been "amazing" and adds: "It's truly a great organization run by great people that have absolutely added something special to my life." (Spencer has since become the leader of MEETin Lehigh Valley.) Elizabeth Reed works as a development assistant for an educational nonprofit and is a member of MEETin Boston. She visited Philadelphia for the weekend and said of MEETin: "I was a member when it was a Yahoo group and I joined to meet people and do stuff." In a follow-up e-mail she said, "I also like that I can visit other cities and join their events like I did in Philadelphia. I feel like I could go anywhere in the world, make friends and hang out with fun people." Still, after three years and over 60,000 members, Heard is still surprised by how MEETin has changed people's lives. "I'm amazed every day by all of the letters I get from people all over the world who tell me how MEETin touched [their] lives," he said. "I still can not believe there was such a large market for this type of service. Hey, when you got over 700 event planners in [over 80] cities around the globe, with almost 60,000 members who believe in what we are doing, then you know we must be doing something right." So, fun and good times are never more than a mouse click away, thanks to MEETin.org.

02/20/07