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Emergent people seen heading for the exit

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Scott Heiferman's Meetup.com - the site beloved by Howard Dean supporters, Segway enthusiasts, and Flame Warrior Coffee Klatches, is to begin charging for its services.

A Meetup meeting organizer must now pay $19 a month to use the software. Not surprisingly, a phlegmatic Heifermann is braced for a rush towards the exit door.

"We expect to lose a lot of groups," he said, frankly.

However, Meetup.com sees this as a quasi-Darwinian struggle, in which the strong will survive.

“The Group Fee will weed out less committed groups," reckons the FAQ. What less committed groups does he have in mind, we wondered?

Then we remembered Scott's own description of the Meetup.com constituency. In December Heiferman had told a gathering of activists at the Berkman Center's Votes Bits and Bytes conference at Harvard, that the English language couldn't adequately describe the revolutionary implications of Meetup.com

"We need a new term for this!" he said, suggesting the phrase, "Flash, Emergent, People-Powered, Long-Lasting, Open, Influential, Agile, Chapter-Based Institutions, Organizations, Unions, Coalitions, Associations With Card Carrying Members Engaged In Collective Action!"

Friendster-style web sites have received plenty of hype, based on the belief that from such "social networks", cybernetic patterns will emerge that teach us something we didn't already know. But the new arrivals have struggled to make money. The CEO of the successful (and profitable) dating site Friendfinder, Andrew Conru, probably described why better than anyone.

"I'd like to see the conversion rate when Friendster starts charging for the service. How many people will pay even $10 or even $5 a month, when they have access to their Outlook Express inbox for free?" he asked.

"Some people really want to let the network do our socializing. But once people have met other people, they get on with the rest of their lives."

Once you have an internet connection, email, like Craigslist, incurs no extra charges. ®

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