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When I first accepted the position of Club Coordinator for this site in early 2004, I advocated the use of the Meetup® tool. At the time, Meetup did not charge for use of its site. In fact, I quite easily created a large number of Meetups around the world just to draw attention to this site and generate interest. These never really gained much traction but did gain visibility -- and controversy -- with yours truly accused of "hijacking" Meetup by at least one Meetup message board poster.
A year after that article's publication, however, Meetup announced it would charge $19 per month per Meetup group. This news totally floored me. Not only did it represent a radical departure from previous Meetup action, but it also stood out from other services like Yahoo! Groups that offer excellent Internet services at no cost. I seriously thought at the time that perhaps Meetup did this deliberately just to drive itself out of business for reasons unknown.
In any case, I opted to dissolve all the Meetups I had created and encouraged members to join this site instead. At the time, it still had a functioning system allowing members to receive e-mails of posts made to their selected forums. Just to keep my options open, however, I did accept the Meetup special offer to "grandfather" myself into the system at $9 per month for the privilege of serving as Organizer for up to three Meetups.
Eventually, the managers for this Web site had to disable the e-mail forwarding feature of the message boards. Various technical difficulties proved insurmountable in maintaining that function. So announcements of upcoming local club meetings posted to this site escaped the attention of those who did not visit the site regularly.
Why a Different Name and Site for the Objectivist Club Network?
As a site fully unto itself, Rebirth of Reason (RoR) enjoys a high degree of control over its content, presence and reputation on the Web. Troublemakers and pretenders meet a swift end through moderation, relegation to the Dissent forum or outright banishment. Live clubs offer a different set of challenges that require different tools. Commensurately, the reputations of the two institutions differ. Mixing the two can lead to negative synergy. Bad representation in one affects the other in ways very difficult to mend.
To forego these risks, the RoR Executive team decided in late 2005 that a different, standalone site for the RoR Local Clubs under a new name would best serve the long range interests of all. What name would best capture the essence of such a club network? Creating a name with a catchy acronym that encapsulates the best of local Objectivist clubs proved a challenge. The honor of identifying that name belongs to the RoR Global Distributor J. J. Tuan. We call it:
PROPEL™: Passionate Rational Objectivists Promoting Exuberant Living™
Slowly Starting Afresh in 2006
My article "Learning Lessons from Meetup" discussed the pros and cons of the famous Internet group organizing tool. The initial ambitious plan of creating a standalone site emulating the features of Meetup have led to a greater appreciation for the work required to create such a site. The managers of the RoR site, after a year of work in their spare time, finally had to abandon the effort and begin anew. Such effort shows just how hard the Meetup people had to toil to create, maintain and continually improve their own site. It also shows why, despite the costs, Meetup remains the tool of choice for anyone seeking a quick, safe, easy way to meet other locals with common interests.
The question remains: How can a global Objectivist club network most effectively use a tool designed for local meetings? To answer this question requires looking at how Meetup first became famous as an organizing tool. Of the thousands of topics that Meetup offers, the Democracy for America (DFA) Meetup topic propelled Meetup into the public spotlight when it propelled Howard Dean into serious contention as a Democratic presidential candidate. According to a January 2004 article in Wired magazine:
Meetup quickly became the engine of Dean's Internet campaign. Back then, the leading group on the site was a club for witches. Zephyr Teachout, Dean's director of Internet outreach, describes sitting across from campaign manager Joe Trippi in the early weeks and hitting Refresh again and again on her Web browser. "I was obsessed with beating Witches," she says. "Witches had 15,000 members, and we had 3,000. I wanted first place."
Three thousand is a small number. But all campaigns depend on a feedback loop, and 3,000 passionate supporters who are connected via the Internet are influential in a way that an equivalent crowd would never be if you had to gather it via direct mail or a telephone survey. Dean's Meetup members quickly recruited others, and by late March Dean had beaten Witches.
Granted, at the time, Meetup charged nothing for its services. Nevertheless, even if it did charge for them, the thousands of committed DFA members willing to spend vast amounts of time and money on campaign efforts would easily have paid those costs. Even today, a survey of the DFA section of Meetup shows many thousands still registered in those Meetups -- and those Meetups would not still exist without someone financing them.
Thus Hub and Spoke Zarathustra
Fortunately, as a "for profit" entity that relies on customer satisfaction, Meetup has consistently listened to its user base and enhanced its features. When it first started, Meetup recognized no formal Organizers, relying instead on a local voting method to determine when and where the consensus would meet for a given topic. It eventually allowed willing members to step to the plate and serve as Organizers for local groups. Later, it authorized each Organizer to select up to three Assistant Organizers to help with each Meetup. Today, Meetup allows each group one primary Organizer and as many as twenty Assistant Organizers. This means an Organizer can actually have a Meetup that covers a large geographical area like an entire state and then recruit Assistant Organizers to conduct events in their respective cities. Imagine all fifty American states each with an Ayn Rand Meetup consisting of twenty local groups adding up to one thousand Objectivist clubs nationwide!
This "hub and spoke" approach makes individual Meetups much more affordable. It also allows for statewide communications about events that might interest all parties in that region. Suppose, for instance, that a notable Objectivist scholar comes to speak at an event over a hundred miles away. Persons who might not normally travel that distance for an ordinary event might certainly make the commute for that special event.
Locating Spiritual Soul Mates
Just as important a change comes in the form of Meetup topics that Organizers consider related to Ayn Rand. Meetup now allows Organizers to associate up to three other topics with their main topic. For instance, the Ayn Rand Meetup I organize in Florida lists Atheists, Philosophy and Agnostic as three related topics. In other words, someone interested in any of those four topics can do a search on Meetup and find my local Meetup.
Keeping Costs Reasonable
Meetup offers specials in which Organizers can pay six months of fees in advance for an effective cost of $12 per month -- a 37% savings off the regular price. Drawing large numbers of interested parties into a single, statewide umbrella makes managing costs simple and fairly painless. Other Ayn Rand Meetups have already paved the way for newcomers to learn. The very successful and highly praised North Texas Objectivist Society offers the best plan I have seen. They post on their site a "suggested donation" of $10 per person per year after six event visits. This means that no one has to pay before the fact to join a group that may prove unsavory, yet no one gets a long range free lunch, either. PayPal makes collecting these funds a snap.
Essential Components of the PROPEL Web Site
To become effective, the PROPEL Web site needs several components such as:
1. All club related RoR material migrated to the PROPEL site
2. A unique logo to create a distinguished brand recognition
3. Links to the statewide Meetup groups that bear the PROPEL name
4. Downloadable literature such as a global PROPEL brochure
5. Shared links between RoR, PROPEL and Objectivism 101
Eventually, technology may advance to the point where PROPEL can stand fully on its own with a functionality competitive with Meetup. Until that time, I have not seen another tool that offers the kind of functionality that Meetup offers, and it just seems to get better as time progresses.
What to Do Right Now
For now, I currently serve as official Organizer for an Ayn Rand Meetup in each of three different states: Colorado, Florida, and Illinois. I have located Assistant Organizers in all three states to help with conducting events in their areas: Will Providence conducts events in Denver, Colorado; I conduct events in Merritt Island and Viera, Florida; Rick Gaber conducts events in Orlando, Florida; and Tatiana McGarry conducts events in Chicago, Illinois. Although these currently bear the RoR name, I intend to change these to PROPEL with the publication of this article.
Based on the anticipated use of the Meetup tool, I encourage all readers to join Meetup at no cost and register their interest in Ayn Rand and any other topics that interest them. As financing PROPEL improves through various creative ways such as Meetup sponsorship, PROPEL can expand its base gradually, state by state.
Long Range Vision for PROPEL
I published an article in May 2006 outlining the blueprint for the global Objectivist club network. That vision remains essentially the same. To buttress that vision, let me suggest some ways in which PROPEL can employ the tools outlined in that blueprint.
1. The PROPEL moniker rather than Luke Setzer assumes the role of Organizer for all the various PROPEL Meetups. This allows for an easy transition should Luke Setzer ever resign his post as PROPEL Club Coordinator.
2. In conjunction with Meetup, PROPEL serves primarily as a catalyst to ignite events in areas where clearly an established set of people already have an interest in Ayn Rand. For instance, no formal Ayn Rand Meetup existed in Chicago, Illinois on January 1, 2007. In less than a month, the establishment of a formal Meetup there led to the joining of 42 members.
3. The celebration of unique Objectivist holidays such as Celebrate Capitalism Day would most likely demand concentration in high population density areas. The "hub and spoke" approach of statewide Meetups allows for easy communication to all who want to commute in support of those events.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
Q: Why would I have any interest in meeting other Objectivists? I already dislike most of the ones I meet on the Internet forums!
A: The "Greater Internet F***wad Theory" applies.
Normal Person + Anonymity + Audience = Total F***wad
People tend to show more courtesy when in striking distance. Give it a try.
Q: I understand Objectivism already and get my discussion needs met online. Why do I need PROPEL?
A: Look inward at your need for emotional bonding. What sorts of people do you want to encounter? A survey of Objectivists found that they most wanted opportunities for friendship and romance when in social contact with other Objectivists. Knowledge and activism ranked lower on their values lists. Internet transactions cannot substitute for genuine human contact and bonding.
Q: Get a life! Why are you doing this, Luke? Do you have a Messiah complex? Are you trying to save the world from itself?
A: No, I simply have a great deal of empathy for those who would like to make friends and form meaningful bonds with rational individualists. Sadly, most people accept false ideas like mysticism and altruism and this leads to enormous pain in all relationships via the demand for self-sacrifice of body and soul. Life might be and ought to be better than that. Besides, I never learned to like sports and have few other hobbies. This is my hobby.
Q: I want nothing to do with people who support the ______ (Ayn Rand Institute, Atlas Society, etc.)
A: You will find a mix of all types. Use your best judgment to cull the wheat from the chaff and bond accordingly. If you prefer staying home alone or spending time with mystics, altruists and collectivists to get your emotional needs met, feel free to do so.
Q: I have no interest in paying money to meet other Objectivists when I can contact them privately via e-mail at no cost.
A: You can spend your money however you like -- and get exactly for what you pay. Broadly speaking, wisely spent money generates manifold paybacks when contrasted against utter cheapness. Evaluate this proposition yourself and spend accordingly.
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