The most effective local community-enhancing tool I know of is Meetup. This service helps you find, recruit, manage, and cultivate people in a local area who are, or could be, sharing an issue, idea, or passion. Let’s say you are a barefoot runner who wants to meet other local barefoot runners, or you are an activist trying to stop land mines in wars and want to engage other like-minded locals, or maybe you have a crazy idea for a new kind of retail store and you want to network with other retail business people. In each case, you can use Meetup to help find others, to help them find you, and most importantly to help you schedule and curate face-to-face meetings gathered around your interest. Meetups can range in size from less than 5 people to more than 500.
I used Meetup (with Gary Wolf) to launch and operate the Quantified Self movement, which now holds regular meetings in almost 100 cities around the world. I’ve also used Meetup to start a community of self publishers in our vicinity interested in sharing their best practices for e-books. And Meetup has saved me much trouble and effort in another way: when I have a yearning to connect to something new to me I often find that someone has already started a local Meetup with this idea or passion. Meetup makes it easy to evaluate and join an ongoing local community. Meetup is 100 times easier than trying to organize a meeting or event by hand. It automates the notifications, the who-is-attending list, the agenda (or not), the map to the meeting place, the calendar, the history of past meetings. Essentially, Meetup makes meeting as self-organizing as possible. Members who attend a meetup rate the meeting afterwards, so there is feedback in improving them.
Every Meetup is run differently. Many are casual, open to anyone, and free. Some organizers charge membership dues as the number of people attending increases; some charge event fees. The Meetup software handles all these payment options superbly. It does not cost anything to get a Meetup account, or join most Meetups, but it does cost something to organize a Meetup. The “organizer dues” needed to run up to three Meetups is $12 month. If you’ve ever tried to organize regular meetings of any size, you’ll recognize this self-organizing tool as a bargain.
Our seventh Quantified Self Meetup. A decent monthly group of this size was only possible for us because of Meetup.