Priceonomics

On October 3rd, 2015, twenty-two members members of the Bay Area Ghost Hunters Meetup got together to go to a cemetery. The group got a private tour of the Historic San Lorenzo Pioneer Cemetery and searched for a “touch of the paranormal.” Afterwards, one attendee reported that it was “informative” and “a bit spooky and fun.”

The Bay Area Ghost Hunters is the largest Paranormal Meetup in the United States with almost 1,500 members. “Skepticism is appreciated," its homepage tells prospective members, "but close-mindedness is not.”

The existence of the Bay Area Ghost Hunters -- and, for that matter, all activities posted on Meetup -- is evidence of interest from community members in a particular subject. In America, only 0.1% of all Meetup sign-ups are for groups focused on the paranormal, but in San Jose, where the “Ghost Hunters” are based, signups are four times as likely to be for this kind of gathering. In fact, San Jose is among the top ten of the 150 cities with the most Meetup sign-ups in terms of the proportion of sign ups for "paranormal" groups.

Beyond just the paranormal, Meetup groups provide a unique glimpse into the passions and concerns of Americans.

We collected data on each of the 127,000 Meetup events created in the United States since 2002 and analyzed this data to understand what people care about across the country. What we found confirmed several city stereotypes: the Bay Area is the home of tech, New York is the epicenter of fashion, and D.C. reigns supreme in multiculturalism. We also looked into what Meetup data tells us about the other homes of tech, and the cities most interested in music, and finding love. 

Meetup CEO and Co-Founder Scott Heiferman at the White House Tech Meetup.

According to Meetup's founder, the origins of the company begin in post-9/11 New York. 

Scott Heiferman and Matt Meeker were serial entrepreneurs looking for their next gig. After the attack on the World Trade Center, the two men had noticed that New Yorkers relished the opportunity to join together as a community. Influenced by this reaction (and by Robert Putnam’s book Bowling Alone, which describes the decline of civic organizations in the second half of the 20th Century), Meeker and Heiferman believed that people were in desperate need of communities. 

They also believed there was money to be made in sparking the rise of these communities. So, the entrepreneurs started a website to “get people off the Internet”.

Meetup.com launched in June 2002. Within two years, there were well over one thousand Meetups; within six years, there were more than 10,000. Today, according to the Meetup website, there are over 220,000 Meetup groups in 181 countries. More than 24 million people have signed up for the site.

We collected data from the Meetup API on American Meetups and found that, as of January 7, 2015, there were 127,630 groups in the United States with an average of 311 members per group. Although our data does not allow us to isolate exactly how many Americans are users, we found there were 39.6 million total signups (keep in mind that a single person can sign up for multiple groups). 

Though Meetup users are not perfect representatives of the country as a whole, this is still one of the biggest available datasets of American past times. We analyzed this data to see what it can tell us about Americans’ hobbies and interests. 

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When a Meetup group is created by a user, it is assigned to one of 33 general categories. The following table displays the number of groups that fall under each of these categories. Many of these groups may no longer be active, as we are unable to obtain data on when they last met.

Career/Business and Tech groups are the most common Meetups, making up about a quarter of all groups. Career/Business groups can be of all sorts, from those focused on general subjects like entrepreneurship or real estate, to more specific subjects, like the 1,300 member strong Nashville SEO and Internet Marketing Group

If we look at total signups rather than number of groups, Socializing groups come out on top, with over 5.8 million signups. This is followed by Tech groups, which have 5.3 million signups.

Meetups that are categorized under Socializing are generally groups that don’t emphasize a particular interest, but rather just the opportunity to meet new people. The 20s & 30s Going Out Group of Washington DC is the second largest Meetup in the world with over 29,000 members. It’s probably no coincidence that the biggest Socializing group is in transient Washington, D.C., where young people pour into the city for temporary government jobs.

Tech Meetups vary from those focused on specific tools (like the SF Javascript Meetup, which has over 10,000 members), to those for the general technology enthusiast (like Tech In Motion Boston, made up of almost 6,500 techies).

The NY Tech Meetup has taken on a life of it's own.

The largest Meetup in the world falls under the Tech category. The NY Tech Meetup, founded in 2004 by Meetup co-founder Scott Heiferman, now has over 48,000 members and regularly holds events with over 600 attendees. The NY Tech Meetup grew so large that it developed a life of its own. It is now a registered non-profit with full-time employees and its own website.

This next table shows the twenty largest Meetups in the United States along with their group type.

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Meetups can be found almost anywhere in the United States where there is a semblance of population density. California has the most groups (27,262) and member signups (9,289,552), and Wyoming has the least groups (48) and signups (1,960). 

The cities of New York and San Francisco have, by far, the most Meetups and member signups. The table below lists the American cities with the most member signups along with the type of group that is most popular in that city.

Outside of tech hubs like New York, San Francisco, Seattle, Austin and San Jose, Socializing groups tend to have the highest number of memberships. The exception to this is Portland, where, true to stereotype, Outdoors/Adventure groups are more popular.

To see what more Meetup membership might tell us about the character of American cities, we looked at the most unusually popular group types for the 40 cities with the most Meetup signups. We define "most unusual" as the category that has the highest proportion of signups in that city compared to the country as a whole.

Many of the results cement city stereotypes. New York is the country’s acknowledged fashion capital, so it is not a shock that Fashion/Beauty Meetups are unusually popular there. With 7,724 members, the most popular New York Fashion group is NYC's #1 Fashion Events & Parties,. There are 67 other Fashion/Beauty Meetups in New York, ranging from Fashion Secrets of Attractive Men, to Dress Up Nicely For a Brunch

Brooklyn is also characterized by an unusual interest in Fashion/Beauty. A signup for a Brooklyn-based Meetup is almost eight times more likely to be for a fashion related group than in the rest of the country.

Other results weren't as expected. We wouldn’t have presumed, for instance, that Phoenix would have such an unusually robust number of people involved in Movement/Politics Meetups. But signups for Meetups in Phoenix are almost three times as likely to be for Movement/Politics groups than for the country as a whole. 

The largest Movement/Politics group in Phoenix is the Arizona Liberty R3VOLUTION Meetup!, which has over 1,600 members. It was the first of many Meetups developed to support the Libertarian ideas of former Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul. Outsider candidates like Ron Paul and Howard Dean have relied on Meetup as crucial campaign tools.

The three cities in our list where Tech is the most unusually popular type are all in the Bay Area: San Francisco, Palo Alto and Mountain View. The Bay Area is generally considered tech’s epicenter, so this is no revelation. But this list made us curious: does Meetup’s data reveal any underrated tech hubs?

Following the methodology of Tristan Handy at RJMetrics, we identified cities with the highest number of signups for Tech Meetups compared to their population. As Handy concedes, this measure is imperfect given its reliance on city boundariesThe following table shows the number of Tech Meetup signups per member of the population for the forty cities with the most Tech signups overall. Remember, an individual can sign up for multiple Meetups.

Palo Alto, home of Stanford University, comes out on top with well over one signup for a tech Meetup per member of the population. Not all of the signups for these Meetups come from people who live in Palo Alto, but it does demonstrate the incredible density of tech interest around the city.

Palo Alto is followed by San Francisco and Cambridge, home of Harvard University. The next two on the list, Santa Monica and Boulder, are a bit less expected. Santa Monica is the center of the burgeoning L.A. tech scene. The Santa Monica New Tech Meetup, started in 2012, is emblematic of Santa Monica’s lively tech culture and already has nearly 7,000 members. The New Tech Meetup in Boulder is even bigger, with more than 11,000 members. Boulder is quickly gaining a reputation as a tech startup hub.

In addition to looking at the places most densely populated by Tech Meetup goers, we were curious about where Tech Meetup signups made up an unusually large proportion of Meetup activity. The following table displays the twenty cities where Tech Meetup signups represent an unusually large proportion of all signups in that location.

The top three cities, Mountain View, Palo Alto and Sunnyvale, are all in Silicon Valley. Detroit, only 37th in terms of total Tech Meetup signups per capita, shoots up to 8th when we look at the proportion of signups in this group type compared to the country. This might reflect Detroit’s stated mission of spurring the city’s comeback by becoming a tech hub.

Beyond examining Tech, we were curious to see where certain other interests were unusually common. We examined Singles Meetups and found that Newport Beach and Beverly Hills were the places where the most Meetup users were looking for love.

Overall, Singles Meetups represent 4.2% of all signups, but in Newport Beach and Beverly Hills, they account for more than 16%.

The cities of California are overrepresented in terms of this metric. Six of the top twenty cities where Singles Meetups are unusually popular are in California, and a disproportionate number of the rest are in other warm weather places like Florida and Texas.

Lastly, we investigated Meetup signups could tell us about the most musical cities.

Music Meetups constitute 1.9% of all signups in the country, but nearly 5% of signups in Los Angeles, the number one city by this metric. Brooklyn, the mecca of hipster music, is not far behind at 3.7%. Atlanta and Nashville, famous for their great music scenes , fall at 14th and 18th on the list, respectively.

Members of the NYC Informal Running Club Meetup out on the track. Fitness related Meetups are increasing popular.

What does Meetup data suggest about where American interests are headed? 

The fastest growing Meetups are fitness-related. Through 2014, 2,245 Fitness Meetups had been organized, but in 2015, 2,313 more Fitness groups were initiated. That’s a 103% increase. This final table shows the Meetup types that grew the fastest in 2015.

Health/Wellbeing and Support Meetups are also quickly growing in popularity. This may be a sign of the increasing focus Americans place on living healthy. It could also reflect Americans increasing willingness to use the Internet in order to meet people for purposes besides dating and discussing niche interests. 

Beyond this, it should be acknowledged that almost every type of Meetup has seen increasing numbers. The growth of the use of Meetup, and of competitors like Doorkeeper and citysocializer, is evidence of our willingness to find communities online.

Meetup CEO Scott Heiferman says that America faces a “loneliness epidemic” that is, in part, a result of modern technology. If such an epidemic exists, our increasing willingness to use the Internet to find others who share our passions and interests suggests modern technology just might be part of the solution.

Our next post investigates the hypocrisy of Judge Judy—one of the most successful TV shows of all time. To get notified when we post it   join our email list.

This post was written by Dan Kopf. Data crawled by Elad Yarom. Follow Dan on Twitter here.



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