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The Master of Meet Up: Scott Heiferman

Let’s hear it for the toolmakers. Scott Heiferman, 31, has become a central figure in the new Internet politics of 2004 on the strength of his magnetic With a few professional partners in programming, Heiferman built the Meetup site that lets birds of a feather find and meet each other face-to-face in their own town or neighborhood–for any reason at all, but with earthshaking force already in presidential campaigns. The Howard Dean kudzu-vine campaign (as of this mid-October) is a network of 125,000 Americans who have reported for political duty through Meetup. Wesley Clark has about 40,000 local campaigners through Meetup. Dennis Kucinich has 16,200 and John Kerry 13,000. (Pagans who have found each other through Meetup number 11,739. Bill O’Reilly Fans: 5,812. Knitters: 5,071. Buffy the Vampire Slayer Fans: 3,952. Japanese Language Students and Teachers: 3,805.)
“We didn’t design Meetup around politics or civics per se,” Scott Heiferman noted in conversation. He sees himself as “just a longtime computer geek,” and an agnostic in politics. “We just knew that the Lord of the Rings nerds would want to meet up with each other, you know. And that the poodle owners would want to have a little poodle club in every town.”
Robert Putnam’s book Bowling Alone, about the shredding ties of affiliation in America through the television age, was “a major inspiration and challenge” to Heiferman & Co., partly because they couldn’t quite believe the bad news as Putnam presented it. “I think it is natural Human 101 stuff–that people want to connect with a bunch of neighbors who share a common interest… I don’t think the desire to connect ever went away,” Heiferman says. “Face-to-face is kind of woven into our species.” And then he read the slogan that Douglas Rushkoff lifted from the late Timothy Leary: “Find the Others,” whatever that meant. To himself Heiferman remembers saying: “Allright, Mr. Rushkoff, I’m going to build to help people Find the Others locally and let them organize a gathering.”
So is an open chapter in the story of the death and rebirth of community in America–in there currently with the news of flashmobs and Howard Rheingold’s Smart Mobs. In the 2004 campaign, could be a key driver (and measure) of candidates’ success. Yet when he thinks of the larger Internet transformation of virtually everything, Scott Heiferman says he’s panting to get past 2004. “I wonder what will happen after the next election cycle–when it becomes clear that a more engaged and involved citizenry is out there. And the question is: how do you capture and cultivate the people becoming participants rather than spectators; and how this could be a part of everyday life in a democracy when there are issues always about, and technology that can organize and mobilize.”
We’re talking here about politics where the mantra could be E. M. Forster’s “Only Connect.” Or as Scott Heiferman put it: “It’s the Other People, Stupid.”

{ 6 } Comments

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