When the CEO of Meetup took the stage last week at the latest New York Tech Meetup (NYTM), there was a touch of expectation that something eye-opening might happen.
Several years prior, Scott Heiferman—who is also the co-founder of NYTM—infamously took a sledgehammer to a new Apple iPad in order to call attention to changes made at Meetup.
This time he brought watermelon—two watermelons, actually.
But before the event devolved from the usual demos by New York-based tech innovators into a messy, Gallagher-style Sledge-O-Matic act, the watermelons and the sledgehammer got pulled from the stage.
There were plenty of other ideas presented (see slideshow), including some grads from Techstars, so the show did indeed go on.
Though stripped of his props, Heiferman talked a bit about what is new with Meetup and how the company is incorporating artificial intelligence technologies.
“We believe that bringing people together is essential in a time when people are talking about walls going up,” he said.
Heiferman expressed a belief that increasing the connections among people can lead to more mentorship, hiring, and funding for each other. With some 27 million members of Meetup, all with distinct interests, he said it can be challenging to find specific gatherings amid the throngs of group listings.
This led to the roll out of the new Meetup app, Heiferman said, redesigned with an effort made to simplify discovery. The latest version of the app shows trending topics as well as what is not going on. For example, he said with the multitude of photography-related Meetups, the app can send users notifications and recommendations based on the aspects in which they are most interested. “We’re making it easier to see that there are people who are specifically saying they are interested in studio lighting,” he said. With a tap of the app, users can quickly find other people in the area who also share such an interest.
Even with the thousands of Meetups for runners in New York, for instance, Heiferman said users can find others who share highly specific routes in the city and timing for their runs. “We want to use AI, not just to keep people glued to their screens, we want to use AI to get people off the screens,” he said.
Heiferman went on to say New York has come far as a community for building technology, which in a number of ways is reflected in Meetup—an idea borne out of his desire to get people connected offline and talking to their neighbors in the wake of 9/11. NYTM, his other brainchild, likewise has become a gathering point for the local innovation scene, featuring the likes of Foursquare on stage.
What comes next for New York may, or may not, include splattered watermelons along the way.