Why does meetup.com work so well in Cleveland?

I've posted about meetup.com before. Several times I've been surprised at how it thrives here, but now I think I know why.

At first I attributed its high attendance to the skill and energy of a couple of group organizers, but on Monday I went to an event where no less than four different meetup groups came together in the same place. That's groups organized by four different people. Were all those organizers gifted? It's too much to be a coincidence.

Monday's meetup took place at a happy hour. The restaurant could have put a sign on the sidewalk reading HALF PRICE SUSHI AND MARTINIS and people would have come in with their friends. But there's a crucial missing piece of information: HALF PRICE SUSHI AND MARTINIS AND PEOPLE WHO WILL TALK TO YOU EVEN THOUGH THEY DON'T KNOW YOU.

That's what meetup.com does. It provides a filter, putting all the people who want to meet new people in one place.

Our first year here, Alice and I hung out in public places trying to chat people up and were repeatedly rebuffed. This town is full of social networks - people who went to the same schools, who work together or worship together - but they're hard to break into. Meetup is an open network, one you can choose. All these kinds of networks exist everywhere, but in most cities, you can just go out in public and meet new people; native Clevelanders don't seem to have an appetite for that. That makes meetup.com's function necessary, and it makes it thrive.

I probably sound like I'm griping. It was hard to be lonely here. The skills we'd developed elsewhere for making friends didn't work here. We had to adapt, and it took a lot of trial and error; I didn't expect electronically mediated relationships (not just meetup) to be the key to face-to-face ones. We're at peace with it now.