Any time a popular web service undergoes a major redesign, there is a loud and angry response from unhappy users who liked the old version better.
Often a small but vocal minority can make a big stink. It’s the power user paradox. The folks who do the most to drive a site, to evangelize it and help it grow, are also the ones who feel the most possessive, and react the most aggressively when the site is changed.
Take Ray, a meetup members since 2006 and group organizer. “I am certainly not going to continue paying for a group of arrogant developers to mess up my content and layout just because they fancy playing about with their software!” he wrote in the Meetup forums. “It is MY GROUP and I want to have control or, at the very least, be consulted before changes are made.
The introduction of a “New Meetup” has resulted in thousands of such comments on the site’s forums and the creation of Facebook groups like “Screw Meetup” dedicated to attacking the change.
“If this layout does not change I will cancel my subscription,” Boston user Michael_Bourque posted on Meetup’s forum. “…Now my site looks horrible. The older design was much better.”
So who does the site belong to? Power users revolts can be costly, as in the case of Digg, which saw its traffic fall off a cliff after a redesign that reduced the influence of power users in favor of reaching a general audience.
On Meetup.com, the power users are the organizers and according to CEO Scott Heiferman, “The vast majority of revenue comes from organizer dues.”
In the new redesign, ordinary users can arrange for events, leading some to declare that organizers have been downgraded to moderators.
Of course, less than 1 percent of organizers active on Meetup have complained or commented on the redesign, but a small yet vocal minority is all it takes. Articles on the controversy have appeared on major blogs like Techcrunch and ReadWriteWeb.
Meetup co-founder Matt Meeker empathizes with organizers but notes that for many of the complaints there is a simple solution. “If they don’t like users organizing events, they can just turn it off. It’s a feature organizers have full control over.”
Dawn Barber, a co-founder of the NY Tech Meetup, says organizers should embrace the wisdom of the crowd. “We have 16,000 members in our Meetup, and I think that is the result of opening the organization up to our members.”
Andres Glusman, a VP for Strategy at Meetup, says the company is evaluating the new changes to see what works and what doesn’t. “As we see how people are using the new tools we will keep iterating to simplify and improve the experience.”
bpopper [at] observer.com | @benpopper