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Mar. 14th, 2006

How About a P2P Meetup Clone?

Against all logic, Meetup is still out there and working, even though every single Meetup I had signed up for disbanded after Meetup began charging $220/year for coordinating a single meeting in a single city. I guess Colorado Springs has the Insane Clown Posse fans and the ever-social Wiccans, but not a great deal else.

This is just nuts. It was relatively simple technology and the service was useful, even if not economical for small meetings like ours. So why don't we build our own? I've been rolling the idea around in my head since Meetup shut down the Delphi meeting here, which I greatly enjoyed. Rather than cloning Meetup's server-based system, I have another idea: Implement it as a peer-to-peer mechanism instead of client-server. Howcum? By its very nature, a meatspace meeting coordinator does most of its work in the service of small groups of PCs. P2P networks don't scale well—especially when high-bandwidth file transfers are involved—but this one doesn't have to. Also, if it's not dependent on a central server, nothing can "shut it off." Besides, we need a few examples of P2P systems that have nothing to do with file sharing, so that Big Media has more difficulty outlawing P2P mechanisms entirely.

Here are some thoughts on the how such a system would work:

  • There would be no servers, only clients. Each client would maintain a small client-server database of groups and members.
  • The client would give the user the option of entering either Earth coordinates (latitude and longitude) or a postal code. A file containing the coordinates of each US Zip code center would be shipped with the client, and upodated periodically as the USPS adds or merges Zip codes. There is a "geocoder" service (probably more than one) where you can enter a street address and download its Earth coordinates, either manually or through an API.
  • The client would ship with a database of obvious groups: Beagle lovers, Delphi programmers, Young Progressives, Wiccans, and so on. The client would also allow users to start their own groups under new topics. Once a new group topic had attracted a minimum number of members (say, three) within a radius of thirty miles, the new group topic would be broadcast to other P2P clients. (This would reduce the chances of morons flooding the system with "topic spam.")
  • A user would look for meetings by entering a group topic and a radius across which they're willing to travel. The client would then do a conventional P2P search for people who registered interest in that topic within that radius.
  • The client would allow users to coordinate a meeting at a location of their choice, at a frequency of their choice, and would pop up reminders when a meeting time approached.
  • The client should allow "guest" members, and the software should be written to run on a U3-capable thumb drive. If I'm in Chicago for a couple of weeks, for example, and want to drop in on the local Delphi meeting, I should be able to enter a coordinate and find the meeting, even if I'm not and will not be a long-term member.
This isn't rocket surgery, and while I don't have the loose cycles to try to write it myself, I throw it out as a suggestion for an interesting and useful open-source project. For all I know somebody is doing it somewhere, but if not, well, what are you waiting for?

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