Online communities do something that "real life" communities can't--they bring people who share the same interest regardless of physical location. While this has led to wonderful connections between like minded people, people still love meeting face to face. For today's post, I'll be talking to Zachary Cohn, who organizes a "real life" event for an online community: the users of the social news site Hacker News. I'll be asking Zac about what motivated him to start the meetup, as well as any tips for a would be organizer of a similar event.

I could tell you more about the event, but this video describes it best:


Kenji: Meetups for Hacker news users have been organized in Los Angeles, Washington DC, and London just to name a few. Why do you think it’s useful for an online community to meet offline?

Zac: Online communities are an awesome place for people all over the world to come together and talk about the things they're interested in. They're a great way to transfer knowledge, news, and information rapidly and efficiently. But nothing compares to meeting and talking to people in "meatspace." It's more than just putting faces to names, it's about making that personal connection to make things happen. It's about meeting people you might not otherwise meet, and making friends you might not otherwise make friends with.

Kenji: What inspired you to start the Hacker News meetup in Seattle?

Zac: I'd been reading Hacker News for over a year, and every month I'd see meetups in DC, NYC, San Diego, LA... and I figured "Seattle has a strong and growing startup community... why don't we have a hacker news meetup?" I didn't feel like waiting around until someone else decided to do it, so I made it happen.

Kenji: How did you initially promote the meetup?

Zac: After I had the idea, I posted a thread on Hacker News that linked to a Google Form. It just said "If you're interested in going to a Seattle HN meetup, put your name/email here and lets see if there's enough interest." Within 6 hours, I had over 200 replies. I emailed that group inviting them to a group, and that's pretty much it. For each event I message the Meetup group first, and then a few days before the event I post a thread on Hacker News. (I've been capping attendance, so if you want to come make sure you join the Hacker News Seattle meetup group!). Every event has sold out in just a few days, so it seems to work pretty well!

Kenji: Tell us a little about how the meetups are structured.

Zac: I want the focus of the event to be people meeting each other, so that's how most of the time is spent. There's about 30 minutes of "mingling" time in the beginning, then I have a speaker talk for just 10ish minutes on a relevant topic, do a 10ish minute Q&A, and then back to open mingling time. The only other thing I plan is 2 or 3 sessions where I ask for 5 or 6 volunteers to talk for 30 seconds about who they are and something cool they're working on. This lets people who want to introduce themselves or find a specific type of person to talk to a chance to do that, without the awkwardness and boringness of going around and having EVERYONE introduce themselves.

Kenji: What was your first meetup like and what were the lessons learned from it?

Zac: The first meetup was held in the upstairs of a coffee shop in [a neighborhood of Seattle called] Capitol Hill. It was hot, cramped, loud, and everyone said they had an awesome time. My goal is to get rid of one of those issues at every event. The second event was cramped and loud, but we had air conditioning! Hopefully the third event will only have one issue. :)

Kenji: The Hacker News Meetup has grown considerably after just three meetups. To what do you attribute this success?

Zac: Hacker News is a great brand. Almost everyone reads it, and it's something that ties together people from all types of companies. We've got people who want to be entrepreneurs one day to serial entrepreneurs to people who work for Microsoft. There was clearly a huge demand, people just had to find out about it.

Kenji: Tell us a little about where you think the Hacker News meetups are headed.

Zac: My goal with the meetups are simple. Give people who are interested in tech and entrepreneurship a place to meet other people who are interested in the same, don't focus on any one area in particular, and make sure interesting people are there.

Thanks a lot to Zac for taking the time to interview! If you're organizing an event here in Seattle, check out our list of meeting rooms there!