Problems-to-solve: finding meetup-friendly spaces in Portland

Preamble

Sometimes I encounter a problem in my day to day life that I find so frustrating – and to me, so obvious (hasn’t been thought of by some PM already; or should’ve been caught by PO/PM acceptance validation, or during usability testing, or in the User Story’s acceptance criteria) that I can’t help thinking of how I’d have pitched this to the engineering team myself.

Think of this as a Product Guy’s version of “fantasy football” – “fantasy product ownership/management”.

Summary

User Story: as the organizer of a Meetup in Portland, I want to be able to quickly find all the meetup-friendly spaces in Portland so that I can book my meetup in a suitable space.

BDD Scenario: Given that I have an existing meetup group AND that the meetup does not have an booked meetup space, when I search for available meetup-friendly spaces in Portland, then I see a listing of such spaces in Portland including address, contact info and maximum number of attendees.

Background

I’ve been an active participant in the meetup scene in Portland for a few years now. I’ve briefly co-led a meetup as well, and been solicited to help organize a number of other meetups.

One of the phenomena I’ve observed is how challenging it can be for some meetups to find a space for their meetings. Many meetups find one space, lock it in for a year and never roam. Some meetups have to change spaces from month to month, and regularly put out a call to attendees to help them find suitable locations. And once in a while, a meetup has to change venues for space or other logistical reasons (e.g. a very popular speaker is coming to town).

Whenever I talk to meetup organizers about this part of the job, it strikes me as odd that they’re all operating like this is a high-school gossip circle: no one has all the information, there is no central place to find out where to go/who to talk to, and most people are left to ask friends if they happen to know of any spaces.

In a tech-savvy city such as Portland, where we have dozens of meetups every day, and many tech conferences a month, it’s surprising to find that getting a meetup successfully housed relies so much on word of mouth (or just using your employer’s space, if you’re lucky to be in such a position).

I’ve been at meetups in some great spaces, nearly all of them in a public-friendly space of tech employers across Portland. Where is the central directory of these spaces? Is there an intentional *lack* of public listing, so that these spaces don’t get overrun? Is this a word-of-mouth resource so that only those event organizers with a personal referral are deemed ‘vetted’ for use?

From the point of view of the owners of these spaces, I can imagine there’s little incentive to make this a seven-nights-a-week resource. Most of these employers don’t employ staff to stick around at night to police these spaces; many of them seem to leave the responsibility up to an employee [often an existing member of the meetup group] to chaperone the meetup attendees and shoo them out when they’re too tired or have to go home/back to work.

My Fantasy Scenario

Any meetup organizer in Portland will be able to find suitable meetup spaces and begin negotiating for available dates/times. A “suitable” space would be qualified on such criteria as:

  • Location
  • Number of people the space can legally accommodate
  • Number of seats available
  • Days and hours the space is potentially available (e.g. M-F 5-8, weekends by arrangement)
  • A/V availability (projector, microphone)
  • Guest wifi availability
  • Amenities (beer, food, snacks, bike parking)
  • Special notes (e.g. door access arrangements, must arrange to have employee chaperone the space)
  • Contact info to inquire about space availability [email, phone, booking system]

Future features

I can also see a need for a service that similarly lists conference-friendly spaces around town – especially for low-budget conferences that can’t afford the corporate convention spaces. I’ve been at many community-oriented conferences here in Portland, and I’m betting the number of spaces I’ve visited [e.g. Eliot Center, Armory, Ambridge, Portland Art Museum, Center for the Arts], still aren’t anywhere near the secret treasures that await.

  • Number of separate/separable rooms and their seating
  • Additional limitations/requirements e.g. if food/drinks, must always use the contracted catering

Workarounds Tried

Workaround: the http://workfrom.co service includes a filter for “Free Community Spaces”, labelled Community spaces are free and open to all, no purchase required. Common community spaces include libraries, student unions and banks. Unfortunately, as of now there are only five listings (three of them public library spaces).

Workaround: I was told by a friend that Cvent has a listing of event spaces in Portland. My search of their site led to this searchable interface. Unfortunately, this service appears to be more oriented to helping someone plan a conference or business meeting and keeping attendees entertained/occupied – where “venue type” = “corporate

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One thought on “Problems-to-solve: finding meetup-friendly spaces in Portland

  1. As you noticed, a large part of this problem isn’t even technical! We built some things into Calagator to make it easier to identify that kind of information about venues — see http://calagator.org/venues — but in my 10 years of working on community tech events in Portland, I’ve rarely found a free meetup space that was interested in general inquiries from groups like you’re describing. When organizations have expressed an interest in providing something like that, they’ve quickly become overwhelmed with the overhead it takes. Sooner or later, the space becomes only available to groups that are directly supported by someone who works there (or is a student, in the case of using PSU).

    If you’re interested in helping maintain Calagator’s data on this, though, send me an email, and I can show you what we’re doing. It’s a completely community-supported project, so the info is only as good as folks help make it.

    Like

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