Using Meetup data to explore the UK digital tech landscape

Reblogged with permission from Juan Mateos-Garcia, whose team at Nesta studies innovation in creative and digital industries. His team is interested in tracking the emergence of new technologies, and communities of innovators. This blog presents what they found using the data available from our API. The article was originally published on Nesta.

Juan is also a member of the Data Visualisation Brighton Meetup, and Big Data Debate in London.  

 

Tech meet-ups have become an important feature of the digital innovation landscape. In these events, coders, designers, hackers and entrepreneurs (among others) come together to learn from each other and network. Meetups can help participants keep their technology skills fresh in fields that move too fast for universities and training providers, and facilitate collaboration and job mobility, increasing the connectivity and efficiency of local innovation ecosystems.

Websites like Meetup and EventBrite have emerged to make it easier for people to create and manage meet-ups.[i] The data generated by these platforms could help us understand when and where new technology communities emerge and evolve, and how they are connected to each other. It could also tell us something about the rise of new technologies. These are questions of obvious interest for policymakers, entrepreneurs, businesses and investors who want to identify the right communities of innovators to work with, and the right technologies to target.

In this blog, we undertake a preliminary exploration of UK tech meet-ups from Meetup to assess its potential as a source of information about the structure, geography and evolution of digital tech in the UK.

About the data

Meetup was created in 2002 to help people connect with others in their community. It currently has over 20 million users in 192,000 groups in 181 countries. When registering, users express interest on particular topics (e.g. “data science” or “online marketing”), and are shown information about groups near to them that focus on those topics (or similar ones).[ii] Users can join those groups to receive updates about forthcoming events. Meetup charges group organisers a monthly subscription fee.

To get the data, we query the Meetup API for groups in the “Tech” category in UK cities (based on this Wikipedia list). This returns 3,707 groups as of 2nd April 2015. After removing duplicates, we are left with 1391 groups for which we have information on location, membership, starting date, description and topics for the group.[iii]

These 1,391 groups are based in 160 unique locations in the UK, and have a gross total of 434,826 members.[iv] 71% have been created since 2013, consistent with the idea (though not necessarily proof of) of increasing levels of meet-up activity in recent times.

A graph of the tech landscape

In aggregate terms, the groups in our list focus on 2,569 topics. We want to arrange these topics into a smaller set of “tech fields” containing inter-related topics. To do this, we follow a ‘data-driven’ approach based on scientometrics principles (the quantitative analysis of science and technology metrics e.g. academic papers and patents).

The basic idea is that topics in the same tech field will often be mentioned by the same Meetup groups.[v] For example, if the business challenge of creating value from big data requires the combination of database technologies, analytics methods and parallel processing frameworks, these topics are likely to be of interest to the same practitioners. As a consequence, we would expect to find them mentioned by the same groups, in a way that defines a ‘data’ technology field and its community of practitioners.

We visualise these associations in a “topic network”  where topics that are often mentioned together are linked and “pulled together” (see graph below).[vi] After constructing that network, we use community detection algorithms to look for densely connected “clusters” of topics inside them.[vii]  This results in the identification of six tech fields:

  • Application: includes topics representing industries and domains where digital technologies are being applied, such as startups and entrepreneurialism, social media, digital marketing, educational technology, and mobile and web design.
  • Data: includes topics related to data and analytics, such as big data, data science, predictive analytics, machine learning, open data or data mining.
  • IT systems: The topics here represent IT engineering and systems administration activities.
  • Hardware: Its topics relate to technologies and skills with a hardware component, such as 3D printing, Internet of Things or Robotics, as well as Maker communities.
  • Python: Interestingly, the community detection algorithm does not allocate the programming language Python to any of the tech fields above. This could be explained by the fact that Python is a general programming language in its own right (it has many links to topics in the Application and Software fields), but at the same time is gaining increasing popularity among data analysts and data scientists (in the Data field).
  • Software: includes topics related to general-purpose software programming languages (e.g. JavaScript) and development methodologies (e.g. agile). It also contains some generic terms like “coding” and “computer programming.”

Graph

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A Momster takeover, on Mother’s Day

momsters

Some Meetup stories just plain write themselves, like Jenny Beene Skuban’s story. She’s the Organizer of A Momster takeover: a group for Awkward Moms in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Jenny is a native Cincinnatian. Before she found Meetup, she was comfortably surrounded by a support system that included a best friend who had children of the same age at the same time as her. They were inseparable, until a job relocation forced their family to move cross country, leaving Jenny feeling isolated and alone for the first time in her life.

They kept in touch, but Jenny continued to bemoan the situation until tough love took over. Her best friend told her to “suck it up and find some friends.” Her friend did some googling, found Momsters, and sent the link to Jenny.

Jenny was an early member and she loved it from the beginning. She watched the Meetup grow from 10 to nearly 120 members within two years. In July 2014, she stepped up to take over the Meetup from the woman who founded it, but she refuses to be called ‘Organizer.’

“I don’t do anything more than anyone else. The members make this Meetup. We do it for each other.” She quickly qualified that by saying, “honestly I don’t know how we do it,” with a self-deprecating laugh.

The Meetup group is a support system to help parents come out of their shells. She says, “It reminds you of who you really are, with people involved in the same kinds of struggles. We love each other for it. It’s not about hulking around on the internet. We want you there. We want to actually know you.”

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Meetup Spotlight: I wanted to do that…Just not alone

justnotaloneI recently caught up with Shawn from the “I wanted to do that…Just not alone” Meetup in New York City, to find out how he keeps over 14,000 members happy after 4 years. His secret: “the key to keeping members active and engaged is consistency”.

To Shawn, being consistent means being attuned to your membership and understanding trends in your Meetup group.

Here are the three key attributes that make it work for his members:

Be welcoming: “People know when they come to our Meetups, they are going to find a friendly and engaging group of people. We work hard to create that atmosphere. Going to an unfamiliar place to meet new people can be intimidating. It’s easier when you trust that the organizer will be actively working to make sure people feel welcome.”

Keep your calendar busy: “There’s always something happening. People join Meetup because they want to do something!”

Leverage popular Meetups: “We have events that we’ve been running for years that you can expect to see twice a month, or more. Sometimes people find the thing they like, and they want to keep doing it, so we make sure it’s available for them. We actually have quite a few popular events, mostly because we run them consistently and make sure people know they can expect a good time”.

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ScottWH

Celebrating opportunity at the first-ever Tech Meetup at the White House

Adapted from Scott Heiferman’s introduction at the Tech Meetup at the White House on Friday, April 17, 2015 #WHMeetup

We are invited to the White House today because the people in this room are forging the future in a non-obvious way.  People here are opening doors for people who are opening doors for each other.  (I stole that line from Seth Godin, and I love it.)

And speaking of doors, Megan, thank you for opening the doors to the White House to us today, and for seeing the potential in people. You, your team, and the President are making a difference by hosting us today.

We are here to talk about opportunity. To see and imagine how Tech Meetups will create more opportunities for more people.

There are 30,000 Tech Meetup organizers in this country and we’ve gathered 50 of the best here today.  These Meetups help people get training, get jobs, get funding, launch businesses, and help companies take off. They inspire and change lives.

I became a Tech Meetup organizer a couple years after we started Meetup, the platform. (Meetup was used by people like Illinois State Senator Barack Obama in his run for the U.S. Senate. Whatever happened to that guy?)  Meetups were booming, but there weren’t many Tech Meetups.

I was inspired to start the NY Tech Meetup having heard that Steve Wozniak (Steve Jobs’ co-founder) said that if there were no Homebrew Computer Club, there’d be no Apple.  Homebrew was a community where you could demo technology. It gave them opportunity. Maybe Silicon Valley wouldn’t be what it is today without that community back then.

So I started the NY Tech Meetup, and at our first Meetup, only one person showed up. I asked her to be my co-organizer.  Her name was Dawn Barber, and she helped it grow in its early days to where it is today, with over 40,000 members.

Dawn is here today. Dawn, you created opportunity for people.

Now there are Tech Meetups everywhere, and I’m so excited to see you all here, from Alabama to Alaska—poised to grow your local tech economies. I’m excited to see all of you.

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Girl Develop It—don’t be shy, develop it!

“In 2010 we felt like there was way more talk about the gender gap in technology than there was action,” recalls Girl Develop It Co-Founder Vanessa Hurst. “We thought, ‘can I personally help one other woman feel comfortable learning technology?’ And the answer is yes.”

In 2010, Hurst co-founded the first Girl Develop It Meetup in New York City. “We decided it was time to provide a place where all questions are okay, and everyone can learn in a supportive environment.” Today that Meetup is over 7,500 members strong, and Girl Develop It Meetups have spread to 50+ cities around the country. Over 41,000 people belong to a local Girl Develop It Meetup, and the GDI community is growing faster than ever. “It’s an incredible thing to be celebrating five years of Girl Develop It this summer,” says GDI Executive Director Corinne Warnshuis. “What started as a single Meetup in NYC has become a nationwide movement. The strength and growth of our communities highlights how powerful and important it is to bring people together under a common purpose.”

This fall, Girl Develop It hosted their first summit in New York City, and we jumped at the chance to meet a handful of their extraordinary leaders and capture their stories on film.