Making new friends can be hard, particularly if you live in a big city where trying to strike up a conversation with a stranger will make people think you're a) begging, b) clinically insane or c) about to mug them. Nowadays there are hundreds of online dating sites, and I know quite a few people who've met their significant other through them, but making friends online seems a bit daunting.
When I recently relocated to New York for three months, I had to build up a new social circle from scratch. Before I arrived, I had delusions of girl's nights out like in Sex and the City, or hanging out in cool apartments and coffee shops like in Friends, but the reality is that hooking up with new friends can be hard work, even with the Internet's help.
I made a quick stab at using craigslist's 'strictly platonic' section, but found it time-consuming and disheartening sifting the genuine responses from the wierdos, wife-swappers and potential axe murderers. Then I came across Meetup.com and was impressed with the excellent execution of what is, essentially, a very simple concept. Basically, Meetup.com helps you meet groups of people who share your interest, whether that interest is ghost tracking, Pug dogs or a foreign language. Most groups organise a get-together at least once a month, and as there are constantly new members, you won't stand out going there on your own.
Being British, a journo and also the author of a travel book, I joined four groups in New York -- writers, journalists, travellers and Brit expats. Unfortunately, a lot of the meetups ended up coinciding with other plans I'd made, so the only group I managed to go along to was the writer's group.
About 30 people of various ages, nationalities and professions turned up to the event, and it was easy to approach people as everyone had come there to meet people. While the chances of immediately clicking with a stranger are small, with a big group of people with whom you share at least one interest, it's much more likely. Within ten minutes I had met another travel writer, a journalist from the UK and an ex-professional flautist who had turned to writing poetry.
I was impressed enough with my one Meetup experience that I'm trying to set up a group here in London. Being a meetup organiser takes commitment -- you have to pay $12 (£6.50) a month to setup a group, and you're responsible for organising the events and trying to attract more members.
However, as the Web site already has 2.2m members worldwide, it means it's a lot easier to create a group from scratch. Within less than two weeks of creating the Meetup group, my group already has five members, and hopefully it will continue growing over the next months. -Ingrid Marson