An interesting aspect of the emergent online networking trend is the combination of itwith face-to-face get-togethers. Ecademy and Ryze were started out of in-person networking groups, and eWomenNetwork, originally planned as an online-only community, attracts large monthly luncheon crowds. takes this one step further — it exists exclusively for the purpsose of helping people connect online so that they can connect in person.

Meetup’s premise is that people would get together more easily and more often if someone else would just pick a time and place. So Meetup establishes a date and time for a group of people to meet, gives them a limited choice of locations to vote on, and asks them to RSVP online to indicate if they’re planning to attend. Simple, but ingenious.

Meetup has become most popular among members of Book Crossing (a global book exchange community), Slashdot (a technology news and commentary community for self-avowed nerds), as well as supporters for a variety of political candidates. In addition to the more socially-oriented get-together, there are also meetups for entrepreneurs, small business owners, consultants, realtors, and a variety of other work & career topics. And with get-togethers in over 500 cities around the world, odds are good of finding a meetup near you on a topic you’re interested in.

Once you find a topic you’re interested in and determine that there’s a meeting date near you, you can put in some basic profile information, leave a brief public message for others in your area interested in the topic, and RSVP to indicate your plans to attend the next event.

Fair warning that there are a lot of “theoretical” events – Meetup creates an event for every topic in every city, again based on the idea that the meeting can’t happen until it’s out there as a possiblity. But you can subscribe for your topic/city and be notified via e-mail as to how many people are planning to attend, and which location everyone voted for. They’ll also let you know if enough people don’t sign up within a few days before the meetup so you won’t show up for a meeting with just yourself.

Signing up and showing up for a meetup is a bit of a stretch, but keep in mind that it is for the others, as well. You can be assured that the other people you meet, besides being interested in the topic, are also interested in networking, technologically savvy, and willing to take some chances themselves. That makes an interesting combination.