Take a world of narrow niche interests and add an incredibly powerful communication tool. That’s the meetup revolution, in which people find others using the Internet and then come together in person regularly to share those interests.
In the mid-1990s, the web was first going mainstream, which meant more people were interested in bringing their similar interests together in person. It was the beginning of the global meetup culture that today so infuses technology communities, and any other topic or taste.
In 1996, five early Internet adopters got together at Dawson Street Pub in Manayunk and founded the Philadelphia Area New Media Association, or PANMA. By most accounts, PANMA is the oldest surviving web meetup group in Philadelphia.
What is old hat today was by no means then.
Now, understand, there are most certainly many examples of technology events that long predate PANMA in Philadelphia. Think of Dick Moberg, who co-founded the Philadelphia Area Computer Society, the MacBus gathering on Apple for enterprise enthusiasts and the legendary 1978 Philadelphia Computer Music Festival. There are lots of local computer legends in our city’s history, but PANMA’s focus on the social aspect of the web made it one of this region’s first efforts to regularly connect strangers around an issue of shared interest.
Today, PANMA, which was originally called “Cyber Suds,” holds around 10 educational and social events a year, spanning the web and community efforts of Philly’s tech creative class, like their January event on coworking. (read coverage of the event here). Back in 1996, PANMA was nothing more than a regular hang-out, launched by Nathan Solomon, now of the Philadelphia Game Lab, John Wilson, who now lives in Maryland, Ric Kolenda, Ian Cross, founder of I-SITE and Nathan Gasser, now of RockRiverStar, said Gasser.
After the initial idea, a group closer to 10 came together to come up with a name, creating an advisory board and launching an initial paid membership, said Nancy L. Massey, who was the first paid member and part of that founding board.
(For a brief time, as noted in the comments, the group was organized by the Eastern Technology Council, which later merged into PACT, and run as a more robust paid membership group, before fizzling into its present, more organic form)
“PANMA exists to try to serve the interests of the digital development community—people who do anything with the Internet, which is a lot of people these days,” said Reed Gustow, who started attending events in 2000 at the end of the dot com boom, joined the board in 2004 and is now the nonprofit organization’s treasurer.
Indy Hall cofounder Alex Hillman cites in the comments that PANMA was the forum through which he met many of his earliest members, helping to give rise of the Old City coworking staple.
One of the remarkable distinctions of PANMA is how long members stick around. Founders Solomon, Cross and Gasser are still involved, O3 World social media editor Gloria Bell has stuck around for more than a decade and Wharton Computing’s Timothy Allen has remained involved for years.
“I think we are more conscious of our place in the wide array of groups that have formed in the digital development community,” said Gustow. “We are more deliberate and focused on our role, both in our program planning and in our reaching out to other groups.”
Though the social aspect is clearly a driving value of the group, it has matured into wanting to be a part of the bigger talent retention conversation that so many in nascent technology communities have embraced this decade.
“By reaching out to the tech-creative community the way we do, we add to the value of Philadelphia and the region,” Gustow said. “We hope to communicate to students and people that this is a great area to live and work.”
For more, tap into PANMA’s Listserv for information on subjects from developing to dealing with clients.
This report was done in partnership with Temple University’s Philadelphia Neighborhoods program, the capstone class for the Temple’s Department of Journalism.
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