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June 28 2011

From app to meetup: A new kind of running route

More and more online communities are forming around social apps — from foodies to readers to gamers to shoppers to just about anything else you can imagine.

RunKeeper is taking a note from these other communities, but it's expanding the boundaries into the real world. The company recently launched meetups, which allow users to identify other RunKeeper runners in their communities and gather for group runs.

In the interview below, RunKeeper CEO Jason Jacobs (@jjacobs22) talks about the community that developed through the app and how it's evolving from a digital concept to a physical reality.

Disclosure: O'Reilly AlphaTech Ventures is an investor in RunKeeper.

An interactive map of the RunKeeper communities around the world.

How did RunKeeper evolve to include real-world meetups?

JasonJacobsJason Jacobs: We built up a passionate user community of more than six million users in the last three years, only 30% of which are in the United States. This community has pushed for more social functionality and more in-person interaction as well. Group runs seemed like a great way to do both.

As a test, we did a single group run a few weeks ago at RunKeeper HQ in the South End of Boston. It was a huge hit, more than 100 people showed up, and everyone had a lot of fun with it. When the opportunity came about to partner with our friends at to hold a "global group run," we loved the idea right away. The upcoming event on July 9 will be the first, but if it goes well, there will be more to come. More than 2,500 runners around the world have signed up so far in almost 1,000 cities, so we are off to a good start.

What was involved in getting the RunKeeper meetups set up? Any lessons learned or best practices you could share for others considering something similar?

Jason Jacobs: Well, this is only our first (out of hopefully many) and it hasn't occurred yet, but there are a few nuggets we have picked up so far. One is that the relationships people are forming online can be real and powerful, and their desire to bridge the gap between the physical and digital worlds becomes stronger as more of these online relationships proliferate.

Also, if done right, people all over the world can feel like they are part of a larger movement, even if they don't leave their local areas. Each community is rallying to build up these meetups in their local regions, and some have even started going out and soliciting sponsors to donate free food and drink at the conclusion of the run. The local meetups are also starting to get competitive with each other about which event is bigger, and that has been a really cool thing to watch.

Did it feel natural to bridge the app and real worlds? Is that a model you could see working for other types of affinity groups?

Jason Jacobs: I can, yes. It isn't a one-size-fits-all model, but when there are big, global, passionate bases of people rallied behind a shared interest, it can be incredibly powerful to give those people in-person interaction opportunities to solidify their passions and also grow the base.

We'll see how it goes, but my gut tells me that when this group run is over, the participants will be more passionate about RunKeeper and each other than they were beforehand, and that our user base will also grow in the process as more of their friends in the local communities get energized to participate.

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