In January, the meeting industry got two new Google Groups discussion forums — MiForum and MeCo — but online meetings chat still isn't up to the volume of the old MIMlist.

The MIMlist, the meeting industry's dominant listserv, which had been running since 1999 and boasted about 4,000 members at its peak, changed its name and format in early December, evolving into a bulletin board discussion group called the Meeting Industry Forum, or MiForum (www.mimegasite.com).

The functionality of the bulletin board, however, needed improvement. Posters expressed frustration with the speed of the system, not being able to reply “off-list,” and other aspects of the format. In late January, just eight weeks after its launch, MiForum, owned by media company VNU, migrated to Google Groups while the bulletin board technology gets an upgrade. MiForum on Google Groups had 278 members at the end of last week. Longtime MIMlist/MiForum moderator Joan Eisenstodt, chief strategist at Eisenstodt Associates, Washington, D.C., says she expects the group to move from Google to the improved VNU technology soon.

Meanwhile, January 6 was the launch date of The Meetings Community, MeCo for short (www.meetingscommunity.org). This Google Group was organized by four meeting professionals who had been active on the MIMlist and who had a common interest in developing a meeting industry networking space that was unaligned with any company or association.

The volunteer leaders include James Louis, CIO at Best Meetings Inc., Bloomington, Minn., who says he has been working 15 to 20 hours a week to get the discussion group off the ground (not including moderating the site, which he does over the weekends). “We're taking this very slowly,” says Louis. Membership reached 400 in mid- February, the same week the group sent out its first press release.

Other MeCo founders, who also serve as moderators one day a week, include Loretta Lowe, CMP, a contract event manager based in San Francisco; Dan Parks, president and creative director, Corporate Planners Unlimited Inc., Dana Point, Calif.; and William Youngs, CMP, meeting manager at Forest Laboratories USA, Jersey City, N.J. The other volunteer moderators are Jean Travers, Apex, N.C., and Sue Walton, Chicago.

“I think there'll be a slightly different identity than some of the other groups where the postings become the property of the association or company [that owns the site],” says Louis. The costs of running MeCo — primarily Web site hosting and conference calls among organizers — are currently underwritten by Best Meetings. Moderators' time and public relations services have been donated. Louis says they're not looking for advertisers but do hope to grow the site. “I'd love to be in the thousands [of members], but we're very happy with what we have.”

Google Groups are free to organizers and participants. Members can receive every e-mail sent or a daily digest, or read the discussions online and not get any e-mails. You can sign up for MeCo or MiForum through their Web sites or by visiting http://groups.google.com.