Does the meeting industry need another listserv? Fast Company, the magazine that prides itself on staying on the edge of business today, thinks so. The publication’s Company of Friends network, which began in 1997 as a way for like-minded business professionals of all stripes to get together with fellow readers in their geographic area, was retooled earlier this year to include industry- and practice-based special interest groups—including one for event management and conferences professionals.

"Our philosophy was that we can get innovative business development ideas from any industry. All you had to do was bring like-minded business leaders together, and good things would happen," says Heath Row, who coordinates the CoF for Fast Company. "What we found, though, is that people were organizing local subgroups within the local chapters to have more industry- or practice-based conversations." In addition to live meetings, the groups interact through online listservs at www.fastcompany.com.

Row says the CoF meetings group, which currently has fewer than 20 members, is not looking to compete with the MIMlist listserv, a well-established group with 3,000 or so members hosted by VNU (www.meetingnews.com). The EMC’s volunteer coordinator, Elisa van Dam, a Boston-based event manager who served as vice president of an IT company’s events group until recently, also emphasizes that the new listserv will be in addition to the MIMlist, rather than competing with it.

"The MIMlist is such a great resource, and we don’t want to do anything to take away from that," she says. Where the MIMlist is mainly composed of people for whom meetings is their primary, if not only, job function, Fast Company’s EMC CoF is geared more toward those who are more involved in the content and business strategy kinds of issues, says van Dam. "This isn’t the place to go to find a DMC in Albuquerque," she says. "We’re not going to have that kind of reach for a long time, if ever. That reach is the MIMlist’s strength, but it also is what can make it overwhelming for people who aren’t full-time planners. Ours is a place to talk about strategic issues and adult-learning concepts, and also a place for people who don’t do this full time but still have an interest in the meetings and events business, like so many of Fast Company’s readers," she adds. It also is no place for lurkers, says Row. "If they participate, they’ll get more out of it than they put in. We do ask a lot of our members, because the Company of Friends is what you make it."

There currently is no charge to join the CoF special interest groups, and you don’t have to be a subscriber to the magazine, although CoF members do get a hefty discount if they do subscribe. Go to www.fastcompany.com for more information.--Sue Pelletier