ROS Discourse is inherently a global platform which is targeted at communicating broadly. We’ve created sub categories for specific languages to help facilitate the growth of non-english speaking communities. These categories are separated so that individuals can specifically choose to follow given languages depending on their preferences, but these conversations are generally global and based on language (i.e. our preference is towards a Spanish user group, not user groups in Mexico and Spain).
On the other hand local meetups are very much focused on the local user community. There are significant advantages to providing a local forum, as it provides new users a comfortable place to ask questions of people who they have potentially even met in person or seen at a meetup. It takes a lot more courage to engage with a global online community. One of the most powerful things about local meetups is that they’re often offline and in person to get direct connections. This is not something that Discourse can replace or support as it doesn’t provide features like invites, RSVPs, invite-specific communications, or directed invitations, just to name a few.
Similarly there’s potentially a lot of local groups and they’re only relevant to people in those areas or visiting those areas. As you mentioned a local meetup is unlikely to draw people from more than 90 minutes away, but if the attendee chooses to attend an Eindoven event from Antwerp Belgium vs driving down from Amsterdam that’s their choice. If there’s both an Eindoven and an Amsterdam group they don’t both need to be part of a greater Dutch community to be effective locally.We definitely want to support these groups. We already have a place for listing them with a non-trivial list: http://wiki.ros.org/Events.
I believe that the best way that we can help these groups is through improving discoverablility. For greater visibility I’m thinking that it would make sense to move the group content to a pinned wiki post in the Local User Group and link to it from the, “About Local User Groups” page. For anyone who’s organizing a local user groups page they can add their own events to this single wiki page.
Additionally, I’d like to encourage local user groups to announce their group and events in the “Local Users Group” category. This will give people a central location to find announcements, but not try to force organizers to use a tool that’s not super focused on their immediate needs as an organizer.