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EBay Founder Meets His Match

EBay Founder Meets His MatchAfter founding eBay, Tufts graduate and renowned philanthropist Pierre Omidyar is investing in a new online community – Meetup.com. Medford/Somerville, Mass.

Medford/Somerville, Mass. [11.19.03] Pierre Omidyar knows a good idea when he sees one. In 1995, the Tufts graduate turned an idea for trading collectibles into one of the Internet's most successful companies - eBay. The community that developed around the site's online auctions inspired Omidyar to create a Foundation - now his primary focus - that promotes community and community-based planning. Now it looks like another good idea - which merges Omidyar's interests in community building with the power of the Internet - has piqued the billionaire's interest.

"I've always believed that helping people connect around a shared passion is good for business and good for the community," Omidyar told The New York Times. A new online tool called Meetup.com appears to do just that.

The 1988 graduate in computer science has recently invested several million dollars in Meetup.com - which seeks to replace anonymous Internet message boards with face-to-face meetings among people with a shared interest (such as a hobby, job or talent).

"Like eBay, Meetup is turning out to be a bigger idea than it may have appeared at first," reported the Times. When Howard Dean's campaign managers began using the site to organize meetings of their volunteers, Meetup's founders realized they could market the site as a user mobilization tool. Today, everything from presidential campaigns to the Investor's Business Daily uses the site to organize meetings.

Omidyar took interest in the project in the summer of 2003, and joined its board last month. The Internet pioneer said that the concept of the new web site reminded him of the community which unexpectedly grew on eBay.

"The early eBay users saw the trade as just an excuse to get to know other people who shared their passions about collecting," Omidyar told the Times.

As the Tufts graduate said in his 2002 commencement address at Tufts, "In the deepest sense, eBay wasn't a hobby. And it wasn't a business. It was - and is - a community: An organic, evolving, self-organizing web of individual relationships, formed around shared interests."

This latest investment in community is hardly a departure from Omidyar's record of giving.

Having already given more than $150 million to charitable causes, Pierre Omidyar and his wife Pamela - also a Tufts graduate -- were ranked in Worth magazine's list of "Top 25 Most Generous Young Americans" in 2003.

"[The Omidyars] decided that the same idea that powered eBay - community building - would power their Foundation," reported Worth. "To that end, the Foundation focuses on helping nonprofits access technology, financing, and leadership training."

Pierre and Pamela Omidyar also generously support causes including hunger and education, and were instrumental in establishing the University College of citizenship and public service at Tufts -- which prepares Tufts students to become committed public citizens and leaders who take an active role in building stronger communities and societies.

The Tufts couple aims to continue their generosity - with plans to give away 99 percent of the money earned from the company.

"[Omidyar] expects eventually to give away much of his eBay wealth (now about $6.5 billion) to causes that he hopes will help people become more active in their communities," reported the Times.

And with this new investment in Meetup.com, Omidyar says that it will help keep the web site focused less on profit and more on the kinship it hopes to build.

"There are always a lot of pressures to increase revenue," Omidyar told the Times. "It is dangerous to focus on that and do things that are not helpful to the community."

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