I've met beta readers online that I've swapped stories with and also joined writers groups where we read our stories outloud and critiqued each other. I've found that swapping stories online gives me the best critiques and here's why.
There are some benefits to writer's groups in person. They keep you accountable. After all, you must have a new chapter each week to share with them or you could be kicked out of the group. But unfortunately, people are really bad at listening to others read stories outloud. They are all anxious to get their own stories read and will tune yours out or not pick up on all the information. I had another woman in the group read my stories for me outloud (because I'm shy) and she was the only one who understood all of it. Sometimes other people would say,"You left out this detail or that one." And she'd say for me,"No, she discussed all of that here." It really showed me week after week that no one listened to what I had to write and it wasn't just me they did this to. I'm pretty good at listening to stories and picking up on most of what is read, but even I didn't get everything either.
Not to mention that their critiques will never be as in depth as one online can be. They can't see your spelling mistakes and if they notice grammar problems or run-on sentences, they'll only be able to vaguely reference them because they don't have a copy of your manuscript in front of them. They don't get much time to state their opinions, so they'll often be vague. One time, for a chapter of my novel, the only feedback I got was: "You know, it's like, missing something." Maybe I agreed with the feedback, but it wasn't specific at all and didn't help me. All I knew was there was something wrong with my chapter, but not what that was. People will go into more detail if you swap stories with them online.
Of course, I've read that there are some writer's groups out there who print out their stories and swap them with another person once a month and then come back and give each other's manuscripts back. It sounds interesting and better than the other method I've seen employed.
How do your experiences differ from mine? Do you get most of your critiquing online or in person?