Upcoming events

June 28, 2008

Thursday, July 10, 5-8 pm
T-COMmons will hold a social event at the Delkwood Grill in Marietta.
No charge. Raffle prize! 

T-COMmons is an online community that supports the programs at Southern Polytechnic State University’s (SPSU) English, Technical Communication, and Media Arts Department. It is open to anyone involved in technical communication and feels connected to SPSU’s learning and teaching objectives.

Tuesday, July 15, 6:15-8:15 pm
Atlanta STC Chapter presentation: “Surviving the Next Recession”
(Would that be the recession we are in right now?)
Speaker: Frank Harper
Location: Mirant

Also, Frank will give a brief demo of FrameMaker just before the formal program.

Tuesday, August 19, 6:15-8:15pm
Atlanta STC Chapter presentation: “Six Laws of Fostering Team Member Accountability”
Speaker: Dana Brownlee
Location: Mirant

Fall 2008
Atlanta STC Chapter Competitions
Are you proud of a technical drawing, online help system, or user manual you worked on this year?
Find out what your STC peers think about your efforts!
Submit your work to the chapter competition.
Our chapter will exchange entries with another US chapter.
Winners are announced later this year and honored at a banquet in the spring.
Check the Atlanta chapter Web site for details coming soon.


Will Web 2.0 unseat the STC?

June 24, 2008

Craig Haas of HelpScribe made some compelling comments on my blog the other day.
I’m reprinting them here in case you missed them: 

Networking, helping others, conferences, etc. are now possible without an STC membership, so they offer little incentive to pay dues. As more technical writers find out how to communicate efficiently using online tools, fewer will see the benefit of the STC. In fact, the STC could possibly be perceived as a “middle man” that should be circumvented. (For example, why publish a helpful article in an STC newsletter instead of on a blog, especially if the blog has a potentially wider distribution and can therefore be of use to more people? Paper publishing is essentially dead, especially for a tech-savvy audience.)

That said, here are a few ideas for revised STC offerings.
* Local networking and employment opportunities (as Kathy K mentions above).
* Social mixers, for venting and having fun with like-minded people.
* Introducing members to Web 2.0 communities and tools (like Tom J.’s new Writer River site).
* Filling in gaps in the existing Web 2.0 communities, until competing resources emerge and make the STC offerings unnecessary. (I can think of lots of gaps.)

The structure and marketing efforts of the STC should then be examined to see if they reflect this new list of benefits.

Perhaps some of the lost revenue from dues can be offset by the reduced need for paper communications, or by replacing physical meeting space with virtual. (Web 2.0 can be an advantage to the STC, not just a threat.) Also, if the STC becomes the source of useful Web 2.0 tools, they can replace income from dues with advertising income, donation links, and pay-per-item sales and services. (Why use an old-school business model to compete in a high-tech environment?) For example, if Tom J.s Writer River site was an STC offering, I imagine it could scrape in a nice chunk of change, especially if the STC could do some hand-holding and get a significant number of its members using such tools.

When all is said and done, getting people to pay dues will be a hard sell. In the past, professional organizations were necessary to reduce isolation. We’re just not as isolated anymore.

I agree that organizations like STC will suffer if they do not keep up with technological developments, but it’s unlikely in this case. STC has already survived the sea change in our profession that began 20 years ago with the rise of the software industry. A huge new influx of members joined STC at that time. Tech writers’ work products expanded into online help, embedded assistance, content management, usability, computer-based training, and other areas. STC publications, meetings, conferences, special intereste groups, and other activites all changed quickly to accommodate the new reality. By comparison, Web 2.0 is chump change.

Craig mentions the “gaps” that still exist between STC’s offerings today and the promise of social networking. I’m curious how many people in our profession actively engage in the blogosphere, participate in social networks, and are ready to jettison the “old-school” STC operation for Web 2.0. The evidence I’ve seen indicates that number is pretty low.

For example, at the STC Summit this year, only a handful of us were live blogging or twittering. I thought it would be more popular, at least among the younger participants there. Live blogging and twittering is de rigueur at conferences like SXSW.

In the Atlanta STC Chapter this year we initiated the New Media Awards. The miniscule number of nominations and votes clearly demonstrated that STCers weren’t following new media trends as closely as I had thought.

A third example happened during an icebreaker exercise at recent IT departmental picnic I attended. Participants had to find an attendee who either owned an iPhone or appeared in a YouTube video. Out of 40 IT professionals of all ages, no one there qualified in either category!

Adopting new media techniques
Having said that, many STC chapters and virtual communities around the world incorporate new media into their activities. STC’s Special Interest Groups (SIGs) are completely virtual communities and social networks that existed long before “Web 2.0” was even in the lexicon. Lots of SIG members say that their SIG membership alone is worth the dues price.  

Many chapters are now using blogging platforms for their newsletters or chapter Web sites. Virtual meetings are a necessity for some STC communities such as those in Europe where they don’t have a critical mass in any one city or country. In Atlanta we hope to soon offer live streaming broadcasts of our chapter meetings. Atlanta’s loathsome traffic jams and $4/gal gas are the primary drivers of that initiative.

Tom Johnson has popularized podcasting in our field and others are taking it up. Tom’s podcasting workshop drew over one hundred people at the Philly conference. (He had some heavy competition at the timeslot, too.) We had two presentations on podcasting at our Atlanta Currents conference this year. Our chapter began creating podcasts in 2006.

So it’s not as bleak a picture as one might think.

This post is getting too long, so I’ll continue with related thoughts in a future installment.

Keep commenting!
It makes things more interesting.

Getting comfortable blogging at work

June 14, 2008

I work at a rather conservative company, so when we upgraded to the SharePoint version that supports blogs, I didn’t think much about it. But last week, due in part to a SharePoint presentation by Microsoft’s Chris Norred at the STC Summit, I made a 180° turn, and now I’m blogging every day at work.
Here’s why: 

Yeah, I’m like most of you out there, looking for recognition, respect, and rock solid credentials that will protect me from the next reorganization. By blogging about our activities, challenges, innovations, successes, and strategies, we have a chance to tell our story in our own words. 

Currently only my team and my manager are reading the blog, but I’ve made it accessible to every employee. Viral marketing will drive traffic to my site, right? I’m a patient person. Soon IT will roll out SharePoint across the enterprise and tout its value as a collaboration tool. My blog can set the example. That’s incentive enough to generate quality content on a regular basis.

Tech comm employees are all part-time contractors or “temporary” workers who work mostly from home or another office. We tend to work in silos and I struggle to find ways make us a “team.” I blog about what we’re working on, what’s happening at the company, and topics that I think would be of interest. This week I wrote a two-part post on Camtasia, explaining why we use it instead of Captivate or Mimic, the benefits, the drawbacks, and why I wanted everyone to think about using it more. 

Everyone on the team can post to the blog, but so far no one else has.
Well, it’s only been a week. 

I’d like the blog to be a place where we share best practices, lessons learned, and new ideas. Since everyone is working on very different projects, there’s a tendency for each person to invent their own wheel. Maybe this will be a way to share a bit more. 

The blog is a way to keep me honest. If I write, “I’m going to hold weekly one-on-one meetings with everyone on the team,” then, by God, I’d sure better do it. Eventually our customers may contribute and we want to have an open discussion with them about the documentation and training we provide. 

Work is work, but it doesn’t have to be a grind. Our group enjoys communicating and the blog provides a outlet for us to talk about what we do best in a (relatively) unfettered forum. Next week, I’m running what I hope will be the first of several interviews with people from other departments who work in our area. The first question is “Who are those people sitting in the ‘bullpen’ on the 5th floor and what are they doing?” This means the person I’m interviewing will start reading my blog and maybe all those people indexing blueprints in the bullpen will read it, too. 


I’d like to hear from those of you who have been blogging at work. My work blog will never be public like Lindsey’s at Blackbaud (another strong influence on my decision to blog at work), but that’s why I plan to keep Don’t Call Me Tina active for the foreseeable future. 

STC Summit 2008: Mixed reviews

June 10, 2008

Tom Johnson has written his assessment of the STC Summit in Philadelphia. You can also check out Ben Minson’s take on the conference as a first-time attendee. And for yet another overview as well as great notes from some of the sessions, see Anne Gentle’s blog.

Here are some of my impressions:

Good stuff

The social networking and live blogging was fun despite the low participation. Made some new friends, joined in the live blogging, and finally grokked Twitter. 

Met Rahul Prabhakar face-to-face after reading his blog for several years. Rahul is an Indian writer who lives and works in Seoul. Also met Mayur Polepalli, another Indian tech comm professional who lives in Taipei. Rahul, Mayur, and Francisco (an Oracle manager in California with a workforce in India) accepted the STC’s Chapter of Distinction award for the India chapter.

Atlanta won a Chapter of Excellence for the second year in a row, and Mike Hughes assumed his 2nd VP post. We had fun hootin’ and hollerin’ for Mike when he accepted his Fellow award at the banquet. His wife attended and helped staff our booth promoting the conference in Atlanta next year. I was also happy to see Dr. Davis from Mercer U become a Fellow. 

We had good participation from our chapter leadership, which helps us form a cohesive team for the coming year. Also, several students from Atlanta were able to attend including Tianyue, Yina, Lina, Ruidi, and Keisha. 

On Tuesday I made a mad dash to the Philly Art Museum and ran up the steps just like Rocky Balboa. Then I sprinted through ten centuries of European and Asian art in about 90 minutes. Nice break from sitting in the sessions. Enormous bouquets in the main stairway for Anne d’Harnoncourt, the director of the museum who died on June 1. 

Enjoyed these sessions:
Scott Abel’s “10 Ways to Increase Your Productivity”
Jack Molisani’s panel on “If I Knew Then, What I Know Now”
Tom’s podcasting talk 

As a tech comm generalist, I enjoyed the wide range of topics from vendor showcases, professional development, instructional design, management, and technical discussions. 

Danced and sang and acted silly at the Open Jam. Although someone had her wallet stolen during that event, which brings me to . . .

The not so good stuff

I should have flown in on Friday night and devoted a day to sightseeing in Philly. Jeffrey Shoap, a Philly native, gave me a laundry list of places to see and things to eat, and I didn’t do any of it. Didn’t get to the Rodin museum. Didn’t eat a Philly cheesesteak. Didn’t see the Bell. And no, Jeffrey, I didn’t visit your mother either.  

Leadership Day was too long. Last year we broke up into smaller groups where you had a chance to mix it up. I learned the most from the informal discussions I had during the breaks. 

The keynote was disappointing. Howard Rheingold presented Web 2.0 to us as if it was 2004. Then when he got to the interesting part about current research, he’d run out of time and had to rush through his slides. On the other hand, several other people I spoke with had a completely different take on his keynote, so it just goes to show you.  

The featured presenters should be allowed more than one hour to allow for more audience discussion, which is where some of the best learning takes place.

After so much talk about “death by PowerPoint” it is dismaying how many presenters still cling to the bulleted slide format. 

Some of the sessions I hoped would help me the most, did not come through for me. For example, Saul Carliner’s session on Business Models for Tech Pubs Departments was a surprisingly dry academic research presentation. An additional hour for questions might have made it more lively. Jane Bozarth’s and Susan Boyd’s sessions were OK, but it was mostly stuff I’d already read or knew from my own experience. 

Or maybe I just went to the wrong sessions this year . . .

Looking ahead

Next year’s Summit will be here in Atlanta and I’ll be there. I hope we can make it a great event.

Tom had a great idea about appointing a social activities director to hook people up for events in the evenings. I bet we could get some volunteers from the Atlanta chapter to help out with that one. 








Friday fun: Animator vs. animation

June 7, 2008

Click the link below to watch an animation turn the tables on an animator.
Sort of how I sometimes feel after sitting in front of the computer all week.

Animator vs. Animation

Thanks to Jeff A. for sending this to me.

Challenge to STC: Recognizing innovators

June 4, 2008

Attended Tom Johnson’s podcasting presentation yesterday. Three years ago, Tom was just another STC member and tech writer, but today he’s probably one of the best-known members of our profession both within it and outside of it. 

Tom launched I’d Rather Be Writing in 2006. It wasn’t the first tech comm blog, but he was consistent and focused on tech writing issues and technology he was exploring. He also talked a lot about blogging and became known more broadly in the blogosphere (especially in WordPress circles) than other tech comm bloggers before him. As an activist in the Sun Coast Chapter he was deep into the technology of Web sites and blogs even earlier than that, for example, converting the chapter’s Web site into a blog. Tom then jumped headfirst into podcasting with Tech Writer Voices. Again, he blogged about podcasting and inspired others to take it up as well. Another contribution was the Tech Writers Blog Directory, a magnet for tech writers and tech commers who are blogging. 

This year Tom was a speaker at WritersUA, DocTrain, and here at the STC Summit. At these conferences he doggedly pursues other innovative thinkers and doers in our profession (or closely connected to tech comm) and records podcasts with them for the rest of us to listen to, ponder, and grow. 

I can’t think of a better single resource for practicing technical communicators than Tom’s blog and podcasts. 

Yet Tom’s accomplishments have gone virtually unrecognized by the STC, which has an explicit goal of elevating our profession’s visibility and standards of practice. 

Some other people who are making similarly important contributions to our profession:

Scott Abel, who has been running The Content Wrangler since 2002 and more recently initiated the Content Management Community a great social networking tool for tech comm people. Scott also runs the DocTrain conferences that are growing in popularity each year. 

Joe Welinske of WritersUA, whose conferences and WritersUA Web site have been a valuable source of education, knowledge sharing, and new ideas for years. 

Anne Gentle who has been writing and blogging about wikis and content management. 

Scott Nesbitt and Aaron Davis of DMN Communications who have been podcasting regularly on tech comm-related topics. 

The STC doesn’t have a way to recognize people who contribute to our profession the way that these people do. I think it’s something we’ll need to address soon as part of defining and winning respect for our profession. 

During Sunday’s presentation of the STC’s strategic plan, Robert tweeted: “We need to invest in being trailblazers instead of just road pavers.” He’s concerned that STC’s gap in this category is part of our difficultly in retaining younger members. I think he’s got a point. The crowd at Tom’s podcasting session was markedly younger than the other sessions I attended. 

We need a way not only to recognize innovative and visionary thinkers in the STC, but also to foster them. That is one of the paths to gaining the respect we seek as professionals. 


STC’s Vision and new Strategic Plan: just unveiled!

June 1, 2008

Vision: To make technical communication a respected profession in all organizations. (Or something close to that.)

Larry Kunz is reviewing the STC’s new Strategic Plan. 

There are four poles to the Leadership Framework: 

Strategy & Objectives
-vision and mission
-strategic plan
-value proposition

Values & Behavior
-shared values
-standards of conduct

Metrics & Results
-annual report

Structure & Processes
-operating model 

The Strategic Plan is derived from our values . . .

  • Innovation
  • Integrity
  • Professionalism
  • Respect
  • Commitment

. . . and our behaviors

  • Transparency
  • Communication
  • Inclusion
  • Leadership

<ta – da!>

The 5 Big Hairy Ambitious Goals

  1. Define the profession of technical communication
  2. Communicate the value of technical communication and STC
  3. Establish and expand strategic partnerships
  4. Globally improve the practice of technical communication
  5. Ensure the long-term viability of the organization