Will Web 2.0 unseat the STC?

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.


3 Responses to Will Web 2.0 unseat the STC?

  1. Craig Haiss says:

    Great post, Holly. (As always.)

    I’m going to continue to be the devil’s advocate, if I may. I’ll risk being obnoxious, but hopefully with the result of furthering the discussion in a helpful manner.

    My concern is that the lack of blogging and twittering at STC events is the result of Web 2.0-savvy tech writers not attending such events in the first place, because they aren’t STC members. In other words, the only visible result would be dwindling membership among those entering the field. Some writers are participating and helping others in the technical writing community, but are working outside of STC circles.

    I agree that the future isn’t bleak. As you yourself have pointed out, this is a slow migration. (Thus the lack of iPhones and YouTube stars.) But how many technical writers are members of Techwr-l or other discussion groups, or subscribe to a blog? Eventually these “2.0” technologies will become the standard for day-to-day communication. If you asked people twenty years ago how many had email accounts, few would raise their hands. But can you imagine asking the same question to a group of technical writers today?

    I think this is a long and slow process of adjustment. The important thing is that blogs like this one are helping to raise questions about how the STC can continue to be relevant to technical writers who choose to convene in new ways. (We’re just trying to promote STC 2.0 because we think its additional features will better suit our workflow.)

    P.S. I think the idea of live chapter broadcasts is brilliant. That’s STC 2.0.

  2. Holly says:

    I got to meet John Posada at the STC Summit in Philly. I recognized his name from Techwr-l discussion threads going back several years. John said he was tired of hearing tech writers trash STC on the listserves and decided to join. He became the president of the NYC chapter. He’s been an outspoken advocate of STC chapters. (Some may consider him a thorn in their side, but that’s another story.) Anyway I thought his evolution was noteworthy.

    Will keep you posted on the live broadcasts.

    PS. Is Techwr-l a Web 2.0 medium? It’s been around since the 1990s.

  3. dfarbey says:

    This is a very interesting discussion. I used to promote STC membership by saying it was a great way to network with other writers. Craig is right, there are plenty of other good ways to network. I’d like to see STC evolve into being not just “another way” of doing anything it does, but the “best way” – the best online forums (we have a long way to go on that one!), the best networking events, the best webinars, and the best face-to-face meetings. We must be responsive to members needs across all relevant technologies, not just across industries.

    That’s why I am so pleased about research initiatives into a “body of knowledge” for tech comm, and even the still-controversial research into the possibility of certification for tech writers. They are things that can be “best in class” benefits for members.

    (I subscribe to the slightly Luddite opinion that “Web 2.0” is just a marketing label, so anything you like can be called “2.0” or “3.0” to earn a few more dollars!)


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