Time to stop blogging?

October 21, 2008

Yes, it’s been a while since I last checked in.

This article from Wired magazine struck a familiar chord, but it doesn’t completely describe my funk. It points out that Facebook, Flikr, and Twitter are becoming the preferred social networking channels for individuals. I’m not blogging, but it’s not because I’m Twittering, Flikring, or Facebooking instead.

The article also says that today, it’s almost impossible for a single individual to be a big-time blogger. But that was never my goal in the first place and still isn’t.

Technical communication is and will always be a small niche in the blogosphere. Since we are writers by profession, more and more of us have started blogs. I’ve been reading some of them and they are pretty good. I slowed down partly because I didn’t think I had much to contribute to the conversation.

But the blogging conversation is different than a conversation at a dinner party or even on a listserve. In those situations if someone says, “Consider the oyster,” and you just happened to also be contemplating oysters, you would look foolishing saying, “I want to talk about oysters.”

In the blogosphere—even the narrow tech comm corner of the blogosphere—there is room for two, or even five or ten simultaneous oyster diatribes because we all have different audiences with some overlapping on the edges. If we are truly speaking in our own voice, we won’t be talking about oysters in exactly the same way. This may or may not be useful to our audience.

I began blogging as a way to reach out to the STC chapter in Atlanta when I was president two years ago. I had a lot of fun with it and decided to continue. I like to write and I like to share things I’ve learned or seen or thought about. Sometime over the summer I lost my inspiration. Then I felt guilty as each week passed without a blog post.

When I read the Wired article today I thought, “What the heck? There may not be any pearls inside this oyster, but I’m still swimming along in the STC/tech comm tide with some opinions, thoughts, and observations.” So I will chug along here at a relaxed pace for a bit longer even though it is so 2004.


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.

Gaps
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: 

Visibility. 
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.

Communication.
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. 

Collaboration. 
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. 

Integrity. 
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. 

Fun. 
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. 


Writers UA comes to your desktop through blogs

March 20, 2008

Ahhh, Web 2.0!

I only get to go to one conference a year so I usually choose the STC Summit. But I’ve always wanted to go to WritersUA because of the cutting edge technology discussions that take place there.

Thanks to the (pardon the adjective) robust tech comm blogging community out there, I can now get first-hand, detailed, and timely reports from conferences like this.

Check out Pamplisest and Functioning Form for some good blogs on the sessions there.

Our Atlanta technical communicators were well-represented:
Rob Houser, Scott Deloach, Mike Hughes, and Mark Wallis all presented.

Mark reprised his presentation on DITA projects that he gave at our November STC Chapter meeting.
The blog reviews are favorable. Good work, Mark!


JoAnn Hackos is now blogging!

January 10, 2008

A few months ago I asked “Why aren’t more tech comm leaders blogging?

One of the people I mentioned at the time was JoAnn Hackos of the Center for Information-Development Management.

Her newsletter today announced that she has started blogging.

To be accurate, CIDM has an organizational blog, but JoAnn is a contributor.

Welcome, JoAnn!


The seven-year itch: Should I stay or should I go?

January 10, 2008

marilynmonroe.jpgMany bloggers are posting their resolutions this time of year.

I’m skipping that ritual, but after reading Tom Johnson’s post today on lists, I had to rise to the occasion and enumerate something.

According to Tom, the best formula is an attention-grabbing topic and image (enter Marilyn Monroe stage left), a common problem, and proposed list of solutions.

Here goes:

I’ve been working at the same place for over 7 years. That’s not much in “gray flannel suit” years, but it equals close to 25 in “the world is flat” years. (“And 49 in dog years!” says Abby.)

The career advice columnists warn about getting stale if you stay in one job too long. Is it time to move on or should I work at pumping some excitement back into my current job? If I decide to leave, what do I need to do to prepare?

Hence, two lists with 5 (a magical number) suggestions.

5 ways to rekindle the fire

  1. Look ahead.
    Don’t dwell on the “old days” because they are gone.
  2. Build new relationships with people at your workplace who inspire you.
    (Hint: No one inspires you? It’s time to leave.)
  3. Leverage your seniority.
    In many cases, higher seniority workers have greater value because of their tacit knowledge. Chances are, your management wants to keep you and will respond to reasonable demands. At last year’s performance evaluation, I asked for an office with a window. Bingo! Let the sun shine in.
  4. Move into a different role.
    You can combine of the advantages of getting a whole new job—different kinds of work, new challenges, new coworkers, new boss—with the advantages of staying on—knowing where the skeletons are hidden, who the go-to people are, and who’s got the best candy jar.
  5. Move out of or into management.
    Sometimes managers like where they work, but they just don’t like the hassles of being a manager. Likewise, some worker bees are yearning to move up out of the trenches. In most cases, moving out is easier to achieve than moving in.

5 steps to breaking out

  1. Update your resume. (Duh!)
  2. Put your resume out there.
    Post it on Monster.com, computerjobs.com, dice.com, etc.
  3. Apply for a job you are not quite qualified for just to practice selling yourself.
    You may be surprised and get an offer.
  4. Follow the job listings so you know what employers are looking for.
    Try some new keywords in your job search that describe what you’d like to do.
  5. Make up your dream job, then get someone to hire you to do it.
    Sounds crazy, but that’s exactly the message in the Bible on career change What Color Is Your Parachute? by Richard Nelson Bolles. It was first published in the early 70s and has been updated yearly ever since.

Other suggestions in either category??


The Buttered Blogroll

November 18, 2007

I’ve volunteered to write a monthly column for our STC Chapter newsletter that highlights some of the more interesting posts on the tech comm (and beyond) blogs. I’m calling it “The Buttered Blogroll.” Seems appropriate as the big Thanksgiving feast arrives.

The column will appear here as well. If you have any recommendations, let me know.