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.


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

Leadership Day at the STC Summit

June 1, 2008

Greetings from the City of Brotherly Love where I just saw two citizens almost come to blows over a copy machine at Kinko’s. 

We have a good turnout from the Atlanta chapter at Leadership Day. Incoming and outgoing presidents are here as well as our 1st and 2nd VP. I’m here as Immediate Past President and the Assistant Manager of the Management SIG. And, of course, Mike Hughes is with us as the incoming 2nd VP for the Society as a whole. 

More people are blogging here. Char-James Tanney has set up a live blogging site here

E-mail me or Char to gain access. 

We had some good discussion (“intense dialogue” as our motivational speaker called it) at lunch about chapter programs. Paul from Houston joined us explained how the Chicago Chapter (which again won the Chapter of Distinction award this year) decided to separate networking activities from the chapter programs with great success. This is something we should think about. 

In Chicago they have networking lunches on the same day in several locations. They’ve even sparked a competition to see which location has the best turnout. 

I think we’d want to do a quick survey of our Atlanta members to see where everyone works. I think the Perimeter Mall area, Alpharetta, and Midtown are obvious locations if we wanted to location-based luncheons. Paul explained that it’s good to pick a restaurant where everyone can pick up their own food so you aren’t interrupted by your server while you are trying to meet. This is a minor annoyance at our council meetings.

Got to go now. Have to set up our Management SIG table for tonight’s reception. I’m skipping out on the attorney’s talk. :>)

Why I’m in the STC

May 23, 2008

Last month a lengthy discussion broke out on Tom Johnson’s blog after he wrote a post about STC’s broken model. After noting continued low attendance at STC chapter meetings, he suggested that the ability to connect with people all over the world through virtual networks may have rendered the old-fashioned geographic-based chapter structure obsolete.

Commenters chimed in with other complaints about STC as well. Anti-STC laments have appeared on and off for many years on listserves like TECHWR-L. If anyone broaches the subject of STC, the floodgates open and the criticism pours in. You even see this on STC’s own forums and listserves.

An outside observer might wonder why anyone still bothers with STC. As someone who continues to renew her membership each year, I’d like to explain why I still find value in the organization.

Employment networking

    The people I meet through the STC in Atlanta are potential employees, employers, and coworkers. If I have to find another job, I’m confident my STC connections will be a huge advantage. I’ve met people whom I’d work for readily and others whom I would not, based on my experience working with them in STC activities. (Competition judging is a great way to learn about your STC colleagues, for example.) When I first moved to Atlanta, I didn’t know anyone else in the profession and I suffered for it.  

Helping others

    I have benefitted greatly from advice and assistance from others in this profession. Now I am in a position to help others. I can do this virtually through listserves, blogs, etc., but I find it more rewarding to work with people in person. At every chapter meeting at least one person shows up who is trying to break into the field, looking for a job, or is an employer looking for a tech writer.
    We also work closely with tech comm students in our area. Some of these students continue their association with STC after graduation, which brings young people into the chapter — essential for any organization.

Professional assistance

    The STC’s Special Interest Groups (SIGs) provide members with a large pool of free consultants. I joined the Management SIG as soon as I was promoted to team lead several years ago. We share a common set of experiences, challenges, and opportunities. When any of us are in a bind, a quick e-mail blast to the listserve returns a wealth of information, advice, and even sympathy.
    I was a member of the Technical Editing SIG, too, for many years and recently I joined the Instructional Design SIG.


    When I attended my first STC conference, I thought I was a complete newbie with nothing to teach and everything to learn. Then I attended a workshop where someone asked, “What is FrameMaker?” and I realized that I wasn’t totally clueless. Since then I’ve used the conference to help me to evaluate my team’s performance as a whole, to identify better practices, new tools, etc.
    The conferences are also good therapy — for lack of a better word. Let’s face it, we are a rather obscure profession. Many of us are the only tech writer in our company or part of a tiny group. It’s easy to get isolated and adopt a belly-button contemplation approach. At the STC conferences you are thrust into the midst of several thousand people just like yourself. It’s energizing and fun.
    I also learn a lot at the yearly STC Summit. Sure, some sessions are duds, but several speakers inevitably get my brain buzzing, and I return to Atlanta motivated and inspired.
    I’ve never attended DocTrain or WritersUA, but I’m sure that many of the things I love about the STC conferences are true for them as well. In 2004 I attended LavaCon in New Orleans and found it equally rewarding even though it was a much smaller, more focused event.

Value for me as a generalist

    Some technical communicators may not like STC because they do very specialized work and the Society’s broad scope is frustrating to them. I appreciate the wide range of disciplines under the STC umbrella because I manage a team of technical communication generalists. We’re constantly challenged to use our skills to provide value for the company. I know that I can always turn to resources within the STC to learn about options to choose from.

I haven’t mentioned the local chapter programs, the publications, webinars, opportunities to develop leadership and organizational skills, local conferences, competitions, and scholarships, but this post is getting too lengthy.

In my next installment I’ll weigh in on another side of the discussion — why local STC chapters blossom or wilt.

Favorite sessions at STC Summit

June 20, 2007

Small turnout at last night’s meeting due to (much needed) rain and a major accident on I-285. I suspect many of our usual attendees simply gave up. Despite that, we had a good discussion of the conference. A couple of visitors came who were interested in getting into the field. It was a cozier atmosphere than our larger meetings.

Robert did a good job posing questions to the six panelists. Everyone had a lot to say about the conference, including the two first-time attendees, Dorothy and Howard. By the way, Robert won a prize for guessing the exact number of registrants. He told me the number last night, but I forgot. It was around 1400 (up from recent years).

Some complaints were that the conference program came out very late making it hard to plan what sessions to attend. Also, many sessions were overcrowded, excluding some altogether, and making it uncomfortable for those who managed to squeeze in at the last minute. Mike Hughes pointed out that many conferences poll registrants ahead of time to get a sense of which sessions will be the most popular, then plan accordingly.

Another complaint was that we still have not received a conference evaluation. It’s easier to give feedback within a couple of weeks of the event. There’s no reason why a conference evaluation can’t be prepared well ahead of time. The list of attendees and the conference proceedings just came out. (I guess this answers my question posed yesterday about the problems with conference organization.)

Overall, the feedback was positive. Jean-Luc Doumont of Principae was cited by several as the best speaker at the conference. Materials from his session, “Road Signs: Making Your Way in the Visual World” and “Effective Layout for the Non-Artist” are available at the links posted here. We’re in discussions with Jean-Luc about presenting at our Currents conference here in Atlanta in March. Stay tuned.

Another popular session was Scott Abel’s “Web 2.0: Understanding the Semantic Web and It’s Impact on Technical Communication.” The link here is to his slides.

Jane Wilson and I enjoyed Karen Schriver’s sessions. I will blog about those soon.

Most of us felt that the networking was as much a  benefit of the conference as the formal sessions. I pointed out that you have to work at networking at a large conference; it doesn’t just happen. Sometimes it’s possible to shoot an e-mail to a member you’ve corresponded with on a listserve and set up a lunch meeting ahead time. Chris McRae said that he likes to collect the e-mail addresses of people he meets in case he needs a quick answer to a vexing problem or simply wants to bounce an idea off of some peers.

We finished up with a brief discussion of the 2009 STC conference in Atlanta. Our responsibilities as a chapter are minimal, but the opportunities are huge.  We plan to set up a task force to set some goals.  Anyone who is interested should contact Al Hood. Or post a comment here and I’ll get in touch with you.
Appropriately, our door prizes last night included some of the swag Robert had collected at the conference Exposition.

June Chapter meeting to recap highlights of STC Conference

June 19, 2007

Tomorrow night’s chapter meeting will feature a panel of chapter members who attended the STC Summit in Minneapolis last month. Robert Armstrong, our new program manager, and 2nd vice president, will serve as moderator and interviewer. If you attended the conference but aren’t part of the panel, please come and share your perspective from the audience. If you didn’t attend, you’ll get a flavor for the conference and the initiatives that made it different this year from other years.
You can read Mike Hughes’s entertaining review of the conference at UX Matters as well as this rather sour assessment from a first time attendee.  I can’t understand her low marks for organization. STC conferences are no better or worse than others I’ve attended. Oh well, you can’t please everyone.

Why isn’t STC at ASTD?

June 4, 2007

The American Society for Training and Development (ASTD) is holding its conference here in Atlanta this week. One of the exhibitors sent me a badge so that I could visit the Exposition Hall. This morning I drove down to the Georgia World Congress Center to check out the booths. I hope we hold the STC conference there in 2009 because it’s a beautiful facility! My pass entitled me to a free lunch, so I reviewed the exhibitor list carefully as I munched my grilled chicken ceasar.

ASTD is a larger, wealthier organization than STC, and it’s about 10 years older as well. The cost of joining is only slightly higher than STC, but their big bucks come from their programs and sponsors. High-powered corporate trainers are likely to be members as well as instructional designers, HR people, and technical trainers. I’m providing this context so that you’ll understand why they had about 5 times as many exhibitors as we did at the STC Summit in Minneapolis.

As I paged through the exhibitor list, I noticed several professional organizations including PMI, the American Society for Quality, and the Society for Human Resource Management. Where was STC? Technical trainers today must be good technical communicators, obviously. They would benefit from membership in STC as much as they do from ASTD. ASTD has a more technical conference that they hold in January each year. STC should be an exhibitor there, too. For that matter, shouldn’t we have invited these organizations to exhibit at the STC Summit? 

STC is still suffering from Tina-the-tech-writer syndrome — a rigid, insular view of who we are and where we stand in relation to others. I plan to write a note to the Society about this. Our strategic goals include more marketing as well as partnering with other organizations and ASTD offered an opportunity to do both. By participating in the events of other organizations, we can learn a lot.

Eventually, it would be nice to work out a sister organization program or partnership. Here’s how it could work: if you are a member of STC, you could also join ASTD, PMI, or a similar professional organization at 1/2 price (or something like that). We could provide discounts to each other’s conferences and programs as well. Maybe it’s a pipe dream, but it could benefit everyone if it was handled correctly.