Monthly Archives: January 2012

STC-Montreal to Go Independent

The vote is in, and STC-Montreal will not dissolve. Instead, the chapter will sever its ties with the parent organization and become an independent entity.

More details to follow soon. Look for an article from Andy Gural on the STC-Montreal web site in the next day or so. it will, of course, be linked here.

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Tell Me Your Story

Who are you?

Over the last year or so, ninety people attended events held by STC-Montreal. The Facebook page for STC-Montreal has 70 fans. Yesterday, a couple hundred people visited this site to read the proposal for a new organization for technical writers.

So who are you all?

Many of you I have met, and some I know well. But I’m curious — what brought you here? What brought you to this career, to this community, and to this page?

For myself, I applied for a job in technical writing in 1993 because I wasn’t making much money as a journalist. I discovered STC-Montreal during that first job. Since then, I have worked in multiple fields as a tech writer, also as an information architect, web designer and  photographer. I spent five years working for myself.

And all the way through it, the community of technical writers in Montreal was a constant presence in my life. Thanks to that community, I found work. I discovered public speaking. I found love, and married a wonderful woman who is also a technical writer. I want to see if there’s a way to continue to contribute to that community.

Who are you? What do you want? Where are you going?

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After STC-Montreal: A Proposal for a New Association for Technical Writers

STC-Montreal has reached the end of its life. So what do we do now?

Well, after almost fifteen years of hanging around STC-Montreal, I have developed a few ideas about why things turned sour.

I believe that the Society for Technical Communication ran into trouble because it never learned to cope with the Internet. STC’s business model — the hub-and-spoke structure of headquarters and chapters, the membership dues, the magazines — is a relic of the pre-Internet era. Today, STC competes against free information. STC’s business model was torpedoed by Google, and the instant availability of specialized knowledge.

Many of the problems that brought STC-Montreal to its end stemmed from the parent organization, and some were caused by mistakes made locally. The chapter rarely functioned perfectly. But there was always one thing that that STC-Montreal excelled at: bringing together a local community of technical writers.

STC-Montreal events were always well-organized and usually well-attended. Sometimes, the room was overflowing. And STC-Montreal reached beyond its immediate audience, and attracted people from a variety of writerly organizations in Montreal.

We should not allow that special ability to dissolve away.

So I believe the guiding principle of a new organization dedicated to the professional development of technical writers should be this:

Focus on things that can’t be downloaded. Focus on people interacting with people.

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Demographics for Tech Writers in Montreal

Does anyone have access to any kind of demographic information about tech writers in Montreal?

A new organization needs to attract young people just entering the profession, but do we know if there are indeed a significant number of new writers? The profession experienced a boom in the early and mid-90s, and I was part of that boom. Since the dotcom crash, and in the wake of the Lesser Depression, I wonder what our community really looks like, beyond those who attended STC-Montreal events.

Information of this kind may really help influence any strategy for moving forward.

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Rewriting the Proposal

A few weeks ago, I wrote a lengthy analysis document for the members of the STC-Montreal administrative council. In it, I described how STC-Montreal has connected with its audience and volunteers over the years, and described ways how we might do a better job of that in a revamped organization.

I’m now in the process of rewriting that document into a proposal for a general audience. I hope to have it done in the next day or two. It will be posted here.

I believe that the core value of encouraging the professional development of technical writers is worth carrying over into a new organization. I also think that there’s a lot of cruft in STC-Montreal that a new organization could do without.

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Well, the Balloon has Gone Up

It’s done.

After two years of deliberation, an STC-Montreal chapter president finally pulled the trigger on dissolution. The notice went out on January 19, 2011 2012.

How did this happen?

I just checked my records. In 2004, STC-Montreal had 200 paying members. Today, that number is about 60. The chapter has been shrinking steadily for years.

At first, it didn’t matter much. STC-Montreal was always able to drawn audience and volunteers from outside the ranks of STC members. But the shrinking pool of members meant that the pool of potential volunteers for leadership positions — which, according to the chapter’s bylaws must be STC members in good standing — was also shrinking.

The fact is that most STC members have no interest in volunteering with the chapter. And that’s okay. But it means a healthy roster of volunteers requires a large pool to draw from.

When STC suffered its financial crisis several years ago, and decided to increase membership prices dramatically, an enormous fraction of the membership fled. The cost/benefit ratio tilted away from the Society in the minds of most people. And so many STC chapters were put on a path of eventual starvation.

The Society also stopped sending members’ dues to the chapters (an amount of $25/member). STC-Montreal has not received any money from the Society in five years. STC-Montreal became squeezed for both money and volunteers.

While there may be ways to deal with the financial burden, there is no way to solve the volunteer problem.

The current president and treasurer of STC-Montreal — Andy Gural and Everett Larsen — allowed their memberships to lapse at the end of 2011. Once the grace period for lapsed members is over on March 1, 2012, they will no longer have the legal or ethical right to manage the chapter’s money. No new team is stepping forward. So the chapter must dissolve.

This outcome has been anticipated for two years, after the extent of the Society’s membership collapse became apparent. While there has been much discussion about what might after STC-Montreal is gone, no decisions have been taken.

Well, the decision is upon us. Do we start over or let it go?

Let’s figure that out together.

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