Sometimes I am late to the party. For you those of you who are like me in that respect, I offer an introduction to some online social networking groups related to our profession. My apologies to those who for whom this is old news. I have learned about them only recently. (Am I slower than everyone else, or just very busy?) So what are these social networking groups?
The Association of Technical Communicators was originally SYTC (Society for Young Technical Communicators) and started by Michelle Sander. I am guessing it grew from a (perceived) divide between the “old” guard (that is, STC – the Society for Technical Communication) and younger folks (that is, under-30). It seems to have transformed to avoid those old-new distinctions.
TechCommAlliance.com was originally founded by Sarah O’Keefe of Scriptorium, Ellis Pratt of Cherryleaf, and Tony Self of Hyperwrite. Enough said about these heavy-weights in the industry.
Technical Writing World was started by Arnold Burian, I think as a Web2.0-ish place for tech commers. I’ll consider this one the upstart.
I have joined all three and I’ll look around a bit and see if they have different emphases before I post some content. I have some initial impressions about this group of sites that I would like to share.
First, It is interesting to see their common and overlapping mission statements. It is obvious that all of these can be seen as either direct “competitors” to STC or maybe a better way to say that is that they are filling a (social) need that STC has not yet successfully filled. They definitely are filling the “social networking” void that STC has yet to address.
I mention STC because it claims to be the premier international association for technical communicators.
ATC: The ATC aims to bring technical communicators together. This site will help ATC members communicate, share ideas, inspire each other and hopefully help facilitate friendships around our passion for innovative technical communication.
TCA: This site is intended as a gathering place for professional technical communicators.
TWW This site is an open and free community by technical writers for technical writers.
Second, interestingly enough, so far, I have found the “usual suspects” on all these sites. The same people who are blogging and tweeting are visiting these sites and posting content. While this is on the world-wide web, it seems like a very small community of professionals. You will see many of the same names and faces.
Third, I am not completely sure I see the need for a techcomm-specific network, since I am already on LinkedIn (and member of LinkedIn groups), I follow a bunch of tech writers, UX designers, and information architects on Twitter, and have a Facebook page that I don’t have time to post on, and I follow several blogs with great content. I am wondering if there is a need for yet more sites for sharing information, comparing stories, and generally socializing about professional issues. I am already getting so much information already by tweeting and reading blogs. So I don’t know if we need a “Facebook”-ish site, another online “network”. The forums are nice, but I’m not sure if the excitement will continue.
Fourth, they are all still very young and filling in. TWW looks the most established or filled out. TCA and ATC look as if they have empty spaces and are still trying to figure out how to use all the content management system modules available to them.
Comparison with KeyContent.org
KeyContent.org is a wiki-based web site which offers professionals a place to post content and work collaboratively, but is not a social networking site in the sense that these others are. But it also offers a place online to post articles related to our profession in an open, publicly available place and owned by a non-profit professional association, namely KeyContent.org, Inc. This was started by myself and Rick Sapir and Sherry Steward when, many years ago now, there was no such place online offered by STC or IEEE (Professional Communication Society) or any other professional association. The calendar that KeyContent offers is well-known. What will be the point of these network sites offering a calendar? I guess the idea is that it would all be available in one place. But in a sense, as long as it is on the web, it is available in one place, namely my browser.
The web is still a new place for many people to share ideas, exchange contact information, and generally network in the social sense. Many of us now use social media, if not at work, at least in our volunteer activities or as a way of keeping up with friends and relatives. So networking sites are no longer strange territory. But how social can we go? Should we pick just one platform (Facebook or ATC?), one association (STC or TWW?), one form of content delivery (microblogging, blogging, or forums?). I also wonder to what extent this may add to our body of knowledge as a profession, as some are trying to establish. Will the fragmenting of our profession continue? Right now, I’m optimistic that having all these opportunities for socializing online will make it easier for people to learn about it and find their voice. Time will tell which site or sites will win the minds of the best of our profession. I encourage you to join one or more and connect up with people.
And, finally, I’ll invite my friend and colleague, Rick Sapir, to comment on the super-cool new MySTC Joomla network (as he calls it) that is supposed to be launching soon. Apparently he is on the testing group for that.