About TECHWR-L and a TECHWR-L Conference

Subject: About TECHWR-L and a TECHWR-L Conference
From: Eric Ray <ejray -at- raycomm -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Mon, 16 Apr 2001 11:11:12 -0700 (PDT)


Deborah and I have been watching the most interesting
discussions about a possible TECHWR-L conference.
In brief, it sounds like a potentially useful and
valuable endeavor, albeit far more work and effort
than one would initially think--particularly if the
organizers are relying on volunteer effort to bring
it all together.

A TECHWR-L conference is, actually, an idea that we've
been kicking around for a while, along with several
other additional areas of growth for the TECHWR-L
community. That said, the timing isn't right for an
Official TECHWR-L Conference--yet.

Background and Perspective:
As you know, we've been making a broad range of changes
to TECHWR-L over the past couple of years--and trying to
manage the growth and change responsibly. The move from
Okstate to the raycomm.com server was a bit tense and
difficult for all of us, and moving to a financially
self-sustaining model was more challenging than we had
anticipated. Thanks to the invaluable sponsorship of
Weisner Associates, in particular, along with
Online-Learning.com and several others, we are now
in a better position to be able to move ahead with
a variety of projects to better serve the community.

The first of those projects--improving the quality of
information on the TECHWR-L site--is already well underway.
In the past year, we have been able to provide:

* A paying writers market (the only one specifically
for the technical communication community, as far as
we know), offering generally in the $100 to $500 range
(slightly less for reprints) for articles appropriate
for the community.

* Regular features from several columnists, including
- authoritative legal commentary from a well-known
intellectual property attorney, Doug Isenberg
(in between his CNN appearances)
- thoughtful analysis of professional issues from
Geoff Hart
- hysterical commentary on life in the profession from
Lisa Higgins
- insightful perspective and commentary, drawn on
40 years in the profession, from the late Herman

* A new, complete TECHWR-L archive, including all 120,000+
postings since March of 1993. This archive is full-text
indexed and fully searchable, providing an invaluable
resource for anyone interested in the profession.

* Employment Central, the Resources Directory, and the
Calendar, which offer a freely available clearinghouse
for anyone to share opportunities, resumes, resources,
and event schedules. Volunteer help from Amanda Kearney
(the Resources Directory Manager) and Diana Barnum (the
Calendar Manager) has been invaluable over the past year
in developing those resources.

* Regular hardware and software upgrades to keep up with
site and list growth

We've been aggressively working on the site for about a year now,
and it's becoming the solid resource we set out to develop, as
many visitors to the site have noted. (Site traffic, incidentally,
has grown by more than 350% in the past year.) Although we have
more goals yet to meet (and our To Do list is getting longer by
the day!), we're quite proud of these achievements, proud of the
additional resources and services we've been able to provide
to the community, and proud of the steady growth we've been
able to maintain.

So, with that background in mind....

About a Conference:
Other possibilities that TECHWR-L could offer the community
are under discussion, including, among other items, specialized
training opportunities, get-togethers of various flavors, and
other events. However, we are not ready to launch into a
conference yet for a few reasons.

We feel that, although a conference could be a hoot as well
as very valuable for professional development, at this time
it would be better for us to maintain a focus on developing
durable resources that can have a lasting impact. As many of
you know, Deborah and I are very quality-focused, and have
learned that it's far better to concentrate on doing a few
things very well than to split our attention too many ways.
Jumping into launching a conference prematurely could well
result in both diminished attention to other resources and
in a conference that isn't as valuable or effective as it
could be. That isn't to say that it won't happen, just that
an Official TECHWR-L Conference won't happen immediately.

We're quite encouraged to see the broad support for the idea
of a TECHWR-L conference, and seeing the enthusiasm this
has generated will probably result in reprioritizing TECHWR-L
community events. That said, our short-term focus will continue
to be on building online resources for the entire community--not
just for those who happen to be able to attend a given conference.

To illustrate, a couple of companies have contacted us about
sponsoring a conference. While that is greatly appreciated,
we're inclined to think that more technical communicators could
be better served through other means. For example, if a
company were to donate $2500 to support the community, that
money could

(1) Reserve a meeting room for a day at a hotel and thus
help partially defray costs for the people who can
attend a conference at a particular time,


(2) Pay for five or more substantive articles (or how-to
materials, or worksheets, or tutorials, or examples,
or technical materials, or or or...) of interest
to the technical writing community and ensure that
such materials are available to _everyone_ interested--not
just those who are in a specific city at a specific time.

This is not to say that we don't see the value in conferences;
rather that it's not possible to do everything, and carefully
prioritizing will be better in the long run for everyone.

Assuming (optimistically) that 500 people were to attend
a TECHWR-L conference for 2 days, those 500 people, plus
possibly those they work with, could benefit from the
information shared. At a most conservative estimate, attendees
(or their companies) would incur costs of hundreds of dollars
each for attendance, lodging, food, travel, and other expenses,
and sponsors of the conference would also have to underwrite
some of the expenses. All told, we could easily look at over
$250,000 (500 people x 500 dollars) changing hands. On the
other hand, a "virtual conference" with online resources could
provide many--not all, but a substantial percentage--of the
benefits of a real conference, but at a far lower cost, to
more people, and over a longer period of time.

That said, the obvious benefit of a conference, particularly to
the sponsoring organization, is profit--a well-run, successful
conference can be quite lucrative. On the other hand, we think
that a conference might not currently be the best means of
providing professional resources for the larger community.
We are aware that, without the impetus of an
_event_ to point to, gaining the support of sponsors
to maintain and develop the community will undoubtedly continue
to be a challenge. However, we think that the potential benefits
to be gained by continuing to focus on long-term growth and
solid content are tremendous for the community as a whole,
and we will continue to push ahead in this direction.

If your company would have been willing to sponsor a TECHWR-L
conference, as discussed over the past week, or would have
supported your attendance at the conference, please take a
minute to see if your company would similarly support ongoing
professional development that comes with an Internet connection--
and without travel receipts. Contact us directly offline for more
information about how companies can support this community.
If you have gained as much from this community as from a
single conference, please consider asking your company to
support your professional development through supporting this

All this notwithstanding, if a group of individuals choose to
organize a technical writing conference (obviously _not_ using
the TECHWR-L name, and on a not-for-profit basis), we'd be
delighted to provide support in the form of helping to create
discussion lists to link organizers and others. Depending, we
could possibly provide other assistance as well.

We hope this clarifies our position with regard to possible
conferences and get-togethers. Please don't hesitate to contact
us with questions, suggestions, or anything else that's on
your mind.

Eric Deborah
ejray -at- raycomm -dot- com debray -at- raycomm -dot- com
Listowner Webmaster
The TECHWR-L Community


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