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A trivial and superficial article, not a good one. The points the
author raises are reasonable criticisms, and not news to me, and
several (e.g., declining participation at meetings) certainly bear
further investigation, but the author presents no objective data
other than "I hear that things have gotten worse", and presents that
subjective opinion for only a single chapter without specifying its
size or any details of the local economy.
A fairer description based on what the author actually wrote would be
not that STC is broken, but rather that the author's local chapter
isn't doing a good job of meeting the needs of its members _for in-
person meetings_. Possibly the members get everything they need from
its newsletter and other activities, or by belonging to special
interest groups (SIGs)that focus on areas that are more important to
them. That's somewhat inevitable; STC members are a diverse group,
with (at last count) ca. 20 SIGs.
Let's do some really crude and sloppy numbers based on this, purely
for the sake of illustration: If each member belongs to (say) two
SIGs, which is typical, this means they're only strongly interested
in 10% (2 out of 20) of the topic areas STC offers. That means you
probably can't expect much more than 10% of the chapter membership to
turn out at any given meeting based on a keen interest in that
particular topic. Some of these people won't be able to make it
because of illness, evening classes, activities of their children,
bad weather, fatigue, etc. That further reduces the total. Of course,
if 100% of the members belong to one SIG and the chapter holds a
meeting on that SIG's topic, turnout would be much higher.
Last I checked, ca. 15 000 people still belong to STC, many of whom
(myself included) pay their own way because they feel they're getting
their money's worth. That's down significantly (ca. 20%?) from peak
membership during the height of the dotcom boom, but membership
appears to be stable now, and I haven't heard of any other technical
communication group with even roughly comparable figures. Clearly,
these folks don't believe the STC model is broken -- or at least, not
so badly broken that they'll take their money elsewhere.
It would be interesting to speculate about what membership numbers
might be like if STC evangelized better among groups who currently
don't even know it exists and put some serious muscle (mental and
financial) into proving the worth of what we do. But that would just
be speculation, and worth not much more than the electrons it
consumes. It would be far more productive for each chapter to
actually find out why people don't go to their meetings rather than
extrapolating from a single data point to a broad criticism of the
effectiveness of ca. 200 chapters spread around the world.
-- Geoff Hart
ghart -at- videotron -dot- ca / geoffhart -at- mac -dot- com
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