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Review of the STC's 1999 Annual Conference
By Seth A. Maislin

Published in the Boston Broadside, a regular publication of the Boston Chapter of the Society for Technical Communication.

  I attended my first STC National Conference a few months ago. I was enlightened.
  I'm an indexer, information architect, and consultant. I decided in 1998 that I would spend the following year attending and presenting at as many conferences as possible, and I did. It didn't take long to find I overextended myself. With one conference each month, from March to November, I realized my childhood dream of traveling the country and living out of hotels. I also realized how exhausting it can be. Fortunately, my week in Cincinnati at STC's 46th annual conference, the "River of Communication," couldn't have been more comforting and rewarding.
  It didn't start that way. Compared to other conferences, the national conference was huge, the audience diverse. There were so many sessions scheduled at the same time it was often difficult to choose-and even harder to walk the length of the convention center within the time allowed for breaks! Further, I'm an indexer and information architect, not a technical writer. I was horribly outnumbered.
  Nevertheless, acceptance of my differences came easily. Other members of the Boston Chapter provided refuge (and wine), and I was starting to recognize faces from some of the other conferences I had attended that year. There was also a speaker's reception (more wine), and it was great not just to meet speakers from the Writing and Editing track (where indexing was placed), but also from the Information Design track. Finally, one attendee suggested that the sessions were better attended than usual, that few people left the convention center and the conference behind for the sake of other, non-conference activities.
  For me, the conference was about meeting people. I was introduced to Boston Chapter members in droves, since there were so many who attended. I met writers, web site designers, indexers, illustrators, consultants, help authors, translators, software designers, and teachers. I wandered the booths at the exhibition and inspected the award-winning documentation displayed in the main hall. And of course, I took home more business cards than I know what to do with. Overall, it was a fantastic initiation into the diversity that comprised the society.
  The part I know best regards my own field. There were several indexing sessions, a first for national conferences. Peg Mauer, who manages STC's Indexing Special Interest Group, had developed and recruited the speakers for an indexing stream. I gave one presentation myself, and I also participated on a panel with Peg, Dick Evans, and Joan Griffitts, all of whom are indexers and STC members. These events and others were well attended and well received, and I was pleased to meet a number of people who find indexing both valuable and interesting. In fact, it would have been possible to spend most of the conference attending only indexing events.
  If I learned anything about STC and the documentation/communication industry, I learned this paradox: the diversity of our members creates a coherent whole. Thanks to the quickly evolving technologies of online documentation, previously disparate fields are starting to overlap. Translators are working with software designers to improve localization. Help authors and knowledge managers are creating the same products. Indexing has merged with information designers, just as illustrators are collaborating with educators, to develop usable intranets and online classroom materials. As much as this conference gave me a focused view at the work and skills of many different people and their careers, it also impressed upon me a sense of unification within the entire field of technical communication.
  And that, of course, is the point of the "River Communication."


Copyright 1999 Seth A. Maislin


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