The following is a guest post by Arnold Burian, founder of the new social network Technical Writing World.
When it comes to knowledge sharing, we technical writers have it pretty darn good. There are active mailing lists (HATT, TECHRL-W), many informative blogs (I’d Rather Be Writing, The Content Wrangler), a vibrant notification system (#techcomm on Twitter), and professional organizations (STC, TWIN) rich with content.
We have thought leaders like Tom Johnson, Craig Haiss, Gordon Meyer, Sarah Maddox, Aaron Davis, Scott Nesbitt, RJ Jacqez, Gordon McLean, Ugur Akinci, Scott Abel, Ivan Walsh, and many more. If you are dedicated to the craft of technical communication, you have access to an endless supply of resources.
After consuming so much from so many, I wanted to give something back – to share the little knowledge I learned with others. This was my motivation to start a blog, where I began to collect my thoughts and share them. While posting, I came to realize that I was much more interested in the dialog between visitors than in my own posts. This ultimately led to Technical Writing World, a social networking site.
So, what do I want Technical Writing World to be? I want TWW to be useful. And I want it to complement the many resources already available to us. I also know what I do not want it to be. I do not want to compete with HATT or TECHRL-W. I do not want to be an organization, group, or club. I do not want TWW to have an agenda or divide the community. And I also do not want to restrict what it can become.
There are many online articles about what it takes to build a successful community, but I have some of my own ideas for TWW:
- Be inclusive. Everyone is welcome. Absolutely no criteria, real or imagined or financial, will prevent you from joining. Years and years of experience? Welcome. A technical writing student? Welcome. Thinking of becoming a technical writer? Welcome. Struggling? Welcome. Eventually, I would like to see TWW expand to “technical writers and our friends” (translators, editors, information architects, etc). For now, I feel a tighter focus will help the site grow initially. But friends are welcome today and always will be welcome.
- Be convenient. Make everything available in the fewest clicks possible. Wherever we can, offer it in a single click. Log in – single click. Start a discussion topic – single click. Start a blog post – single click. Make “the site” fade away, leaving just people and social moments. The less time you spend navigating, the more time you can spend participating.
- Be dynamic. Listen to the community. Be cognizant and responsive to how the community wants to grow, and adapt TWW to keep pace. Never lose touch with the heart of the community, and let the will of the people steer it.
- Be transparent. Don’t hide anything. Put the site on display. Drive by surfers may spot an interesting topic, stop, read, and perhaps learn something. Offer an inviting environment in the hopes that they pause long enough to want to stay a while.
- Be patient. Communities do not magically appear overnight. Be in this for the long haul. Build something interesting for the community, and then let the community decide over time that it wants to (hopefully) embrace it.
- Be complete. Offer the full social networking experience. Facebook. Twitter. Friend lists. Forums. Blogs. Events. Status updates. Profile pages. Activity feeds. Offer everything and the kitchen sink, in a system that is familiar to the social networking community.
- Don’t be so serious. If you put a bunch of technical writers in a room together, conversations will wander and topics will stray. I want TWW to capture that element. We should try to straddle the line between focused, relevant topics and those that make us social human beings. In many ways, the #techcomm community on Twitter has done this – informative links intermingling with ones that make you laugh or smile. If we can build upon this, I will consider TWW a success.
So with this, the journey begins. I hope you will join us for at least a few steps…and then decide to stay a while.
Arnold Burian spent a decade as a team lead writing hardware documentation for the telecommunications industry, and the last seven years as a documentation manager for a global software company. He has an undergraduate degree in computer science and a graduate degree in technical communication and information design from the Illinois Institute of Technology. After graduating, he taught graduate and undergraduate classes in technical communication. See more information about Arnold