In today’s information age, I suppose it isn’t surprising that the defining characteristics of community boundaries are changing. A generation ago, I think the term “community” generally included a geographic component. You were a community of technical communicators in Utah. You interacted with your community members in person. Your network consisted only of people you had met face-to-face. You may have been part of a larger community, but it was because you got together at conferences or other physical gatherings to meet, share, and collaborate.
That definition of community clearly doesn’t apply in the same way in 2012. As I consider the communities I belong to, I realize that I count among my friends people from all four hemispheres, and I interact with them fairly regularly via the Internet. Some of these friends I have met in person, others I have only met virtually, but I have a connection with each of them, and that connection forms our sense of community. I am involved in various discussion groups and forums for products or groups I belong to. Each of those groups has its own community based on the personalities of the frequent visitors and the overall tone permitted by the group (or its admins). From these groups, I have met a very small fraction of the contributors in real life. There are several of my groups where I haven’t met ANY of the other participants in real life. Yet, we still form a community. We know each other and we can predict how people will react to given stimuli.
With this evolving definition of communities, I think we’re seeing a fundamental shift in how we interact with other people, and thus how we “gather” for community events. I’ve watched over the last several months as physical STC chapters have dissolved or merged with other groups. In some cases it is because overall interest in STC as an organization has waned. In other cases it appears that communities are having a hard time finding volunteers to staff the chapter leadership roles.
I suppose that some of this is to be expected. STC as a whole has improved its online community offerings with products like MySTC, which allow members to develop communities based around special interests, rather than simple geographic location. Additionally, many point to the increasing STC dues over several years, and believe they aren’t getting sufficient value to justify the cost of membership. STC Montreal recently put it this way:
“STC is no longer the single point of access to information for technical author training and has not been since Google opened its doors. We’re middlemen competing against free. If the internet is anything, it’s a pesticide for middlemen.”
So, is this shift inevitable? Is there value in a geographic community? If so, what relationship (if any) should the community have with STC? Is STC fighting a losing battle with geographic chapters? Should they switch to an all-SIG model? What do you like best/least about local STC chapters?