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2018 conferences now open on Tech Comm on a Map

The Tech Comm on a Map application now caters for 2018 conferences. This week I updated both the web app and the Android app to accept data for 2018. I also archived the 2016 conferences.

Tech Comm on a Map is an interactive map showing items of interest to technical communicators around the world: conferences, groups, businesses, societies, courses, and other things we find interesting. Tech Comm on a Map is available as a web app (see the previous link) and an Android app.

Highlights of the latest update:

  • I’ve added a  option, which you can click to add items to the map (new in the web app only; the Android app already has an Add event option in the menu).
  • I’ve added a data type for 2018 conferences, and archived the 2016 conferences (web and Android).

Each coloured dot on the map represents a conference, business, society, group, course, or something else. Click a dot to see what it’s about.

Adding 2018 conferences and more

The map is now able to accept 2018 conferences, but there’s not much data on the map for 2018 yet. At this point I’ve added just two 2018 conferences. I’ll add more over the next few weeks.

If you have time, please do add items to the map: 2018 conferences, groups, societies, educational courses, and more. It’s also fun to add tidbits that you think are of interest to tech writers and have a geographical relevance. For example, the Other item type includes the birthplace of Ada Lovelace. Try de-selecting all event types except Other, and see what’s there now.

To add an item:

  • Click the new ⊕ icon  on the web app.
  • Or select the Add event option in the menu in the Android app.

If you’d like to know more about the apps, how they work, and where the data comes from, take a look at the page about Tech Comm on a Map.

Introducing Tech Comm on a Map

I’ve been working on a personal project, and I’m delighted to say it’s ready to share with you! The idea is to help us see what’s happening around the globe, in the world of technical communication. So I’ve put tech comm titbits onto an interactive map, together with the data and functionality automatically provided by Google Maps. To see it in action, go to Tech Comm on a Map.

At the time of writing this post, Tech Comm on a Map contains information of the following types, all related to technical writing and technical communication:

  • Conferences (purple circles)
  • Societies (yellow circles) – includes societies and associations.
  • Other (blue circles) – a grab bag to catch anything that doesn’t fit into the first two categories. This is also the default category for data items that aren’t correctly categorised.

To find the information, click one of the coloured circles on the map. You can also zoom into a particular city or address, by entering the place name or address in the search box.

Where does the data come from?

It’s all in a Google Docs spreadsheet. Up to now, I’ve collected and entered the data myself. I’ve scoured the Web for information about conferences. I’ve also added just a few societies, and a couple of ‘other’ items to prove the category exists. The spreadsheet looks like this:

Spreadsheet containing tech comm data for map

Spreadsheet containing tech comm data for map

What’s the plan for adding more data and maintaining what’s there?

My plan is to invite a few people to help update the spreadsheet that holds the data.  Any data added to the spreadsheet appears on the map immediately. It’s pretty cool!

How does it work?

The tools I’ve used are the Google Maps JavaScript API, the Google Places Autocomplete widget, and Google Apps Script to extract the data from a spreadsheet in Google Sheets. The code and website are hosted on GitHub.

I’ll write another post soon, with more details about the code and the APIs.

Am I planning to add anything more to the project?

There is plenty of potential for enhancements. For example, we could add more categories to the existing three (conferences, societies, and other) to include events like technical writers’ group meetings. We could add styling to the map. And other sweetening we can think of…

A number of people have already made some exciting suggestions for v2. The project is open source, so if you have an improvement to suggest, send me a pull request. 🙂


I’d love to know what you think of the map, and whether you’re excited about adding more events and other types of tech comm titbits! If you’d like to share your ideas, please add comments to this post.

Are conference proceedings papers useful

I’m composing my proceedings paper for STC Summit 2014. Not all conferences require a proceedings paper. This set me wondering: Do people find proceedings papers useful? Do you read them, either during or after the conference, or perhaps not at all?

The “proceedings” of a conference is a collection of papers written by conference speakers. The content of a proceedings paper may be a summary of the talk, or an academic treatment of the topic of the talk, or a deep dive into one aspect of the talk.

My upcoming presentation at STC Summit 2014 is API Technical Writing: What, Why and How. For the proceedings paper, I’ve decided to write a deep-dive description of APIs. In the live session at the conference, I’ll cover the same content in less depth, then focus on examples of APIs and on their documentation, and on the role of the technical writer.

Some conferences ask speakers to present their slides a couple of months ahead of the conference date, so that the slides can be included in the documentation handed out to attendees. Others, like STC Summit, ask for a proceedings paper ahead of time, and the slides much closer to the date of the event.

When attending a conference session, I sometimes follow along on the slides if they’re part of the conference package. This is helpful if I can’t see the screen too well, or if I want to make notes on the slides. It’s very seldom that I refer to the conference proceedings. I think I’ve only done that once or twice throughout the years, and it’s been when I want an in depth look into the topic of a particularly interesting session.

What do you think? Are proceedings papers useful, how do you use them, and do you prefer the slides, the papers, or both?

What I get from speaking at conferences

I’m in the throes of composition. My presentation for STC Summit 2014 is in good shape, and I’m working on the proceedings paper right now. I got to thinking about why I put myself up for speaking at conferences. It’s a lot of work! Is it worth it? I also saw a post from Neal Kaplan, who doesn’t get conferences. So I decided to blog my thoughts.

If you’d told me five years ago that you’d seen me speaking at a conference, my reaction would have been

Ha ha, nope, that must have been some other Sarah.

Public speaking scared me to death. (Actually, it still does.) I never thought I’d be able to do it. Simply standing in front of a handful of peers turned me into a blob of jelly on a roller coaster.

Then Joe Welinske asked me to speak at WritersUA in Seattle in 2009. Of course, I said “Eek, no.” But Joe’s sweet persistence persuaded me to think about it. After all, he said, I knew a lot about what was then an emerging technology for technical writing: wikis. A few days later, Joe asked me again. To my utter horror, I said yes. My thinking went along these lines: I know no-one in the US. I’ve never even been to the US. If I make a total fool of myself, it doesn’t matter. No-one I know will ever know. 😀

I survived WritersUA 2009. And now, five years later, I’ve spoken at twelve conferences.

Oft-discussed benefits of attending conferences include:

  • Peers: Meeting other tech writers has been hugely rewarding. It’s especially great to meet in person the people I’ve bumped into on blogs, Twitter, and other online meeting spots.
  • Learning: Conferences seed ideas. I see what other people are up to, get a glimpse of new technologies, peer at different products. A while later, an idea pops up about something I can use in my own environment.

What’s the benefit of speaking yourself?

Getting funding to attend the conference is a big one. For me, living in Australia, the travel costs are too big to cover personally.

But for me, the biggie is this: Putting together a presentation makes me think about how others see what I’m doing. It makes me look at my own work, and that of my team, in a new light. It gives me a wider perspective. It firms up my own opinions on what are good procedures to follow, and what could do with tweaking.

So, a call to all conference speakers: why do you do it? 🙂

Doc sprints at STC Summit 2013 #stc2013

STC Summit 2013 is fast approaching. I’m looking forward to getting the latest gen on all things #techcomm, meeting old friends, and making new acquaintances. I’ll also be giving a presentation on doc sprints!

Update on Wednesday 7 May 2013: The report on the actual presentation is now available:

A doc sprint is similar to a book sprint. It’s an event where a group of people get together for a couple of days and write tutorials, or a book, or other forms of documentation. Often there’s coding involved too. And always, plenty of fun, making new contacts, and learning cool new technologies.

Doc Sprints: The Ultimate in Collaborative Document Development

My presentation is called Doc Sprints: The Ultimate in Collaborative Document Development. It’s full of information about planning and running a doc sprint, and how doc sprints are useful in developing the documentation our readers need.

Even more exciting: there are a number of stories and tips, gleaned from doc sprinters around the world. Thanks to Anne Gentle, Swapnil Ogale, Ellis Pratt, Katya Stepalina, Andreas Spall, Jay Meissner, and Peter Lubbers, for contributing their ideas!

The presentation covers these topics:

  • Introduction to doc sprints, agile environments, and why a doc sprint is a good fit for technical documentation.
  • Who to invite, when to start, and how to ensure that the sprint will produce the documents you need.
  • How to get the best out of the sprinters.
  • Collaborative tools for use during the sprint.
  • Sprinting across the world: Handling multiple time zones, early sprinters, late sprinters.
  • How to run a retrospective, and why.
  • Reviewing and publishing the documents, and writing up the results.
  • Other innovative types of sprints for documentation teams.

Here’s what the presentation looked like a few weeks ago:

Doc sprints at STC Summit 2013

Come to my session at STC Summit 2013 to see how it’s turned out. 🙂

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