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Overview of the 49th Annual STC Conference

By Fred Wersan

The 49th STC Conference was held at the Opryland Hotel, about 15 miles outside of Nashville. The building is about the size of the Pentagon. When you check in, they give you a GPS transponder. If you get lost, you press a button and they send out tracking teams to find you and help you get back to civilization. They have convenient hotel maps located throughout the hotel. You simply press the map at the location where you want to go and an LED display tells you that you can't get there from where you are. I'm told that they asked the Usability SIG to redesign the maps and the members ran off screaming, never to be seen again.

Participants in Fred Wersan's workshop on creativity put on their thinking caps in preparation for the exercises.  
Photo by Fred Wersan  

As we wandered the hotel, we eventually stumbled upon the convention center where we attended the conference sessions. XML and single-sourcing continue to be the Holy Grail that motivates many of the sessions. After attending several sessions this year and last, I'm thinking that even though low-cost, turnkey solutions aren't yet available to writers, we should be thinking about the structure of our documents. To the extent that we create new templates or style guides (or update existing ones), we can do so with structure, rather than style, in mind. I suspect that for many of us, FrameMaker 7.0, with its merging of the structured authoring into the base product, will help in this process.

The vendor area seemed to be mostly translation companies and people who want to do stuff with your documents on your behalf (print, convert, and so on). There were relatively few companies selling tools (Adobe, eHelp, Component-One). Considering how many writers use FrameMaker, I'm puzzled by Adobe's lackluster participation in this (and last year's) conference. You'd think they'd have been trumpeting release 7.0 to everyone who walked by, but they seemed to be keeping it a secret. People also expressed disappointment with the give-aways. However, the STC 2003 Dallas booth gave out cool pens that light up when you press the clicker. (Sorry for the imprecise term, but I'm a software writer, not a hardware writer.)

Lots of folks went into Nashville to catch music in the clubs and bars. The Monday night open mike was a big hit. And I got a kick out of visiting the Gibson store in the nearby Opry Mills mall, where you can watch craftspeople making mandolins and banjos.

On a personal note, my workshop on creativity ( was well attended and full of fun.

Editor's Note: You can access materials provided by presenters at the 49th Annual Conference at

Fred Wersan has been a technical writer for 13 years. He is currently employed at MAK Technologies, in Cambridge, Mass. You can reach him at .