Saturday, December 6, 2008

Harvest, separate grain from chaff, release to market

Once upon a time in India...

Mobile phones were unheard of, and internet at homes was only through the phone-line dial-up, which meant that every time you logged on to the web, the outside world could not call you up on your phone. The year was 1997 - when phone calls outside the city cost so much that there were slabs for off-peak calls, when the maximum download speed one could hope for was 256 kbps, when every minute of internet usage was charged so much that you logged in, copied your mails to the hard disk, logged out, composed the replies, and logged back in to email them. It was 1997 when personal computers were beginning to make an appearance in unlikely places (government offices, for example), people got their fingers stained changing the ribbons of dot matrix printers whose pin-distance could be adjusted just like a typewriter's...

...and "knowing computers" meant you knew strange languages that were called C, foxtrot, COBOL and Pascal. Did I say foxtrot? I meant fortran. Indian Railways used it to computerise its reservation system, and drew gasps.

This was the time when almost no one knew what technical writing was, and even among the few technical writers that existed in the country, almost no one knew the other. This was when someone thought of creating a mailing list. This person emailed to a few technical writers he knew, those in turn mailed to their friends, and thus the TWIN mailing list was born (years before Orkut popularised the friend-network concept). TWIN quickly grew in size and became a coffee house of sorts where people came to ask questions, leave replies, make announcements, post job ads, share knowledge...

It is 2008 today, and the TWIN mailing-list archive has over 35,000 posts. These posts represent the accumulated knowledge of a community sharing and learning from its members - a community exchanging notes about technical writing, tools of the trade, career, trends, best practices, and more.

However, searching the archives was not an easy task, and the accumulated wisdom was fast becoming inaccessible to all but very determined seekers. The TWIN book-compilation project seeks to make the info accessible.

The stated objectives of the project: weed out the not-so-useful, retain the useful, categorise the useful for quick access, and present the categorised info to the world.

I am talking about the project, bit by bit, on my WordPress blog.

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