Here is a small report about the TUG meeting we had during the TUG 2016 conference in Toronto. I already posted it on LaTeX-Community.org, where we collect TeX conference reports since years.
At 4:15 the TUG meeting started. Jim Hefferon moderated it. He started with a few slides. First, he gave a summery of the TUG bylaws and goals, that are, further summarized, maintaining TeX, supporting TeX users and caring for fine typography. Following that objectives, the TUG sponsors conferences, development of fonts, and specific activities and projects such as CTAN and LuaTeX development.
Jim introduced the board of directors. Everybody of the board, who was in the room, stood up, so everybody knows wo they are. At last year’s meeting in Darmstadt they sat in front of us, this year they just stayed in our middle. Jim skipped the financial information by purpose, he said, since probably not everybody in this audience is interested in financial details. He provided them for anybody interested. They are publicly available on the TUG web site anyway, since TUG has to publish them as a tax-exempt organization. Just as a general remark, he mentioned that TUG maintains its budget very conservatively.
However, there’s the challenge that the number of members has fallen steadily. In 2000, we had 2211 members, in 2015 only 1260, and 1124 as of June 2016. The membership fees have been raised over time. One might see this kind of connected, either could be partially a consequence of the other, but: as long as TUG provides public services such as CTAN support and TeX Live development and more, also for non-members, and the TUG office, but mainly makes this from membership fees, the fees may get higher. As long as there’s no relevant change of the model.
This led us to an open discussion, with Jim as the moderator. It started similar like last year, and raised some of the same questions or suggestions: what should be changed, what could be done, up to if the existence of TUG as an organization is still relevant. The latter was quickly answered. How to get developers together, such at this conference these days, how to get funding and to finance projects, without an organization.
The question was raised, how many members we would like to have, what would be desirable – stay small or grow – before doing anything about it. Somebody said, and that’s good: we should be much bigger to be representative of the very many people using TeX. Several people confirmed, that there’s a general decline in membership numbers at many societies. Today, young people seem to be less interested in societies and paper journals.
We had this member win members activity last year. We had tried different things. It wasn’t summarized, what has been done, I missed that. It would be good to touch ground before new suggestions come. Such as the mentioned lifetime membership. But if we all would use it, there would be no following membership fees at all. The 5-years-limited lifetime membership was discarded as nobody wants to kill anyone. Well, what’s beyond member numbers.
The suggestion came up to raise the TUGboat journal from a member’s journal to a premium journal with subscription option. It would not take too much, it was believed, we would have the ability to produce a high quality journal. Libraries usually don’t have the option to become a society member, but would be able to subscribe to a journal. Institutions where we study, teach, and work, could subscribe.
Also not new, the suggestion to improve the TUG website came up. To attract users to return to the site on a regular base, such as by a blog. Well, also blogs experienced a decline. I try to support and to encourage blogging: one the one hand I maintain TeXample.net with its blog aggregator to keep up with blog posts, on the other hand the three web forums LaTeX-Community.org, TeXwelt.de, and goLaTeX.de present recent blog posts in their side bar, so any TeX user jumping in via google anywhere in the forum can see the post list. You post on your your blog, and the world can see it at various places.
I have some thoughts too, it’s just not my thing to stand up in public. I send a few suggestions to the TUG board via mail, that of course includes myself volunteering for let’s say two activities.
Time’s up! We had 1 hour for the TUG meeting. It always wonder about this short time. I mean, no need to stretch over several hours such as at DANTE meetings, but it was always pressing into that 1 hour slot. Besides its importance it could be fruitful. It wasn’t that I was too shy to say anything, but speaking time seemed to be too rare, under time pressure, and the moderated discussion wasn’t really continuous: a response to a remark might not have come before 3 other queued talk contributions were done. But that’s the case with a moderated discussion on the big audience. Jim did a very good job as moderator.
Well, I would love it to have more time for the open discussion, even if it would mean to have fewer presentations, 1 or 2. People attending international conferences often stay for more days than the actual program requires, if they have a long flight anyway. This time, besides the 3 days with talks, we have 4 additional days offering additional excursions. That’s great! Excursion days are purely optional, but: some presentations may be somehow optional too: we sometimes have good and interesting presentations that are slightly less on topic. Those could be on such a 4th day. We had a talk about kind of avoiding TeX 🙂 , an autobiographic talk, one about subway typography and tiles, and talks about historic aspects. All very nice. One could arrange 3 days of extremely-on-topic talks, and the 4th day could offer less restricted talks for the ones who don’t need to catch the plane. Well, just thoughts – it’s of course also very good to have this mix of topics that we had these days. There is enough time for discussing all kind of things in breaks, at lunch time, and in the evenings.
Apropos evening, the banquet evening with is coming, diner on a harbor cruise ship. I did not yet have time to write about more than the discussion part of the meeting yesterday, but: better start writing and do some, than later or not. 🙂 Norbert already wrote nice reports. I may write further report posts, so you are invited to come back to this place.