Unclear on the Concept

A few months back, I wrote how I was thinking about not renewing my ACM membership because I couldn’t see any future benefit. Monday, I received an email from ACM asking me if I was going to renew. I wrote them the following:

I’m a long time member, going back to when I was in college in the 1970s. But since then, I’ve moved out of the research area. I don’t go to conferences that are under ACM sponsorship (the one conference I’m involved in is under private sponsorship, with IEEE doing the proceedings). I don’t read CACM, and can get access to the ACM Digital Library through the subscription at work, if I need it. I don’t need the @acm.org address as I run my own domain. I can still attend local chapter meetings, and am still a member of the LA Chapter.

So I’m trying to figure out the benefit of renewing. So far, much as I like ACM, I can’t see a discernable, tangible, benefit. I’ve begun to wonder if the technical society model is becoming passe — you certainly don’t need it to get technical information or meet people in your field as you did in the 1960s through 1980s.

So, convince me. Show me a benefit that I actually use on a regular basis. I’ve been racking my brain, but right now, I can’t think of one.

So, how did ACM respond? Like they didn’t want my membership. Seriously. The response was effectively canned:

Thank you for contacting ACM. My name is Nanette and I will be happy to assist you today.

The benefits of ACM many are many and can be found at the URL below: http://www.acm.org/membership/benefits

Please read through them so you can decide whether you’d like to renew or not. Either way please let me know so that I may mark your membership record accordingly.

If you have further questions or comments, please do not hesitate to contact me. Have a wonderful day!

You know, I had hoped ACM would respond with something a bit more personal, a bit more convincing. Certainly they would have back in my day, back in the days when I was active in the SIGs and Local Chapters (I was chair of both SIGSAC and the Los Angeles Chapter). But I think they want research folk now, not the actual practitioners. Perhaps I should ask Pierangela: after all, she’s Vice-Chair of SIGSAC, and on the ACSAC conference committee. Still, given their membership fees, I’ll be glad to use the money elsewhere.


Wither Professional Associations?

Back when I was in college (we’re talking around 1978), I joined the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM). I was a big supporter of the organization. I worked on the ACM 81 conference in Los Angeles, I was active in revitalizing the UCLA Student Chapter. I was active in the Los Angeles Chapter, serving for a few years as its chair. I was active in the SIG arena, and was even chair of ACM SIGSAC for four years (and treasurer for another four after that).

I mention all this because I’ve got a renewal invoice sitting in my inbox… and I feel no urge to act upon it.

Whereas I used to read all the ACM publications I got: SIGPLan Notices, SIGSAC Review, SIGSOFT, and of course, CACM… I don’t know. I certainly don’t read their paper versions, and I have access to all the digital stuff through our corporate library.

Whereas I used to attend ACM-affiliated conferences, I don’t anymore. The few conferences ACM holds in my professional areas are not of interest (CCS, SACMAT). I’ve been involved with a major professional conference on my own (ACSAC), am part of their sponsoring body, and it has no ACM affiliation. The other conferences in my area of interest are either government run, commercially run (such as RSA), or IEEE (IEEE Symposium on Security and Privacy). I don’t need the ACM association for professional discounts.

I’m still a member of the Local Chapter, but I rarely go to meetings. The few times I do, I’m still one of the youngest in the crowd … and I’m 48, which should say something about the crowd. I don’t need my ACM membership to meet people in my profession.

I don’t use the ancillary ACM services. I don’t use their life insurance, I don’t buy books through their programs.

So I don’t see why I should pay $100+ to rejoin ACM. I bet others are asking themselves the same questions. In today’s world, where we have the Internet to build associations, easy access to digital libraries and papers, and loads of conferences, why (unless one is an academic researcher) is there any relevance to professional societies. What do they bring to the table that you still cannot get elsewhere?