I'm reading the chapter in Don Tapscott and Anthony Williams' Wikinomics
book on Prosumers. (see my book list
). It makes a particular point that I should highlight:
The old customer co-creation idea was simple: Collaborate with your customers to create or customize goods, services, and experiences, all while generating a built-in market for your wares...
This is the company-centric view of cocreation. We'll set the parameters by telling you when and on which products to innovate. You'll give us your ideas for free, but we'll choose the best of them...
I couldn't agree more with them on the intentions of the company. However, I still have to agree that the same examples they give in other parts of the book are still similar to this idea. For example, even digg has basic limits on what you can do: write a short port, or vote. Even though digg allows anyone to submit a post, it still sets the parameters on when people can innovate. Fine line? Possibly, but the reality is that short of giving a complete blank slate for anyone to do anything, the real value actually comes from giving guidance and parameters on how people can participate on a social site. If you make it too open ended, it may end up becoming too unfocused on purpose. In other words, if the leaders or owners of the community/social site define the purpose and focus area, then the users have an idea of what to expect and what to do there.
The model for prosumption that Wikinomics
talks about is more about mashup culture, and the idea of enabling consumers to freely interact to create their own versions or interpretations of products. This means that the prosumers--a distinct subset of your overall users, and possibly even a relatively small percentage depending upon the complexity of the product--should be allowed greater freedom on how to use the products and share their ideas. Wikinomics'
suggestions on how to harness prosumers is very good:
- prosumption goes beyond individual product customization (limited only to each user) - it means engaging users earlier in your product development cycle or even making it simple to remix them
- loosing control - you sacrifice some control to allow them to do mashups, and you need to more actively engage the prosumers to keep track of successful ideas
- customer toolkits - make it easy for prosumers to customize the product through user-friendly (not obfuscated) customer tool kits
- become a peer - recognize that the company now plays a role as a peer of the prosumers, not patrons
- sharing the fruits - prosumers expect to be able to share the fruits of their customizations; help them, don't hinder them
The practical reality that I tend to see is that unless it is a very widely used product, the amount of prosumption activity can be fairly small. This goes along with the idea of participation inequality. So the amount of prosumption you enable may really depend on the value you think this work will generate. In some cases, the product is simple enough that people can add or extract the parts they want to create a new thing (with a little skill or perseverance). In others, you need to create well-defined interfaces that allow access to a complex piece.
It's easy to give a hugely inclusive environment like Wikipedia
and then say that wiki's can apply to everything, but it simply doesn't work that way. Participation in wikis, or for that matter any social service, depends upon the number of participants in the system, and more importantly, how many really care to be there. For that to happen, the users and potential prosumers need to easily see the value of being in that community. The simpler or more evident the purpose, the easier it is for people to decide if they want to be in that community or not.
Beyond just reading or consuming the info in the community, you need to find ways to engage or challenge the community to invite participation; and make it easy for them to participate. The more immediate it is to interact, the more interaction you will get. From simpler interactions, you can start building more complicated interactions and generate that recurring following. These return participants are what help to spur prosumption activity, or at least bring that activity into the context of your community. This is where more the abovementioned suggestions from Wikinomics can come into play.
I came across this recently: ProjectSpaces
, a hosted service offered by a company called Forum One Communications seems worth a look.
They actually charge for a hosted space that features, a contacts db,calendar and scheduler, tasks list, document library, and discussions,with each space allowed 1 GB of storage (sound familar Google?) andunlimited members. There's a pricing sheet starting around $129/mo perspace.
I have been looking at online-to-print publishing services lately, or alternate formats in e-books, lately. Even with so many online forms, dead-tree formats are still preferred by far. Part of it is a question of format and such, but right now I'm more interested in how people feel about a book.Stability
- It's ironic that in a business world where fluidity and change are pressing forces, that printed books with a fixed set of information are still preferred. It is not as much the permanence as the stability in knowing that the same information is still there, not changing. For a lot of information that does not require adjustments or fluidity, this makes books first in mind. This is also its weakness in books: the more variable information needs to be the less significant the value of a book.Exclusivity
- It is the fact that not everyone can get their work published that adds value to books. This doesn't mean that the best info always gets out there, but it does mean that people have to work harder to get their info published. In the traditional process, this was to encourage excellence (but I don't think that's always the case)
There are other values, but those are being eroded (slowly) with the rise of digital formats: portability, visual impact, artistic value, etc.
Therefore to some folks, its that feeling of exclusivity of having a published book that makes it worthwhile. Which is why I think the idea of vanity publishing used to be compelling enough to keep a cottage industry going. Today however, with key innovations like HP's Indigo press system, it becomes so much cheaper to print low-quantity runs of books.
Take a look at Blurb.com
, which allows anyone to get their photos, words, blogs, etc. put into print format at an affordable level. Having written so much over the years, I wouldn't mind taking some of my old online work and having it published into a print format, if nothing else to just have on my bookshelf.
Okay, editors hat on... I disagree that we should be lazy and call it "Service Oriented Architecture" as is what people are labelling it. It's a sign of the continued degradation of the English language.
Not only is it grammatically correct to have it as "Service-Oriented Architecture", but it also has historical precedence in "object-oriented architecture".
The hyphen implies the focus on Services. Grammatically, if you didn't have the hyphen, it is somewhat non-sensical:
"Service Oriented Architecture" would indicate that you have an architecture that has something that is a "Service Architecture" and something that is an "Oriented Architecture" but not that it is oriented around services.
So people, get with the English.
In the last post, I introduced the book The kids are alright
that talks about ethics, interests, and motivations of the gamer generation as it is starting to enter the workplace. The post was getting long so I left out this bit.
To me the idea of SecondLife
was only a dream back in 1992, when text-based MMOGs were available. Even then, there were many MUDs, MOOs, etc. where players eventually got bored of playing the hack-n-slash life and switched more to socializing and creating. The lands I created in lpmud
using a derivative of the C programming language inside the game is a similar notion to Lindenscript
in SL now. Of course, with a text-basis, you did not have the sheer coolness of a 3D world. But that came back to bite me when I tried SL programming. While I can do the programming, I'm pretty lousy & slow with 3D graphics. That and my lack of time just made me give up (too easily I'm afraid).
My own scripting woes aside, it's the change from game-playing to game-making that made those programmable MUDs really fun. I don't want to say it's a bit of growing up but for me it was a switch from entertainment to using my skills. Not everyone wants to do that and even those who didn't want to play but still returned to the game to socialize points to the need for a different kind of environment: the same that SecondLife is suited for.
What's more, by taking the game aspect out of SL, it allows those of the non-gamer generation (per that book) to relate even better. My guess on what sold companies on getting involved in SL is not just the 3D factor, the programmability, the multi-user environment, etc., but because it is a transition environment between the two generations. Gamer-gen folks can work on this and still explain to their non-gamer gen bosses and seniors that it's okay because "It's not a game." That may sound silly, but the reality is that the non-gamer gens generally still consider games a waste of time, so anything that suggests that it is a game is most likely not worth the attention, and that the gamer employees are probably slacking off.
I bring this up because it is not limited to SL and the like, but even to other community & web 2.0 services. This same parallel exists in situation when a developer becomes an active member of a discussion forum, a chat, a wiki or are blogging . One common first assumption is that they are slacking off, rather than the reality that they may be building better relations than what you pay loads of money to communications, marketing and PR departments for, or even make the right connections to help them in their work.
Very often they are asked to justify themselves spending their time in such activities, in terms of some sort of results: solutions, work products, clientelle, etc. The difficulty lies in the fact that the benefits that they get from communities is building social capital
, which itself is an intangible and variable product. You'll find dozens of books that all talk about the value of social capital in business, but it is still hard to measure and compare. But then again some folks have figured out (somewhat) complex ways of determining other intangibles like productivity, loyalty, coolness, etc., so I think there is hope yet for some form of measure.
After all, if we are fixated on results-driven and measured processes for everything, we would definitely need a way to describe that. Enough for now, I'll gab about some ways of measuring this in other posts.
I'm helping the Univ. of Arizona Management Information Science dept
start a new course on Managing Online Communities
.It started out as an idea through my involvement in the IBM Academic Initiative
.In a meeting with the IBM AI Director, Kevin Faughnan, the U of A MISDepartment Head, the U of A Computer Science Dept Head andothers, we were exploring ways of how academia is keeping up with theIT and CS topics of interest to incoming freshmen undergraduatestudents. My point was that the MySpace Generation is already wellentwinned into the net today and actively participate in more onlinesites that older generations. You need courses that appeal to thisrising interest in online technologies, as well as being potentialfuture job possibilities in this field. I suggested the idea of acourse that touches on all the technologies involved in onlinecommunities and social network systems, and in particular, how tomanage such communities for a business.
This is our first step course to see how much people areinterested in the topic. It's 3 credits (about 3 hours a week) for a4.5 month-long semester at the third year Undergraduate (Junior) level, startingthis August. There are multiple goals but the primary idea is based onthe notion that many companies are finally beginning to create jobpositions of a Community Manager or other IT support role for creatingand managing online communities. They call it by different names butthis is essentially what they are pointing to. This is quite differentwhat people think of in terms of a Web site manager. The whole courseis an experiment but I think it has a chance of expanding to alarger/wider scale. This course will at least get them started in thatarea, but I think there will still be a lot to learn about thisevolving future.
I don't think it will be that hard or new for them to grasp consideringthat we are talking about the MySpace generation, but we want to showthem that this might become a future work opportunity in the industryif they know how companies themselves are interested.
Aside from just getting the students up to speed on all the differenttechnologies and topics in social networking and community, there'd beassignments and group projects. The final project I think will beinteresting to many universities all over: the students taking thiscourse will subdivide into pairs, and each pair will be working with asmall group (micro-community) of 4-5 high school (secondary school)students from a school that we are partnering with. The goal is for ourstudents to teach some of these ideas to the high school students, andtry to build and manage that community (on a short term basis).
- our students get some exposure trying to work or organize others(is dealing with high school students ~= dealing with executives andexperts? :) )
- both our students and their students learn by doing
- we get a broader reach of the ideas (those high school students are potentially future college students the next year)
Other regularly/weekly assignments are of course, blogging or postingin forums on a regular basis to get them used to the rhythm.
We have great support from the head of MIS (Dr. Mohan Tanniru) aswellas the principal of the High School we are going to work with. I willbe helping the MIS Lecturer, Andrea Winkle teach the course; she hasbeen running SummerCamps for high school students on the topic of IT, so she hasexperienced working with them before, which as involved in the FinalProject adds a valuable aspect to the course. (Just working with somany highschool students is an interesting juggling act as it is)
The following is our general list of topics that we are basing it on.It's not complete but hopefully we should have a good range of topics:
- Overview of the role of online communities in business
- what businesses are doing in their online communities
- competing for mindshare
- user-generated/user-led vs. organizationally-developed content
- what are and are not online communities: community identity & interaction
- Overview of common types of community tools:
- What happened to just a simple Web page? - Web 2.0
- content & collaboration tools: blogs, forums, instant messaging/forums, wikis, etc.
- workflow, process and project management tools
- information organization: categorization, taxonomies, tagging
- distribution and syndication: RSS/Atom Web feeds
- Overview of community environments:
- forum-based communities,
- spaces-based communities,
- tag-based communities, etc.
- Community development & maturity:
- designing, launching, recruiting/populating, growing.
- what is acceptable, what is not,
- setting up member guidelines
- Encouraging your membership:
- Motivation and Inhibitors,
- reward mechanisms,
- Measuring your community:
- what metrics should you measure,
- how do you determine success
- Marketing your community:
- things to do to let others know about or join your community,
- search-engines, word-of-mouth/grass-roots marketing
You may have already heard about Facebook's new look
as they change the social experience for users. While still focused on the Individual as the center of the experience, they are adding more capabilities. In particular, I'm amused that they are finally catching onto the idea of multiple tabs each per application, although they have not moved to free form tabs like developerWorks Spaces
and other sites. Separating the app to a different tab helps to create shorter, cleaner front pages, by compartmentalizing and creating subtopics. However, it is better if it is not limited to a single application; after all you might have several tools and widgets to focus around the same topic.
PS: I'm trying out AddThis, a service that lets users redistribute any URL to over 30 other social sites, saving me the trouble of adding links to digg, del.icio.us, etc. manually.
I picked up a copy of The Kids are Alright
by John Beck and Mitchell Wade at the airport a few weeks ago. The subtitle How the Gamer Generation is is changing the Workplace
is very apt. It is a sort of business-oriented sociological report on the behaviors, interests and incentives of this particular generation.
This is probably a must-read for all current managers and those who simply don't consider themselves as part of this generation. What is this generation you say? It's a cohort/generation that probably started around the early 1980s up until the current block of 10-year olds. They generally consider anyone over 34 or 35 to most likely not be part of this generation. I'm in that generation myself although I'm just about exactly at the cut off point.
This is one of those books that talks about the implicit life lessons that influenced those in this generation, even if they were not heavily into game playing. It is very likely that those in this generation were surrounded by this and the closer you get to the current time, the less likely that they know a world where video/computer games were not commonplace. The preface lists 7 Habits of Highly Typical Gamer
s which seem quite relevant to the behaviors I've experienced amongst others in this generation. I'd even put it as something to think about when designing or delivering products and services.
The book appears quite on the point but almost dates itself, not because of time necessarily but because it was likely written at the turning point in the game industry: the rise of MOGs (for the non-gamer generation folks: multiplayer online games). At one point of the book, it talks about how gamers are tuned into solely individual experiences, in that the game-world exists solely for them.
While this is/was case for single-player games, recent years have shown that multiplayer games can become successful, recurring sources of revenue. While single-player games are still the vast majority, many leading games now are either designed solely, or have special modes, for squad (4-6 players), team vs team (16-32 players), or massive-players (up to hundreds of thousands simultaneously).
players today probably won't even understand that even ten years ago, even squad-team games were not worth their development time. I recall in 1996 trying to convince a VC and game developers to consider creating multiplayer games. Most just shrugged or plain laughed at the idea. Thank goodness for a reversal on that. (For me, it does suck to be way too early to a party and no one's there).
Anyway, MOGs may change the rules for gamers once again. One key point in this book is that because it's a world customized for your experience, it does not emphasize the more-challenging issues of building social connections within games. Even when players get together to play a game, with SP games, it was mostly a solitary experience. With MMOGs, players once more are faced with social relationships and often with total strangers from other locations, and with much larger crowds and changing people. On top of that technology has evolved so that it is even simpler to interact: actual live audio conversations rather than typing a lot of text, greater bandwidth and better computing power for richer environments, and even social networking sites for recording/blogging events, etc.
It's my belief that games are so much better these days for their multiplayer aspect. For myself, I started on MMOGs back in the text-based MUD days around 1990 or so, so I'm pretty ingrained into this from an early date. So when I play a top-10 single-player game like Oblivion
, even with one of the richest environments, most detailed graphics and storyline, open ended gameplay, and a reactive environment, it still feels a little dull because of the lack of other real human players.
In any case, I'd be curious to see a followup to this book in another 4 years examining how MOGs have affected the gamer generation. Let's face it, after a certain point, you can't really call it a separate generation because games are likely going to be here from now on.
The HBR June issue has an article
(requires subscription) by John Gourville which is one of the firstI've read to explain so clearly the issues behind the psychology ofadopting new products. I take this to mean not just products but alsoservices from any organization.
In summary, the idea was raised by the Nobel-prize winning psychologistDaniel Kahneman that explores why people deviate from rational economicbehavior. This combined with other work, on how individuals valuechoices in the marketplace, define the basis on how people handle theintroduction of a new product or service.
The four behaviors that arise are: people evaluate new product asalternatives, based on perceived value rather than subjective value;they consider new products relative to points of reference to existingones; they view such references as benefits/gains orshortcomings/losses; and finally, the most important behavior
, losses have a far greater impact than gains.
This leads to the endowment effect
whichthe author reports as the behavior where people hold things theyalready have in much greater value than those they don't. In fact, itleads to a multiplying effect in the market where consumers value theirexisting holdings as three times more valuable, while organizationswith new ideas/products value their own holdings as three times asvaluable. Thus, to convince consumers to change from the old to the newproduct may require up to nine times
the improvements over the older product. As the author explains, AndyGrove of Intel has held the belief that an innovaion that can transformthe industry rapidly needs to offer a 10x improvement over existingalternatives. (I know my Sharp Aquos HDTV doesn't quite reach thathigh, but I still like the switch over from my 25" inch Sony tuber :)
The author continues by giving several categories of probability: the Sure Failure,
the Easy Sell,
the Long Hauls
, and the Smash Hits.
AnEasy Sell indicates limited (small) changes to the existing product andlimited changes to the behavior necessary. A Smal Hit has significantchanges to the product but only limited changes to the behavior.
I strongly suggest you pick up a copy of the HBR
to understand the full extent of this article.
This has direct impact on any new technology, a topic of constant focusfor us at dW. Every company wants the smash hit, but for many it ismore by accident than on purpose. However, often they focus onimprovements to products based on what they think is important, andduring the product development stage do not really consider the factorsof user adoption behavior because it is so hard to measure. I've comeacross so many cases where the technology is considered quite advancedby the technical team that develops, supported by surveys of groups ofthe bleeding edge customers who are already raring to use it; but, theyfall short when they call out to the general market which issignificantly slower to adopt the idea.
In fact, in some cases, the improvements are just not enough (per theabove marketing theory). In other cases, the perceived value of theproduct is just conveyed either adequately to the consumers, or by the right influencers
who can change perception.
Ittakes the right mix of technical know-how, eloquence, stubbornness,ingenuity, and charm to find the proper evangelists for a project. Butfirst you need to be able to find those who are fans of the idea in thefirst place (goes back to my other thought on building a fan-base); theevangelist themselves must be a convinced fan, or others willeventually consider them a sham.
This theory applies to the tens or hundreds of thousands of newprojects that start up on the internet. A product manager needs toconsider if the product falls into the win category of Smash Hit
or will be a Long Haul
sell as much as the innovation of the product itself. This meansunderstanding the user behavior and need for the product in the firstplace. The difficulty lies in quantifying the improvements.
In some cases, you can do it by this process:
- get a sample population of an existing alternative to the product
- investigate what part of the product they utilize the most, which has the biggest impact, or which causes the most pain
- measure how much of the time or effort is spent by users on those elements
- consider what, if any, improvements the new product has to those impacting elements of the old
- if the product improves the time- or effort-consumed for that element, measure how much it does so
- Consider this improvement versus the type of win you could get
Easy to say all this; hard to carry it out.
The impact of the endowment effect
is the old adage: people fear change
.It's not fear per-se, but more inertia. To overcome the inertia, youneed to change perceptions. To grow customers and fans, you need tobuild the audience and community around the idea, to build up momentumof understanding and acceptance to overcome this inertia. (I mentionthat this is a crucial second step of the Open Source business model
I tend to markup the books I read. After a while, it just became easier to use those little 3M strip stickers and highlighters to index a book my way. I used to use different colored strips for different ideas: "hot idea", "case study", "problem point", etc. But eventually, I realized that it'd be easier to actually write specific words onto the strips. Guess what, I'm just doing something exactly the way I do online, but in a more primitive, and less easy-to-search way. I loose a lot of knowledge this way, or at least track of it.
So my wish here is that there would be some way how I could tag the content in any book I find into an online, searchable way, and perhaps share it with others. My thought is that there are several possibilities:
- Really lame way: copy the text, page, etc. and in the tagging/bookmarking software, create an entry with that description pointing to the place in the book. Cons: Is there any point to even talk about this?
- Magical semi-scanner tool: Some pen-like device that can scan text in a book and the position in the book, and then let me enter the tag for the text. There are some smart pens out there that digitize writing but this would also add in the requirement to be able to create a tag, and then publish that online. Cons: I don't know it such a device exists but its not impossible to build on top of something like Logitech's oi2 Digital Pen
- Ebooks with tagging support. I find some sort of ebook reading device that allows bookmarking/tagging to a general online tagging service, rather than "saved with a book". Cons: Not all books are available in e-books format, however, publishers are getting better about it. Still ebook reader devices need to be extended to allow the online tagging.
- Use online web-based books and find a way to tag. Similar to the ebooks approach but no special device, just a laptop or web-phone. Cons: Requires a browser device, and may need a live connection.
For 3 & 4, a side note: Safari
is still hanging on but it is has a good approach to online books. You pay a service fee to be able to "borrow" books from their online library and can swap out your bookshelf over time; just requires a regular fee.
I think the idea of ebooks is great in terms of technology like digital ink that requires really low power consumption and can run for many hours at a time, but I think the need to be able to correlate or search related information, tagging, color images, etc. all require a net conneciton and better graphics support. In other words, the device just becomes a browser anyway, and the worst you have to do is keep recharging the device.
Take the iPod Touch or iPhone example as a browser people actually want to use and has some degree of a readable screen (compared to other phones). I don't have one, but I think you'd be able to access books from Safari and have a way to tag information. Ebooks (e.g., Sony Portable Reader System
) have more screen real-estate, typically about the size of a paperback book. I think visually the iPod Touch
/iPhone is still a little small to read and chews power like candy, but it's much more capable in terms of enabling the reader or researcher.
Any ideas for other possible solutions?
Every time I see another piece
or book on social network analysis
, I have to say something, particularly because the term is used so often these days.
There is definitely a science behind social network analysis that has existed for years. In simplest form, it maps the relationships between different people in a group, and draws the connections between folks. This contrasts against the hierarchical structure in most organizations and companies. In other words, the actual way people connect and interact in a group can often be very different than reporting structures and formal relationships between different teams. SN analysis examines these relationships and helps to point out bottlenecks, misdirections, and point out key people in your organization.
However, the shortcoming of this approach is, first, it requires that the members in the group all participate and respond to a questionnaire (and honestly) on who they interact with. The truth is that we may remember the first set of fewest people we interact with the most often (e.g., those folks on your speeddial, "myFaves" in Tmobile, etc.), but there are many others who we do not interact with so often but still hold value. So what SN analysis uncovers is frequency more than accuracy. That's the second part, accuracy implies quality, and the quality of relationships between folks are hard to determine, especially when you consider that people rarely record and evaluate every single interaction they have with others.
The diagram on page 99 of this month's Fortune magazine is pure fantasy--it is not on the online version
of the story. It is unlikely you will ever uncover this kind of information, mostly because it is very invasive and raises many privacy concerns. Don't get me wrong; there are probably people who really do try to create such a map, but it can get horribly complicated over time and with larger populations. The reality of what you can get is shown in the article, luckily.
The article does however, point out the reality: there is a hidden network of how people interact in a workplace. You cannot directly measure this to a really fine degree and probably shouldn't even try. Every manager knows that they should get to know their employees to some degree; some managers can remember more about the work relationships and history of their employees than others; in that way, they build their own mental map of their surrounding hidden workplace.
How does this relate to "social networking" in the Web 2.0 sense (i.e., blogs, forums, wikis, tags, etc.)? When you get frequent and regularly participating members in any community, you have this same kind of invisible relationship network. I won't say it is impossible to map this out; someone might eventually prove me wrong. Software makes it easier to track interactions since there is a "written record" somewhere. Smart software may be able to automatically analyze your interactions with other folks to help you keep track of your own social circle. I have seen this at work already. It can look at how you email, instant message, chat, online event, blog comment, forum reply, etc. that you make with each individual and create a map for you. This is harder than it sounds because it means the software has to look in many places. It also means that the analysis software needs to be compatible with each of these applications which you use; since most people don't use the same set of such tools that may not even be in the same site or organization, it is really hard to track.
This points out to keep track of relationships
more than messages. While we still tend to think of email as the main way we communicate online, this is already starting to spread to many other types of applications. Eventually email may no longer be king
; even if that day is a long way off.
This also points out another behavior that is an unfortunate side effect of the availability of peer networking social tools like LinkedIn
. The value of social network comes from deep or meaningful realtionships with others, not quantity
. It may be a while before this sinks in so reiterating it frequently is a public service. It's not how many people you connect with but how many of these are meaningful. Quality over quantity.
Wow I haven't really posted in here for a while. Time flies when you are having fun.
Lately I've been working on a survey of attitudes and behavior towards social software inside IBM among the sales people. It's part of my current assignment. I'm also putting a lot of my spare focus on my upcoming book. In talking to random folks at the Community 2.0
) and Online Community Business Forum
, there seems to some exasperation on needing more structure around what constitutes community strategy, even among the people who aren't new on it. This is good news, since that is likely to get more people thinking about what to do about it.
I'm also on many different tools these days. Most of my activities outside IBM these days are either on Twitter
or my dW space
where it's either easier to just write a post, or post mixed media content.
With the school semester back in session, I now have three battodo
(swordfighting) classes a week, two of which I have to teach. They basically span all levels now. There's the regular class that my sensei--who has recently been promoted to shihan (master) after 25 or more years practicing and teaching hundreds of students (possibly over a thousand) in a number of different martial arts--on Saturday's at our headquarter dojo that I attend primarily for practice. It's students of all skill levels but all adult. On Friday's I have the class at the Univ of Arizona for college students. Finally, there's a middle-school/high-school level class to teach, full of students from 12 to 17 years of age and of many ranks.
The college class
is really more a club and it just started again this Friday, with the addition of three new students. We're lucky in that the university has a very good recreational/sports center with plenty of rooms (with beautiful polished wood floors). We currently use the racketball courts since they are the easiest to reserve ahead of time, but my sempais (senior students) are looking to getting one of the larger rooms which also have the padded mats to work on.
The mats are great but I was surprised just how much they cost (up to $500 for a 5' x 10' section). They're also kinda heavy and not easy to move around, so it's best to have them available in one room permanently. We can use the mats for doing rolls, and kneeling work.
The high-school class has yet to start but I have been the assistant teacher for several years, and each semester we get about ten to twenty students. Some of the students have been with us for years. In fact, two of my college students spent 4 years or more learning at the high-school level and eventually became black belts before they even started college. There is another batch which are nearly approaching that level as well.
What I've seen over the years is that most people either really like the sport, or they give it a shot for a few weeks and then quit. The ones that practice for a long time but leave are usually adults with busy lives. The high-school class certainly helps capture their interest at a young age, which is when they are most able to grow mentally and physically into the sport. We've had many an aimless and largely distracted individual that finds their focus through the practice.
We're also going to return to cutting targets on a bi-weekly basis on the weekends outside of the class which is the real fun part. It takes some time of practice to get to that level but it's something that is in the reach of most people. The cutting practice however, takes several hours of time even for a small group of a dozen people, especially when most of them don't have their own swords and have to share the class one. After years of use and without sharpening my primary katana is getting pretty dull. I need to work on it, or send it for sharpening (which is almost as costly as buying a new starter cutting sword).
For me, three times a week will certainly help me get back in shape, although I have to make sure I practice as well as teach. It's not easy to do a hard and fast sport, while talking and teaching simultaneously. Even when you build up stamina and breathing pace, to get real practice you have to push beyond your own limits.
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This past Sunday our dojo had it's 41st annual black belt promotion ceremony. That's quite a few years (and generations) of students across many different styles. This time around we had black belts promoted in Battodo (swordfighting), Praying Mantis kung fu, Matsunoryu Jujitsu, and Hiraido (Mixed Martial arts). I'm proud to say two of my own sword students, Andrew and Stephen, have just become black belts, and another sword student of my instructor was also promoted. Both my students came through the middle/high school classes and dedicated part of their time over the past four years or so to learn battodo. They started out at around age 14 and matured just as much as developed their skill.
I also was promoted to sandan rank (3rd degree black belt) for years of teaching and training students. It'll be years more before I see another rank. There are also skill competency standards as well as teaching requirements at the higher black belt ranks. For the sword class, it may be a while before we get another person to sandan because of the physical strength and agility difficulty. For example, you have to perform the three basic cuts nearly perfectly across multiple targets at least 90% of the time you try. We have even simplified some of the testing requirements but it still takes a lot of practice to reach that level.
All the same, if you measure across the time, on average for every 10-20 students we have each semester, we get perhaps one or two who stay the road to achieve the first black belt rank. It's a fairly rigorous system in our school; the aim is not quantity necessarily, but proficient students.
I've not uploaded the photos from the recent tests, but if you are interested, you can see many other photos and videos on our battodo social site