In a live-streamed town hall, Mark Zuckerberg gave an overview for what he expects in the near future as Facebook pursues accommodations to keep workers productive and safe during the COVID-19 crisis. The move comes as large tech companies reassess the viability of their iconic Silicon Valley campuses, now empty as the pandemic keeps most employees at home.
Part of Zuckerberg’s vision, announced Thursday, includes the surprise announcement that Facebook will be setting up new company hubs in Denver, Dallas and Atlanta. Zuckerberg also noted that Facebook will focus on finding new hires in areas near its existing offices, looking to cities like San Diego, Portland, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. The Facebook CEO estimated that over the course of the next decade, half of the company could be working fully remotely.
Zuckerberg also elaborated on what kinds of roles would and would not be eligible for all-remote work, noting that positions in divisions like hardware development, data centers, recruiting, policy and partnerships would not be able to shift away from a physical office due to their need for proximity.
“When you limit hiring to people who live in a small number of big cities, or are willing to move there, that cuts out a lot of people who live in different communities, have different backgrounds, have different perspectives,” Zuckerberg said.
For Menlo Park employees looking for greener pastures, there’s one sizable catch. Starting on January 1 of next year, the company will localize all salaries, scaling compensation to the cost of living in the enclaves Facebook employees may soon find themselves scattered to.
A new startup called Notivize aims to give product teams direct access to one of their most important tools for increasing user engagement — notifications.
The company has been testing the product with select customers since last year and says it has already sent hundreds of thousands of notifications. And this week, it announced that it has raised $ 500,000 in seed funding led by Heroic Ventures .
Notivize co-founder Matt Bornski has worked at a number of startups, including AppLovin and Wink, and he said he has “so many stories I can tell you about the time it takes to change a notification that’s deeply embedded in your stack.”
To be clear, Bornski isn’t talking about a simple marketing message that’s part of a scheduled campaign. Instead, he said that the “most valuable” notifications (e.g. the ones that users actually respond to) are usually driven by activity in an app.
For example, it might sound obvious to send an SMS message to a customer once the product they’ve purchased has shipped, but Bornski said that actually creating a notification like that would normally require an engineer to write new code.
“There’s the traditional way that these things are built: The product team specs out that we need to send this email when this happens, or send this SMS or notification when this happens, then the engineering team will go in and find the part of the code where they detect that such a thing has happened,” he said. “What we really want to do is give [the product team] the toolkit, and I think we have.”
So with Notivize, non-coding members of the product and marketing team can write “if-then” rules that will trigger a notification. And this, Bornski said, also makes it easier to “A/B test and optimize your copy and your send times and your channels” to ensure that your notifications are as effective as possible.
He added that companies usually don’t build this for themselves, because when they’re first building an app, it’s “not a rational thing to invest your time and effort in when you’re just testing the market or you’re struggling for product market fit.” Later on, however, it can be challenging to “go in and rip out all the old stuff” — so instead, you can just take advantage of what Notivize has already built.
Bornski also emphasized that the company isn’t trying to replace services that provide the “plumbing” for notifications. Indeed, Notivize actually integrates with SendGrid and Twilio to send the notifications.
“The actual sending is not the core value [of what we do],” he said. “We’re improving the quality of what you’re paying for, of what you send.”
Notivize allows customers to send up to 100 messages per month for free. After that, pricing starts at $ 14.99 per month.
“The steady march of low-code and no-code solutions into the product management and marketing stack continues to unlock market velocity and product innovation,” said Heroic Ventures founder Michael Fertik in a statement. “Having been an early investor in several developer platforms, it is clear that Notivize has cracked the code on how to empower non-technical teams to manage critical yet complex product workflows.”
While Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg seemed cheerful and even jokey when he took the stage today in front of journalists and media executives (at one point, he described the event as “by far the best thing” he’d done this week), he acknowledged that there are reasons for the news industry to be skeptical.
Facebook, after all, has been one of the main forces creating a difficult economic reality for the industry over the past decade. And there are plenty of people (including our own Josh Constine) who think it would be foolish for publishers to trust the company again.
For one thing, there’s the question of how Facebook’s algorithm prioritizes different types of content, and how changes to the algorithm can be enormously damaging to publishers.
“We can do a better job of working with partners to have more transparency and also lead time about what we see in the pipeline,” Zuckerberg said, adding, “I think stability is a big theme.” So Facebook might be trying something out as an “experiment,” but “if it kind of just causes a spike, it can be hard for your business to plan for that.”
At the same time, Zuckerberg argued that Facebook’s algorithms are “one of the least understood things about what we do.” Specifically, he noted that many people accuse the company of simply optimizing the feed to keep users on the service for as long as possible.
“That’s actually not true,” he said. “For many years now, I’ve prohibited any of our feed teams … from optimizing the systems to encourage the maximum amount of time to be spent. We actually optimize the system for facilitating as many meaningful interactions as possible.”
For example, he said that when Facebook changed the algorithm to prioritize friends and family content over other types of content (like news), it effectively eliminated 50 million hours of viral video viewing each day. After the company reported its subsequent earnings, Facebook had the biggest drop in market capitalization in U.S. history.
Zuckerberg was onstage in New York with News Corp CEO Robert Thomson to discuss the launch of Facebook News, a new tab within the larger Facebook product that’s focused entirely on news. Thomson began the conversation with a simple question: “What took you so long?”
The Facebook CEO took this in stride, responding that the question was “one of the nicest things he could have said — that actually means he thinks we did something good.”
Zuckerberg went on to suggest that the company has had a long interest in supporting journalism (“I just think that every internet platform has a responsibility to try to fund and form partnerships to help news”), but that its efforts were initially focused on the News Feed, where the “fundamental architecture” made it hard to find much room for news stories — particularly when most users are more interested in that content from friends and family.
So Facebook News could serve as a more natural home for this news (to be clear, the company says news content will continue to appear in the main feed as well). Zuckerberg also said that since past experiments have created such “thrash in the ecosystem,” Facebook wanted to make sure it got this right before launching it.
In particular, he said the company needed to show that tabs within Facebook, like Facebook Marketplace and Facebook Watch, could attract a meaningful audience. Zuckerberg acknowledged that the majority of Facebook users aren’t interested in these other tabs, but when you’ve got such an enormous user base, even a small percentage can be meaningful.
“I think we can probably get to maybe 20 or 30 million people [visiting Facebook News] over a few years,” he said. “That by itself would be very meaningful.”
Facebook is also paying some of the publishers who are participating in Facebook News. Zuckerberg described this as “the first time we’re forming long-term, stable relationships and partnerships with a lot of publishers.”
Several journalists asked for more details about how Facebook decided which publishers to pay, and how much to pay them. Zuckerberg said it’s based on a number of factors, like ensuring a wide range of content in Facebook News, including from publishers who hadn’t been publishing much on the site previously. The company also had to compensate publishers who are taking some of their content out from behind their paywalls.
“This is not an exact formula — maybe we’ll get to that over time — but it’s all within a band,” he said.
Zuckerberg was also asked about how Facebook will deal with accuracy and quality, particularly given the recent controversy over its unwillingness to fact check political ads.
He sidestepped the political ads question, arguing that it’s unrelated to the day’s topics, then said, “This is a different kind of thing.” In other words, he argued that the company has much more leeway here to determine what is and isn’t included — both by requiring any participating publishers to abide by Facebook’s publisher guidelines, and by hiring a team of journalists to curate the headlines that show up in the Top Stories section.
“People have a different expectation in a space dedicated to high-quality news than they do in a space where the goal is to make sure everyone can have a voice and can share their opinion,” he said.
As for whether Facebook News will include negative stories about Facebook, Zuckerberg seemed delighted to learn that Bloomberg (mostly) doesn’t cover Bloomberg.
“I didn’t know that was a thing a person could do,” he joked. More seriously, he said, “For better or worse, we’re a prominent part of a lot of the news cycles. I don’t think it would be reasonable to try to have a news tab that didn’t cover the stuff that Facebook is doing. In order to make this a trusted source over time, they have to be covered objectively.”
There are plenty of travel apps for researching flights and hotels or generally organizing your trips, but indie German developer Hans Knöechel struggled to find one that could gather all his travel-related information in one place, in addition to allowing a group of friends to collaborate on the trip-planning process. So he built one for himself: Lambus, an app that lets you organize your travel documents, manage expenses, plus collaborate and chat with fellow co-travelers about the trip being planned.
Previously a senior software engineer at Appcelerator in San Jose, Knöechel came up with the idea for Lambus after being on the road a lot himself, and finding existing travel apps lacking.
“When traveling, you either use a manual folder with dozens of pages for all your information — or countless apps to display travel expenses, booking confirmations and waypoint planning. Alternatives like Google Trips, Sygic and Roadtrippers were always limited to one person and never offered all the features I needed during the trip,” he explains. “This gave me the idea for Lambus: A collaborative platform on which travel groups — in real-time — can display all the properties of the trip in an easy-to-use platform: Waypoints, travel expenses, booking documents, notes, photos and chat,” he says.
The resulting app he refers to as a “Swiss Army Knife” for travel planning.
Like TripIt and others, travel documents can be shared with Lambus by forwarding emails to a unique personal email address. The imported documents — like plane tickets or Airbnb stays — will then be made available to all group attendees automatically. This is handy for group trips where often multiple people take turns making the various reservations, but don’t have any easy way to share the information with others beyond forwarding emails or writing down information in a shared online document.
Documents can also be uploaded through an “Import PDF” feature, as an alternative to email sharing. And photos can be added by snapping a picture or importing from the phone’s Camera Roll, as well.
The photo feature is handy for saving those miscellaneous pieces of travel information — like how to access an Airbnb upon arrival, travel directions posted on an event or venue’s website, a helpful online review you saved and more. It’s also a fast way to import any other information, without having to rely on email or uploads.
In the expenses section, you can keep track of either private or group expenses by entering the amount and what it was for, and, optionally, if it’s been paid.
While largely aimed at group travel because of the collaboration and built-in chat features, the app can be used for solo trips, too.
In testing the app, we found there were a few kinks that still needed to be corrected.
The calendar, for example, didn’t include the days of the week, only the dates — which was unusual. The app also had trouble finding some points of interest — like a convention center, for example, when it was entered directly in the search box. (It came up when we searched for a “nearby place” to an existing waypoint, oddly.) This appears to be a bug.
Some parts of the German app hadn’t been localized to English, either. For instance, when viewing the detail page for a waypoint, the “On My List” section read: “Noch keine Orte in der Nähe geplant.” (Meaning: “No places planned nearby.”)
More importantly, Lambus didn’t turn imported documents into an easy-to-read itinerary, as TripIt does. The travel plan, instead, included a list of waypoints but not the dates and times, with all the details like flight numbers or hotel reservation numbers. That’s perhaps a deal-breaker in terms of dumping all other travel apps in favor of Lambus alone.
Despite its quirks, the concept here is solid and the app is nicely designed with a bright and clean look-and-feel. The app is only a couple of months old, so given a little more time, attention and a few more releases, it has the potential to become a seriously useful travel tool for group trip planning.
The name, “Lambus,” is an odd choice, we have to also note.
Knöechel says he was searching for a word that was easy to pronounce in many different languages, and settled on this — a domain name he already owned.
While Knöechel is the sole founder, Lambus is a team of seven, including mainly university friends, he says. The startup is seed-funded by the Ministry of Economics in Germany (~€120,000), and eventually has plans to generate affiliate revenue by offering hotel, flight, Airbnb and activity bookings in-app.
Services meshes. They are the hot new thing in the cloud native computing world. At Kubecon, the bi-annual festival of all things cloud native, Microsoft today announced that it is teaming up with a number of companies in this space to create a generic service mesh interface. This will make it easier for developers to adopt the concept without locking them into a specific technology.
In a world where the number of network endpoints continues to increase as developers launch new micro-services, containers and other systems at a rapid clip, they are making the network smarter again by handling encryption, traffic management and other functions so that the actual applications don’t have to worry about that. With a number of competing service mesh technologies, though, including the likes of Istio and Linkerd, developers currently have to chose which one of these to support.
“I’m really thrilled to see that we were able to pull together a pretty broad consortium of folks from across the industry to help us drive some interoperability in the service mesh space,” Gabe Monroy, Microsoft’s lead product manager for containers and the former CTO of Deis, told me. “This is obviously hot technology — and for good reasons. The cloud-native ecosystem is driving the need for smarter networks and smarter pipes and service mesh technology provides answers.”
The partners here include Buoyant, HashiCorp, Solo.io, Red Hat, AspenMesh, Weaveworks, Docker, Rancher, Pivotal, Kinvolk and VMWare. That’s a pretty broad coalition, though it notably doesn’t include cloud heavyweights like Google, the company behind Istio, and AWS.
“In a rapidly evolving ecosystem, having a set of common standards is critical to preserving the best possible end-user experience,” said Idit Levine, founder and CEO of Solo.io. “This was the vision behind SuperGloo – to create an abstraction layer for consistency across different meshes, which led us to the release of Service Mesh Hub last week. We are excited to see service mesh adoption evolve into an industry level initiative with the SMI specification.”
For the time being, the interoperability features focus on traffic policy, telemetry and traffic management. Monroy argues that these are the most pressing problems right now. He also stressed that this common interface still allows the different service mesh tools to innovate and that developers can always work directly with their APIs when needed. He also stressed that the Service Mesh Interface (SMI), as this new specification is called, does not provide any of its own implementations of these features. It only defines a common set of APIs.
Currently, the most well-known service mesh is probably Istio, which Google, IBM and Lyft launched about two years ago. SMI may just bring a bit more competition to this market since it will allow developers to bet on the overall idea of a service mesh instead of a specific implementation.
In addition to SMI, Microsoft also today announced a couple of other updates around its cloud-native and Kubernetes services. It announced the first alpha of the Helm 3 package manager, for example, as well as the 1.0 release of its Kubernetes extension for Visual Studio Code and the general availability of its AKS virtual nodes, using the open source Virtual Kubelet project.
On the one hand, you’ve got Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey lamenting the “like” button’s existence, and threatening to just kill the thing off entirely for incentivizing the wrong kind of behavior. On the other hand, you have twttr — Twitter’s prototype app where the company is testing new concepts including, most recently, a way to make liking tweets even easier than before.
Confused about Twitter’s product direction? Apparently, so is the company.
In the latest version of the twttr prototype, released on Thursday, users are now able to swipe right to left on any tweet in order to “like” it. Previously, this gesture only worked on tweets in conversation threads, where the engagement buttons had been hidden. With the change, however, the swipe works anywhere — including the Home timeline, the Notifications tab, your Profile page, or even within Twitter Search results. In other words, it becomes a more universal gesture.
You like their Tweets. Swipe right and really show them. No seriously, you can now swipe right on any Tweet on twttr to like it on your Home timeline, notifications tab, profile page, or search results.
— Twitter Support (@TwitterSupport) April 25, 2019
This makes sense because once you got used to swiping right, it was confusing that the gesture didn’t work in some places, but did in others. Still, it’s odd to see the company doubling down on making “likes” easier to use — and even rolling out a feature that could increase user engagement with the “Like” button — given Jack Dorsey’s repeated comments about his distaste for “likes” and the conversations around the button’s removal.
Of course, twttr is not supposed to be Dorsey’s vision. Instead, it’s meant to be a new experiment in product development, where users and Twitter’s product teams work together, in the open, to develop, test, and then one day officially launch new features for Twitter.
For the time being, the app is largely focused on redesigning conversation threads. On Twitter today, these get long and unwieldy, and it’s not always clear who’s talking to who. On twttr, however, threads are nested with a thin line connecting the various posts.
The app is also rolling out other, smaller tweaks like labels on tweets within conversations that highlight the original “Author’s” replies, or if a post comes from someone you’re “following.”
And, of course, twttr introduced the “swipe to like” gesture.
While it’s one thing to want to collaborate more directly with the community, it seems strange that twttr is rolling out a feature designed to increase — not decrease — engagement with “likes” at this point in time.
Last August, for example, Dorsey said he wanted to redesign key elements of the social network, including the “like” button and the way Twitter displays follower counts.
“The most important thing that we can do is we look at the incentives that we’re building into our product,” Dorsey had said at the time. “Because they do express a point of view of what we want people to do — and I don’t think they are correct anymore.”
Soon after, at an industry event in October 2018, Dorsey again noted how the “like” button sends the wrong kind of message.
“Right now we have a big ‘like’ button with a heart on it, and we’re incentivizing people to want to drive that up,” said Dorsey. “We have a follower count that was bolded because it felt good twelve years ago, but that’s what people see us saying: that should go up. Is that the right thing?,” he wondered.
Short story on "like." We've been open that we're considering it. Jack even mentioned it in front of the US Congress. There's no timeline. It's not happening "soon." https://t.co/jXBmkudWYv
— Brandon Borrman (@bborrman) October 29, 2018
While these comments may have seemed like a little navel-gazing over Twitter’s past, a Telegraph report about the “like” button’s removal quickly caught fire. It claimed Dorsey had said the “like” button was going to go away entirely, which caused so much user backlash that Twitter comms had to respond. The company said the idea has been discussed, but it wasn’t something happening “soon.” (See above tweet).
Arguably, the “like” button is appreciated by Twitter’s user base, so it’s not surprising that a gesture that could increase its usage would become something that gets tried out in the community-led twttr prototype app. It’s worth noting, however, how remarkably different the development process is when it’s about what Twitter’s users want, not the CEO.
Hey, twttr team? Maybe we can get that “edit” button now?
A number of Twitter users have been complaining that tweets that were retweeted by people they don’t follow are now showing in their timeline. The issue, thankfully, is not related to a new Twitter algorithm or recommendation system, as some had feared. Instead, the company confirmed that a bug affecting Android users was mislabeling the “social proof” tag on Retweets.
This is the part of the Retweet that tells you who, among the people you already do follow, had retweeted the post in question.
The company says that the social proof label is wrong, so the Android users were seeing tweets that looked like they had been retweeted by someone they don’t know.
why do i keep getting randos i'm not following retweeting themselves on my timeline??
— z a c h (@unktions) January 31, 2019
— Graze Meme Star (@GrazeTwitch) January 31, 2019
Can you stop, Twitter? This is worse than ranked newsfeed on Facebook pic.twitter.com/04jRu9z3FU
— Jane Manchun Wong (@wongmjane) February 1, 2019
@TwitterSupport Why is my timeline full of users I'm not following retweeting themselves?
— christian cain (@TN_WINS) February 1, 2019
Above: some example complaints
Twitter says the Retweets that showed up were actually tweeted by someone the people did knew, but their social proof label was wrong which made them seem out of place. Its engineers are aware of the problem and working to fix this now. The bug has been live for a few days, Twitter also confirmed.
The company’s @TwitterSupport account had not yet replied to those asking about this problem, which may have led to some user confusion.
After all, Twitter has been known to put what some consider extraneous information in the timeline – like posts that show you when many people you follow have now all followed another Twitter user, or posts that tell you that several people have shared the same link, for example. But even in those cases, that was in-network activity – not something like putting random retweets in your main feed.
Until the bug is fixed, Twitter users who don’t like the content of the seemingly random retweets can tap on the down arrow on the right side of the tweet to tell Twitter it wants to see less content like this.
A few days ago, I interviewed Ken Kocienda at TechCrunch Disrupt SF — he just released a book called Creative Selection. After working at Apple during some of the company’s best years, Kocienda looks back at what makes Apple such a special place.
The book in particular starts with a demo. Kocienda is invited to demo to Steve Jobs his prototype of what is about to become the iPad software keyboard.
And it’s the first of a long string of demos punctuating the book. As a reader, you follow along all the ups and downs of this design roller coaster. Sometimes, a demo clearly shows the way forward. Sometimes, it’s the equivalent of hitting a wall of bricks over and over again.
Kocienda’s career highlights include working on WebKit and Safari for the Mac right after he joined the company as well as working on iOS before the release of the first iPhone. He’s the one responsible of autocorrect and the iPhone keyboard in general.
If you care about user interfaces and design processes, it’s a good read. And it feels refreshing to read a book with HTML code, keyboard drawings and other nerdy things. It’s much better than the average business book.
“You can’t hack what isn’t there,” Very Good Security co-founder Mahmoud Abdelkader tells me. His startup assumes the liability of storing sensitive data for other companies, substituting dummy credit card or Social Security numbers for the real ones. Then when the data needs to be moved or operated on, VGS injects the original info without clients having to change their code.
It’s essentially a data bank that allows businesses to stop storing confidential info under their unsecured mattress. Or you could think of it as Amazon Web Services for data instead of servers. Given all the high-profile breaches of late, it’s clear that many companies can’t be trusted to house sensitive data. Andreessen Horowitz is betting that they’d rather leave it to an expert.
That’s why the famous venture firm is leading an $ 8.5 million Series A for VGS, and its partner Alex Rampell is joining the board. The round also includes NYCA, Vertex Ventures, Slow Ventures and PayPal mafioso Max Levchin. The cash builds on VGS’ $ 1.4 million seed round, and will pay for its first big marketing initiative and more salespeople.
“Hey! Stop doing this yourself!,” Abdelkader asserts. “Put it on VGS and we’ll let you operate on your data as if you possess it with none of the liability.” While no data is ever 100 percent unhackable, putting it in VGS’ meticulously secured vaults means clients don’t have to become security geniuses themselves and instead can focus on what’s unique to their business.
“Privacy is a part of the UN Declaration of Human Rights. We should be able to build innovative applications without sacrificing our privacy and security,” says Abdelkader. He got his start in the industry by reverse-engineering games like StarCraft to build cheats and trainer software. But after studying discrete mathematics, cryptology and number theory, he craved a headier challenge.
Abdelkader co-founded Y Combinator-backed payment system Balanced in 2010, which also raised cash from Andreessen. But out-muscled by Stripe, Balanced shut down in 2015. While transitioning customers over to fellow YC alumni Stripe, Balanced received interest from other companies wanting it to store their data so they could be PCI-compliant.
Now Abdelkader and his VP from Balanced, Marshall Jones, have returned with VGS to sell that as a service. It’s targeting startups that handle data like payment card information, Social Security numbers and medical info, though eventually it could invade the larger enterprise market. It can quickly help these clients achieve compliance certifications for PCI, SOC2, EI3PA, HIPAA and other standards.
VGS’ innovation comes in replacing this data with “format preserving aliases” that are privacy safe. “Your app code doesn’t know the difference between this and actually sensitive data,” Abdelkader explains. In 30 minutes of integration, apps can be reworked to route traffic through VGS without ever talking to a salesperson. VGS locks up the real strings and sends the aliases to you instead, then intercepts those aliases and swaps them with the originals when necessary.
“We don’t actually see your data that you vault on VGS,” Abdelkader tells me. “It’s basically modeled after prison. The valuables are stored in isolation.” That means a business’ differentiator is their business logic, not the way they store data.
For example, fintech startup LendUp works with VGS to issue virtual credit card numbers that are replaced with fake numbers in LendUp’s databases. That way if it’s hacked, users’ don’t get their cards stolen. But when those card numbers are sent to a processor to actually make a payment, the real card numbers are subbed in last-minute.
VGS charges per data record and operation, with the first 500 records and 100,000 sensitive API calls free; $ 20 a month gets clients double that, and then they pay 4 cent per record and 2 cents per operation. VGS provides access to insurance too, working with a variety of underwriters. It starts with $ 1 million policies that can be much larger for Fortune 500s and other big companies, which might want $ 20 million per incident.
Obviously, VGS has to be obsessive about its own security. A breach of its vaults could kill its brand. “I don’t sleep. I worry I’ll miss something. Are we a giant honey pot?,” Abdelkader wonders. “We’ve invested a significant amount of our money into 24/7 monitoring for intrusions.”
Beyond the threat of hackers, VGS also has to battle with others picking away at part of its stack or trying to compete with the whole, like TokenEx, HP’s Voltage, Thales’ Vormetric, Oracle and more. But it’s do-it-yourself security that’s the status quo and what VGS is really trying to disrupt.
But VGS has a big accruing advantage. Each time it works with a clients’ partners like Experian or TransUnion for a company working with credit checks, it already has a relationship with them the next time another clients has to connect with these partners. Abdelkader hopes that, “Effectively, we become a standard of data security and privacy. All the institutions will just say ‘why don’t you use VGS?’”
That standard only works if it’s constantly evolving to win the cat-and-mouse game versus attackers. While a company is worrying about the particular value it adds to the world, these intelligent human adversaries can find a weak link in their security — costing them a fortune and ruining their relationships. “I’m selling trust,” Abdelkader concludes. That peace of mind is often worth the price.
Buying event tickets online isn’t a great experience. Sites like Ticketmaster are the default, but are difficult to use and expensive. A startup called Lea wants to offer a more modern experience by combining event search, discovery, seat selection and payment all in a single application that works right in Facebook Messenger. Yes, that’s right – Lea is a chatbot. And while… Read More
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