For those who need to understand how the Web is transforming the way businesses work, yada yada yada
November 15, 1999
Author/Editor: David Weinberger
Central Meme: Hyperlinks subvert hierarchy
Favorite Beatle: John. Duh.
Current Personal Crisis: Reform party candidates making the two-party system look pretty damn attractive.
Home page: http://www.hyperorg.com
Contact information: Click here.
Branding Knowledge: Beware of mistaking branding
and intentional stupidity inside and outside your organization.
Special Pity Poor Microsoft Issue
As a sign of the recent judicial developments, this issue contains no overt anti-Microsoft remarks. And, I am introducing the following Microsoft Support gif, representing a blue screen of death, which you should feel free to place on your own home page:
Settle a Dispute with RageBoy
At my new proposed home page, http://www.hyperorg.com/index-test2.html, I have a Cluetrain chiclet that says: "Cluetrain is basically right." Chris "RageBoy" Locke, publisher of EGR and Scourge of JOHO says that this is the height of arrogance. I, on the other hand, designed the chiclet precisely as a way to be a little bit humble Cluetrain isn't 100%, but it's basically right. I absolutely cannot see Chris's point of view. Please let me know who's right (unless, of course, you agree with Chris).
If people had brands, you'd think they were awfully shallow. "Hi, I'm Arnie, your Place for Puns," "Hello, I'm Alicia, the Intentionally Melodious Voice Gal." So why is branding any better for companies?
The fact is that branding works. We hear "Volvo" and we think "Safety." We hear "Lexus" and we think "Luxury." We hear "Gatorade" and we think "Bottled Sweat." (At least I do.)
It's terrible to admit that we're all subject to branding. It'd be nice to believe we're above it. But, so long as you think, in the back of your mind, that Coke is the original and Pepsi is a copy, Coke's branding has worked.
It's so demeaning. The theory behind it says we can only hold one word in our head at a time and we're so subject to influence that all you have to do is say "Bounty is the quicker picker upper" 3 times in dumbass commercials and not only do we remember it, but we remember it 20 years after the dumbass ads have been removed leaving behind nothing but a spike driven through the head of Nancy Walker's career.
But branding works differently on the Web. (Hmm, there's an Intel billboard campaign in there: "Work Different.") Off the Web, we've always been information-starved. All we've known about, say, Procter & Gamble is what they've put forward. Before the Web, how else could you learn anything? You could write to them, and they'd send you some brochures and maybe a free packet of Tide ("Now with teeth whiteners for people who chew towels!"). P&G could sit behind its marketing wall and choose to present itself how it wanted through low-bandwidth media such as billboards and celebrity endorsements.
Now, every plumber has a home page. We can find out more about the businesses we deal with than ever before. And we expect to find at these sites more than a one-word message. We expect some real information. Oh, sure, it's still being written by the marketing department and is as close to a pack of lies as you can get, but the lies tell us something. What's Amazon's brand? Books? Nah, that's what it sells. Its brand is some complex set of ideas and feelings you have about the place.
Monosyllabic brands are biting the Web's dust. A web brand is who the company is what they say, how they say it, and what we learn about them from other sites. If the company misrepresents itself, the market will figure it out in about 48 hours if Amazon touts a sense of community with and among readers, if they violate that community, word of mouth will expose them.
Exactly the same is true of intranets. Corporations have an identity. If they mistake that for their monosyllabic brand and try to enforce it through their happy-news intranet site, the cynical voices inside the organization will prevail. The corporate brand has to be the same inside and outside. That can only happen if the business opens up dialogue internally as well as externally. Otherwise the assumption will be that the company has something to hide from its customers and from its employees. And that assumption probably is correct.
(By the way, conversation is the opposite of brand.)
A few months ago, JetForm was on the road explaining why its proposed XML standard for electronic forms deserved the world's applause. Recently, JetForm was back on the road explaining why its integrated, cradle-to-grave solution for electronic forms management is the best thing to happen to its customers since the invention of paper money. Is this a contradiction? Yes. Is it unusual? Not at all. Is it inevitable. Just maybe.
Here's the contradiction. The big benefit of an XML standard like XFA, proposed by JetForm, is that it makes the data inside a form accessible to any application with an XML parser. That means that any XFA form can, in theory, be used by any forms processing system, whether JetForm's or not. This should make it much easier to integrate a forms system with, say, a workflow system. And, it also means that you could generate your forms with JetForm and manage them with one of their competitor's processing systems. How lovely!
But JetForm works against this with its announcement of an integrated "e-process" solution, and not just because "e-process" is so eminently gagworthy. Now the message is one-stop shopping; go with a single-vendor solution.
Supporting an open standard and creating a proprietary, single-vendor solution based on it isn't logically contradictory; it's a *marketing* contradiction. On the one hand, you evangelize with examples of multi-vendor access to data. On the other, you line up customers who swear that you don't want to have anything to do with those stinky other vendors.
And this gets at the real issue. When vendors propose open standards, the standards are almost always devised to favor their application. This is just about inevitable. For example, if your forms processing software supports digital signatures applied to every data object on a form, then your standard will support this as well. If your word processor make heavy of blinking text, your open document standard will have the equivalent of the "" tag. Both JetForm and UWI.com have played this game in the forms arena and there's nothing nefarious about it.
Except there is. Few companies genuinely propose standards out of the goodness of their hearts. It almost always is a marketing ploy. The standard thinks about the world the way the company's software does and doesn't capture features of competitors' products. While sounding like goodhearted contributions to openness, they are in fact intended to encourage closed-ness.
Sometimes, of course, the standards become real, either because the company pulls together a real coalition (e.g., SoftSolutions and ODMA) or because the company yields such a large stick that its standard becomes de facto. But the fact is that it's rare for a company to be able to design a standard that encompasses the features of its competitors without inviting the competitors in as equal participants. The company then loses the marketing edge, but the interests of the industry and customers are genuinely advanced. Maybe someday that'll happen in the forms field. But not at this rate.
"Portal" has become the new Amazing Elasto-Word, capable of stretching to cover everything from orange soda to floor wax.
Ok, I'm a grown up. I accept the inevitable debasement of language by marketing. I'm not even bitter any more over the corporate appropriation of "knowledge," one of the most important words in our culture with 2,500 of philosophical thought behind it which now means anything anyone knows how to type, publishes on some dog-water web page or shoves into a forlorn Lotus database.
Well, ok, so maybe I'm a little bitter.
But beyond debasing a good word, portals threaten a concept that's been central to the Web's success: pages. If pages become portals, one of the Web's great advantages will disappear.
Here's a brief history:
Eons ago, there was the Internet and it was populated by a sub-culture of Jolt-drinkin', 4-eyed, research-crazed academigeeks who learned a Klingon-like language to be able to ferret out morsels of information. Along came the Web with two simple additions to the Internet.
First, the Web replaced screens and terminal emulations with a much more familiar and useful way of presenting stuff to be read: Documents.
Second, the Web made it dead easy to hyperlink documents without requiring the original author to do anything. And this made it possible to navigate the Web by clicking on content rather than by typing in pathnames.
The Web quickly developed two basic types of pages: content pages and pointer pages. Content pages contain information. Pointer pages, the most popular sites on the Web, are used to find content pages; they point beyond themselves.
The pointer pages realized, however, that they exist to send "eyeballs" away from themselves, whereas their economic model rewards them for keeping people's attention on the pointer site. So, they started aggregating their own content and in an Orwellian twist of language, recast themselves as "portals" precisely at the moment that they started to try to keep viewers from passing through them.
But if portals become the new fundamental metaphor for web sites for content pages as well as pointer pages then we may begin to lose sight of the fundamental metaphor that enables people to use the Web without training: documents.
The document nature of the Web is also threatened by the growing use of browsers as freeform clients that can be filled with any type of widget imaginable. Of course at times that's appropriate, but the general rule ought to be, I believe: when in doubt, make it look like a document. Or a magazine.
And perhaps that's what will keep web pages pages. If that expectation is maintained, the web will continue to be something that's easy to read and navigate, rather than becoming a platform for "I've got a better idea!" user interfaces that make life not really worth sticking around for.
The ability of the Web to enable distributed projects is awesome. Unfortunately, the projects have tended to fall short of curing cancer or writing a TV sitcom that's actually funny. JOHO is going to begin collecting example of collaborative, distributed projects that showcase the Web's transcendent ability to unite people, bringing out our deep tendencies towards collaboration, compassion and absorption in tasks the importance of which is far outweighed by the effort. For example:
According to PC Magazine (Nov. 16), 195 volunteers in 22 countries spent 40 days and 16,000 "MIPS years" to crack a 97-bit code based on elliptical curves. This took twice as much processing time as a previous collaborative attempt to break a 512-bit code based on factorization. This required calculating over 1014 points (119,248,522,782,547 to be exact beyond caring). So, we now know that you should definitely go with the 97-bit code because, although your enemies will still crack it, they'll owe Dell twice as much for the computers to do so.
AltaVista has been running catchy and completely misleading ads. No, it's not the fact that they casually say "You know us as the Internet's original search engine," conveniently leaving out Webcrawler, InfoSeek, Open Text and even Lycos, to name a few, not to mention WAIS (and I'm sure to hear from y'all about earlier ones). No, I refer instead to their ad's endearing trait of running bold-print search queries that in fact turn up total dreck. For example, in the New Yorker they show "Where do we come from?" as a query, accompanied by high-toned images of Michaelangelo's "God Giving Humans the Finger" and apes looking wiser than the combined weight of all Sunday morning TV pundits. But try running that query at their site and what are the top three returns?
1. Natural Cork - Where does it come from? Natural Cork Limited Co. Where does cork come from? Home Where does cork come from? What is cork made of? Cork floors are durable Thermal and... URL: www.naturalcork.com/where.htm
2. WHERE WE COME FROM The company was formed in 1996. Its first goal was to put together insurance products to support digital watermarking and web crawlers for copyright... URL: www.cyberarchive.com/2where_we_come_from.htm Last modified on: 8-Sep-1997 - 10K bytes - in English
3. Did french fries come from France? Did French Fries Come From France? No - Belgium. No one knows for sure when they were first made. What is known is that around the turn of the... URL: www.building19.com/did.htm
Ah, the answers to the eternal questions.
A letter in the Industry Standard (Nov. 8) from Hans-Dieter Zimmermann points out that when Lycos claims to be #1 in Europe because it has local sites in 13 European countries, the Lycos Switzerland site (www.lycosch.ch) actually just transfers you to their sites in France, Germany or Italy. Even the weather shows you Germany's weather, not Switzerland's.
Therefore, at the end of this issue you will find links to other people's sites in over 160 countries, making me the #1 'zine! Yeah! Number 1! Number 1!
Chris Worth writes that he tried searching at Amazon for "Applied Cryptography," shortening it to "applied cryp," and was rewarded with:
Top Search Results from Amazon.com
We found no matches for applied cryp. Below are results where the keywords include "crap". If you prefer, you may try another search.
On the other hand, Australian Ron suggests we march over to http://www.google.com and search for: "More evil than Satan." This is about as much fun as typing "I'd like to kill Bill Gates" into Word, selecting it, and doing a thesaurus look-up. Have fun, y'all! [This doesn't count as being negative about Microsoft. It's merely a statement of act.]
Email I didn't finish reading:
SKILLMAN NJ (October 21 1999 - Twenty million teens have an embarrassing problem that is written all over their faces - acne. Now a new web site, www.pimpleportal.com, offers teens useful information to help them deal with a problem many consider equal parts medical condition and cosmetic emergency...
Here's an odd little site: http://www.wheresgeorge.com. In your free time, you enter serial numbers of your dollar bills and, as other similarly vocationally-challenged people join in, you can watch where your dollar bill has gone. There are upwards of 550,000 serial numbers registered.
We hate to be old hat here at JOHO, but the latest URL to be making the email rounds is:
It's hard to describe, much less explain, the charm of this home page at which a Turkish journalist and music and sports teacher bares himself to a world he assumes is ready to love him for himself. Perhaps we should just take this page as the precise opposite of pornography and move on...
Stop the presses: The page's owner claims that some of the "best" stuff on the page was actually added against his will by an unknown hacker who probably thought he had cracked the Turkish military intranet.
Australian Ron sends us to another site that's charming for its lack of polish. This one, however, is (we can only hope) a send up along the lines of Laszlo Toth and his letters:
Ann Wendell sends us to
where you'll find a fine line separating rumor from fact. The "whisper number" is a supposedly company's actual financial results, semi-leaked in advance of the official announcement. The whisper number is a rumor. But, of course, this new site only succeeds insofar as it develops a reputation for publishing true rumors. And if they rumors have the weight of authority behind them, are they rumors? And why the hell would Bruce Willis and Demi Moore name their child "Rumor"? In fact, who'd name a kid "Demi" in the first place? And if Demi Moore were to marry Greg LaMonde, would she become Demi Monde?
Cassandra Johnson writes:
I think this article may appeal to the hippy part of your brain as it did to mine.
This FastCompany article maintains that you can do well by doing good, or, as Helena Cronin says:
"It turns out," she told the assembled kill-or-be-killed crowd, "that you can actually prosper more by entering into relationships of reciprocation, so that you're both getting more than either of you would have gotten separately."
Good article. But why is it that this is presented as even controversial? What a crazy world...
Peter Merholz sends us to an article by JOHO-reader Amy Wohl (well, that's not how she usually introduces herself -- she's an industry pundit) about three approaches to exchanging knowledge for cash. Unlike my meanderings in the previous issue about IQport.com, you'll find some actual information and insight in Amy's article:
End world hunger by clicking a link? C'mon, how can you say no? (Actually having just watched a half dozen adults say No to an adorable 8 year old holding a Unicef box on Halloween, my confidence in people's ability to Just Say No has been greatly and regrettably strengthened.) The Hunger Site claims to donate money for food every time you click the button on their page (no more than once per day). The money is donated by sponsors out to do good and get a little favorable PR.
The site *looks* legit. If any of you can show me how exactly I've been made a fool of, I'd appreciate it.
Middle World ResourcesA Compendium of Resources
|Walking the Walk
PHH Vehicle Management Services provides PHH InterActive to its customers so they can track and manage their leased cars and trucks in real time over the Web. The site shows everything from repair tasks to who's ordering high-octane. Says Larry Kinder, CIO, InterActive will warn managers if drivers try to buy Twinkies instead of gas," as if this were a particularly good thing.
One customer, Bausch & Lomb, forecasts they'll save nearly 15% on their $3M annual fleet budgets and $120M on their global budget when it rolls out the service in Europe next year (where they will be warned if drivers try to buy a glass of '96 Rothschild when a vin ordinaire would have sufficed).
(Sorry, but I've lost where I glommed this nugget from.)
You know I'm a sucker for trace routes. I love the way they peel back the smooth, soft skin of the Internet to show the ugly set of tin cans and string that are its actual substance. It's like one of those cheesy horror movies where the beast's hideousness is revealed in one theatrical sweep of the hand over the latex face.
In other words, I have nothing at all to say about
which lets you type in an address and see where you're really being pinged and ponged to. This is handy when, say, you can't pay your bills through Quicken and after literally 3 hours on the phone being bounced from Quicken to Checkfree and back again, Quicken is still hosing your dial-up connection so badly that the only way to recover from the inability to pay your bills is to reboot over and over again. Just to pick an example at random...
Susan Scherer writes, referring to last issue's bashing of the now-sufficiently abashed Microsoft:
I followed the link to the latest Microsoft KM whitepaper and it's good that I missed lunch. As usual Microsoft has homogenized an intrinsically difficult and messy business construct, reduced it to a few simplistic ideas that can be magically implemented through a proprietary solution. I particularly enjoyed the pie chart illustrating reasons for resistance KM mostly because there was no indication given of how this data had been derived. I entertained myself this afternoon by imagining cluetrain fueled by burning copies of the whitepaper. Anyone who really wants know something about should read Working Knowledge by Davenport & Prusak (in addition course your own timeless musings.).. (Is this bald enough get me in print?)
Yes, the whitepaper only serves the purpose of being a whitepaper. As for bald people getting into print well it's really not something you should be self-conscious about.
Glenn (Clinton Glenn) Clinton feels the previous issue was a tad cranky:
Okay Dave, why don't you tell us how you really feel about Microsoft and the rest of the firms you managed to rip in this month's issue?! Even poor old IQport (or whatever they're called) couldn't pass your muster, even though part of you really liked what they had to offer.
Are we to assume that this was just a "bad hair day" or another sign of advancing age? I'm going to go with the bad hair. Ripping Billy's little empire is easy enough to do and no one will even argue with you (except Billy!).
Actually, given that the Giant of Redmond is about to become The Giant Head and Arms of Redmond and The Giant Legs and Gonads of Redmond, I'm not going to make fun of Microsoft until Windows 98 crashes again.
Ding! Time's up! [Note: This is another simple statement of fact, not Microsoft bashing.]
John Pittman responds to our comments about real-life "ornigraphs" that represent common management-worker relationships. He suggests:
... and of course the other 2 common constellations: - people arrayed as a _circle-jerk_ (identifying the pivot man is a key)
- the amalgam of confusion and lack of interest that characterizes a _clusterfuck_ (or CF)
Damn you, Pittman! Now JOHO will be found clinging to the lint traps of Net filters everywhere. Couldn't you have instead referred to these phenomena by their proper English names: "weekly team meetings" and "customer support"?
Valdis Krebs writes on the same topic:
Well, it is not a marketing department, but everything else is the same! See this link for an example of what you are looking for: http://www.orgnet.com/INSNA/FS1.html
There you'll find Valdis's way of depicting business relationships -- organizational, messy, dynamic, conversational.
Michael O'Connor Clarke (so good they named him twice) reports on the imminent implosion of knowledge management:
This Knowledge thing. It's getting everywhere.
I'm on the plane en route to Xplor. At Toronto airport the awfully nice US Customs & Immigration lady asked me where I was going. I answered honestly as I always do. Then it got difficult:
What kind of a conference?
It's called Xplor, it's kind of about Knowledge Management, stuff like that.
Er....frankly, I don't know. And nor does anyone else, to be honest. That's kind of what conferences like this and pretty much the whole software industry is trying to figure out right now. I think it's just a really dumb idea that someone once had that a lot of people have convinced themselves is a really smart idea, and people like me are able to make a sizable living off it until the whole world collectively wakes up and smells the coffee. It's basically the new name for Information Management - but that sounded way too 70's and just didn't have that whole silver cat suit 21st century utopian feel going for it.
Blank stare. "Oh. Have a safe trip."
Yeah, but where can I get one of those KM cat suits?
Felipe Albertao writes to us from Sao Paulo:
I found the following document: http://www.thawte.com/certs/strongextranet/whitepaper.html This is a document from Thawte (a security certification company), describing their solution to secure Extranets ("Strong Extranet System"). It has the usual text found in many white papers (Benefits", "Requirements", and so on), but, pay attention to the end of the document: "Disadvantages of the Strong Extranet System."
In the section Felipe points to, Thawte actually frankly acknowledges the weaknesses and shortcomings of their own product, rather than giving their customers the exquisite pleasure of their own journey of discovery. My advice: If a company can't even figure out how to lie about its own product, how can you trust them to delivery a secure extranet solution that could withstand the uncoordinated assault of 195 volunteers in 22 countries?
RageBoy (http://www.rageboy.com/index2.html) forwards the following:
Could you use an extra $100? You can get it with Membership Rewards points! Turn points into cash and do whatever you please. .. You can redeem 20,000 points for a $100 Reward up to three times each calendar year for a total of $300 in cash.
...Terms & Conditions: Cardmembers may buy up to a maximum of 20,000 points per calendar month...
the way I read this pitch you get 100 bucks for 20,000 reward points. But wait. They then say: "Don't let a few thousand points keep you from getting the reward you want right now." See, you can *buy* extra points at 25 bucks per thousand.
Are more people like dropping math or what? This means you'd pay 500 fucking dollars for the hundred they give you back! Or am I missing something here? Maybe it's what they call a "value proposition." You think?
This is not unlike the street vendors by the Eiffel tower who ask for 400 francs
for a wind-up bird because some percentage of foreigners will misplace the decimal
when doing the currency conversion. The ploy must be very attractive to a Web
start-up. You can imagine two pitches to venture capitalists:
1. We provide reward points, etc. Valuation: $100M.
2. We make our margins on the mathematically challenged and people with fingers too fat for their calculators. Valuation: $5B.
Adam Bolowski comments on my anagramming of Dhrubo Sircar ("crush bid roar," "scour hard rib" and "rubs chair rod"), a person mentioned in the previous issue.
... rearranging the letters of 'chris rageboy locke' gives:
Rich bogey clears OK.
Glib or cheesy croak.
A big crooks lechery.
and would you believe:
Horrible cocky sage.
coincidence? surely not
Coincidence? No. Fiendish plot by the improbably alias-ed Adam Bolowski? Yes! Herewith the proof:
Dam low boa ski!
Ba, Sodom. I walk.
Soak amid bowl
Wo, a bold mask I
Adam blows I ok
You are unmasked, RageBoy! We will meet again ... at Reichenbach Falls!
Microsoft Outlook has or used to have, since I can't find it in Outlook 2000 a "recall" button that makes it sound as if you can take back the email you sent to your manager that analyzed precisely the psychological deficits that cause her to be an irredeemable pile of offal. Unfortunately, the "recall" button really only sent another message saying that you didn't mean to send the first one, thus drawing even more attention to your regrettable missive.
Sending stupid email isn't the only mistake we routinely make on the Web. Let's invent other useful, magical buttons, and then describe what they actually do. For example:
What It Actually Does
|Clicked on a link that turns out to take you to a porno page||
|Removes page from your history list, etc.|
|Ordered pants at online store||
|Increases waist size from your original optimistic order|
|Clicked on an "unsubscribe" button provided by spammers, thus confirming that your email address is active, making you plumper prey for the spammers.||
|Dispatches Jean Claude Van Damme to kill them|
|Used Lycos for a search||
|Runs same query at a competent search page|
Please submit your buttons (but there's no reason to go all graphic on me).
The previous Bogus Contest looked for unlikely Web scams. Thomas Jones contributes:
Your dues help us to lobby for your web server's interests in Washington
Kinder traffic control methods than "bandwidth throttling"
Better health benefits for servers in virus riddled academic environments
Collective bargaining to protect honest retail servers from being pushed out by the invasion of open source code and shareware
The previous issue contained the following snippet:
...what knowledge workers do best-what Microsoft CEO Bill Gates refers to as 'thinking work.' Wow! What a phrase maker! Let's see then people who manufacture things are engaged in making work and air traffic controllers are engaged in avoiding work. If you send me your entry I'll declare this a mini bogus contest!
Jon Pyke essays:
Are policemen involved in arresting work?
Cartographers in mapping out work?
Michael O'Connor Clarke responds
If: people who manufacture things are engaged in making work
and air traffic controllers are engaged in avoiding work.
Then people who provide "escort services" for a living are engaged in fucking work right?
But then again many many people around the world get up every day and head off to "fucking work" return from vacation and whine about having to go back to "fucking work" and dream of winning the lottery so that they can give up "fucking work" forever - so maybe the proper definition should be: people who are not independently wealth or on the dole are engaged in fucking work.
Oy, I'm definitely not making it past the Net nannies this month. Oh well, we never got along with nannies. We are, after all, unnursed, unsuckled, thus ne'er weaned, having emerged from the womb as an o'erweening nobby little gentleman, doused in a bassinet (the nurse grabbed us by our egos, which would later turn out to be our sole point of vulnerability), and placed in the bantling buffet, where our father, who unfortunately was unable to participate in the herculean labors because, well, someone has to make a living, withheld his lightning bolt of approval until the nurse rolled the cart to the window and indicated which babe to love at first sight. And we remained siteless for nearly half a century when at last the tempest-tossed seas brought us home, on the quivering timbers of the storm-broken vessel known as JOHO, curved prow unloosed into trembling planks drifting, vectorless, on the seas dark as the wine staining the earth in libation.
The following information was found trapped at the top of my washing machine when I ran some issues of JOHO through it.
JOHO is a free, independent newsletter written and produced by David Weinberger. He denies responsibility for any errors or problems. If you write him with corrections or criticisms, it will probably turn out to have been your fault.
Subscription information, or requests to be removed from the JOHO mailing list, should be sent to email@example.com. There is no need for harshness or recriminations. Sometimes things just don't work out between people.
Dr. Weinberger is in a delicate nervous state, but if you want to send positive comments to him, his email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dr. Weinberger is represented by a fiercely aggressive legal team who responds to any provocation with massive litigatory procedures. This notice constitutes fair warning.
This journal eschews the use of the word "fuck" except when it is deemed the right word for literary purposes, although we use it in this disclaimer because we enjoy confusing censor-savant netnanny programs.
Any email sent to JOHO may be published in JOHO and snarkily commented on unless the email explicitly states that it's not for publication.
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