The Reputation Economy, Employees, and Privacy

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As companies embrace the notion of a reputation economy fueled by the power of social platforms this brings a new set of challenges for management and employees.

I was at the Salesforce #cloudcrowd event in Sydney recently and we were discussing this issue with guest speaker Peter Coffee.

The issue is that companies increasingly require employees to interact online on behalf of the company but using their own persona.

Upon consideration, it is not much different to offline where one meets with business contacts using a real name.  But the difference is that those meetings are mostly written on the wind.  Online interaction is forever. It is an almost permanent record of where you were, what you said, and to whom it was said.

Thus for the employee, the private conversations and meetings of the past have transformed into public online interactions, potentially geotagged and with accompanying photo.

What this is doing is tying the individual’s personal reputation very closely with that of the company in a very public and well documented way. In the past it was relatively easy (especially in a big city) to gloss over a former job and what you really did in it.

But now this will become increasingly difficult as more and more of our business interaction is transacted in public and online.

It will also become increasingly difficult for companies on several levels:

  • Firstly, they will find it more challenging to repudiate the activities and actions of employees, since these will be well documented online.
  • Secondly, they will find their public reputation increasingly tied explicitly to employee behaviour as played out in various online forums.
  • And thirdly, there is the risk that employees will use online forums to share their feelings (both positive and negative), as per the very colourful  examples of Goldman Sachs’ former employee Greg Smith Why I Am Leaving Goldman Sachs or Google’s James Whittaker Why I Left Google.

Problems for employees include:

Rawn Shah’s October 2011  presentation gives a nice overview of the issues involved in The Blurring of Job Loyalties, Social Collaboration and Personal Freedom.

One thing is certain, the boundaries between private citizens and their online activity as representatives of a company is starting to blur and this is likely to increase.  It also means that we individuals will increasingly be subject to ongoing and continuous surveillance from companies as well as the government.

Privacy is truly dead.

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The evolving power shift and our hyperconnected society

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As we move away from the power structures and ways of thinking that governed the twentieth century we are seeing a desperate rearguard action from the power elites who ruled that time.

Dying Dinosaur Industries in their Death Throes

A good example of this is the film and music industries, whose centralized model of creation and distribution is breaking down.

The proposed US anti-piracy legislation to protect film, music and other intellectual property from unauthorized distribution – SOPA in the House and PIPA in the Senate – has shown deep divides between modern hyperconnected businesses and old world centralized, command-control industries. And it is now reported that the SOPA bill has been shelved after global protests from Google, Wikipedia and others.

The rearguard action by the old industries is also clear in threats against those who fail to support the old industries:

“Consumer group Public Knowledge on Friday accused the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) and its head, former Sen. Chris Dodd, of trying to intimidate lawmakers into supporting a pair of controversial anti-piracy bills.

In recent days, Dodd and other top Hollywood figures have threatened to cut off campaign donations to politicians who do not support their effort to crackdown on online copyright infringement.”

Source: The Hill: Consumer group accuses Hollywood of ‘threatening politicians’, by Brendan Sasso, 01/20/12 04:08 PM ET

We are seeing increased efforts from the old guard to control people and their communication. But the genie of a hyperconnected populace is out of the bottle. And it cannot be put back. Even if they remove the internet as we know it – free flowing and accessible to all – we will invoke Gilmore’s Law and route around that damage

The Economy and the Death of the Western Middle Class

The death of these old industries has important implications for society. These industries enabled the creation of a well-off middle class in the latter half of the twentieth century.

But with the digital revolution many the economic drivers that created the twentieth century middle class have disppeared, as outlined in this article about Apple and US jobs.

And even in Australia we are seeing the gradual shift of middle class jobs overseas, as in this recent example from Westpac, Ultimate insult: Sacked Westpac workers forced to train replacements.

It is becoming apparent that even new businesses no longer guarantee jobs like they used to. For example: ‘No new jobs, dollars’ in bulk stores.

The truth about job creation is only now beginning to dawn on us, and we are seeing the inevitable social and economic consequences of transferring work from high cost to low cost economies.

People are even starting to ponder which jobs will disappear next – for example Will these 10 jobs disappear in 2012?

The old industries employed sufficient numbers of the western populace to keep them in comfortable consumerist peace. Their children could afford an education and thus improve their lot in life. The idea that each generation would be materially better off than the previous seemed unassailable.

But now it seems that truth might no longer hold. The #Occupy movement is seeking to bring attention to the economic bifurcation of society between the the very well-to-do and the strugglers.

Embracing the Future

Those who are not trapped in the old model are embracing the evolving world that is fuelled by the digital revolution. They are accepting the dispersed, decentralized, and peer-to-peer future.  The old intermediaries are dying (or are in their death throes), and in their place new ones are arising.

The future is about human beings  connecting with each other. It is about collaboration and cooperation. It is about sustainable growth. And it is about making space for people to create new possibilities unconstrained by the behemoths of centralized command and control.

Author Paulo Coelho summed it up nicely on his blog recently:

“As an author, I should be defending ‘intellectual property’, but I’m not.

Pirates of the world, unite and pirate everything I’ve ever written!

The good old days, when each idea had an owner, are gone forever.

First, because all anyone ever does is recycle the same four themes: a love story between two people, a love triangle, the struggle for power, and the story of a journey.

Second, because all writers want what they write to be read, whether in a newspaper, blog, pamphlet, or on a wall.

The more often we hear a song on the radio, the keener we are to buy the CD. It’s the same with literature.

The more people ‘pirate’ a book, the better. If they like the beginning, they’ll buy the whole book the next day, because there’s nothing more tiring than reading long screeds of text on a computer screen.”

Source: My thoughts on S.O.P.A. by Paulo Coelho on January 20, 2012

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Vale Steve Jobs: a great leader with great passion

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It is sad to hear of Steve Jobs’ passing. Not unsurprising news given his long battle with cancer. But the heartfelt responses to his death made me think. How many other leaders of big companies would elicit similar responses? Hardly any I suspect. His was a remarkable career, and the impact of his ideas brought to life will resonate for a long time.

He shared some wise insights at his famous commencement speech at Stanford University in 2005, it’s long been a favourite inspiration for me and many others. It seems a fitting way to remember a man who followed his passion and changed the world through his passion for great technology and great design.

The full text of this speech is also available on Stanford’s website

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My Geek Origin story, what's your story?

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This post was inspired by Michael Kordahi, well known to many as @delic8genius, who put out a call encouraging to geeks to share their geek origin stories.

My geek origin is shrouded in the mists of time.  It was so long ago that there is no only one photographic record [update: which is now in the hands of Michael Kordahi, heaven help me].  But there was a revolution going on and I became part of it.

During school and university I had no interest in technology or gadgets.  My passion was for the humanities – history, philosophy, anthropology.  Nothing to do with any of the so-called ‘hard sciences’ or mathematics.

But my first job was in a bank, one of those boring jobs I mentioned recently. Thus my first exposure to computers was to the mysterious mainframes to which one submitted requests that were returned, if you were lucky, two days later.

Yet I was still not attracted to technology. After all, what was there to love about the cold hard mainframe? And where was the immediate gratification?

After escaping from the job in a bank to a stockbroking firm I was given client trust accounts to manage.  There were lots of things to track. Again we relied on the slow and klunky mainframe (oh the joys of JCL and TSO I could recount).  Then a colleague showed me his new gadget – a personal computer running MS DOS – it was the only one in the office, nay the only one in the building.

That gadget fascinated me and, before my colleague realised it, I had co-opted the machine for myself.  I was suddenly able to keep track of things using new fangled things called spreadsheets. Then I discovered you could make it do what you wanted by writing programs.

Not yet a geek, but well on my way toward it.

Landed my next job partly due to my PC skills, still doing finance work.  But one day I was standing in the kitchen chatting with the CEO (as you do) and happened to mention that there was a problem with the computer system in the office.

[Pro-tip: never casually mention problems to a CEO unless you are prepared to help fix them]

She mentioned that we needed an IT manager and, since I sounded like I knew about that ‘stuff’, asked if I wanted the job.  My ‘prudent’ response (having no experience at all for this job) was “yes”.

Thus began my geek apprenticeship: inheriting the world’s most unstable and unreliable Unix system and applications. From there I discovered how hardware, operating systems, networks and databases work; and how various programming languages work (starting with shell scripts and moving on from there). It was endlessly fascinating.  Eventually I had to accept that no one can ever know everything about technology. I also had to accept that I am a very bad software programmer and an even worse metadata modeller.

The next interesting thing I came across was a guy in Finland who proposed an open source version of Unix, eventually known as Linux. In retrospect, by that time, there had been an evolution in my life: from the early days of humanities studies, to hanging out with friends for days on end (eating pizza) while we fooled about reverse engineering kernels. By this stage I was an unconscious geek (i.e. a geek but completely unaware of this fact, even though a member of AUUG).

Then came the web.  From the first time I heard about the web and hypertext it held enormous fascination. The power inherent in the notion of hyperlinking and hyperconnecting documents, people and things seemed to have great promise.

From the early days of the web I worked on enterprise web development, managing teams who were building large scale web applications.  The roles varied: project manager, enterprise architect, software development manager, consultant.

In the late 1990s I worked as one of the architects on a large scale middleware application – we called it a “multi-channel integration architecture” – that enabled multiple front end channels to interconnect with heterogenous backend systems.  Off-the-shelf middleware like we have now did not really exist so it had to be created from scratch.

From there I moved onto development of early e-commerce for both B2B and B2C, and customisation of supply chainERP and CRM systems. The power of technology to revolutionise business and business models inspired me to study management, marketing and e-commerce at university.

While working on all these large-scale enterprise systems, I was also playing with what has come to be called web 2.0 and experimenting on my own time. Learning HTML and other scripting languages for fun.  Started blogging for fun too, before blogging tools existed.  Was an early user of Blogger, Typepad and finally migrated to WordPress.

It was during the blogging that I finally became conscious of my geekiness.  But I didn’t really come out of the closet then since there weren’t many women geeks in my circles of acquaintance.

But with the advent of Twitter, and connecting with many amazing women who were also geeks, I finally came out of the closet and embraced my geekiness.

And that is the story of my geek origin, what’s your geek origin story? And, as Michael Kordahi (a.k.a. @delic8genius) said:

“This year at TechEd (super secret but super high profile project for now), I want to profile and capture your Geek Origin Stories.

What memories do you have that define you?

I’m looking for your personal stories that tap into what makes you geek. Stories like mine that tap into your geek DNA and the (tacit) attributes that define you.

So, please email me one or a few of your Geek Origin Stories. Also please include a photo or video of you being a young geek.

Email me at michael.kordahi@microsoft.com or post your own online and send me a link.”

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Success but on whose terms? What about personal brands and character?

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There is so much pressure on people these days to be successful.  And I do not think we are encouraged to stop and think what success actually means for each of us and for society in general.  Many of us seem to be on a treadmill.  Go to school, get good grades and get into a good university and then get a good job.  Then get a mortgage on a house in a good area and possibly buy an investment property.  By this stage we are supposed to be successful and thus be happy.

But I’m not sure that this is the correct equation for achieving a happy and successful life.  I see the pattern so often. Many of my friends are on this treadmill.  Some of get to their thirties or forties and realise that they have not achieved as much as they had hoped to.  Perhaps their job isn’t good enough, perhaps they didn’t go to a good enough university. In any case they start to feel defeated and not good enough. They begin the slide down into a gently defeated middle age where they think that because they did not do good enough their life will not really amount to much now.

It seems to me that this is no way to live. Constantly checking yourself out against an ill-defined standard of good. What the hell does good in these contexts mean anyway?  Because the standard of goodness is not defined – and good goes so easily with better and best – there is always a feeling that the good thing might be surpassed by a better thing.

There is little room in this pattern for joy, inspiration, non-traditional approaches, or unexpected roads to fulfilment.

Coupled with this treadmill is the relatively new notion of ‘personal branding’.  Chris Penn wrote a nice piece on personal branding recently which is worth a read (HT: @maverickwoman for the link).

When the idea of a personal brand is tied to the treadmill of a good career it puts even more pressure on people to measure up to these ill-defined standards.

When we look back to history many of the people we most admire did not follow the generally accepted standards of the day with regards to good education, jobs, etc.

It’s time for us all to think and feel and reason about what is success.  How does that link to character (not personal brand)? What kind of person do we want to be?  And what kind of actions do we need to undertake based on that? By thinking about these things we can determine what to do to achieve success on our own terms and not upon the ill-defined terms that seem to be generally accepted in our society.

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Girl Develop IT Sydney launches successfully #ozgdi

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Girl Develop IT Sydney kicked off well last night with thirty eight students, led by the indomitable Pamela Fox and a number of teaching assistants.

Women from all sorts of jobs and backgrounds came along to grapple with the basics of web development – with the youngest still in high school.

The first session covered the basics of HTML and history of the web. Next sessions are:

Class 2: HTML Advanced Tags – Wednesday, Oct. 20
Class 3: CSS Selectors & Properties – Monday, Oct. 25th
Class 4: CSS Layout – Wednesday, October 27th
Class 5: Final Demos – Monday, November 1st

Google’s offices in Sydney are a great venue – kudos to them for supporting this initiative.

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Inspiring: Girl Develop IT #becauseiamagirl

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One thing I’m passionate about is the possibilities opened up for all of us by technology. And techincal literacy is an important way that we can open up those possibilities for women.

Another thing I’m passionate about is people who make a difference – those who get up off the sofa and take action. Sara Chipps is someone who has seen a need and taken action with her Girl Develop IT program, as she explains:

It can be intimidating for women to learn and ask questions when they are in an extreme minority. While open and welcoming, today’s budding developer community is up to 91% male. There isn’t a comfortable place where women can learn at their own pace and not be afraid to ask “stupid questions.”

We decided it was time to provide a place where all questions are OK and everyone can learn in a supportive environment. Our courses focus on coding, leveraging existing technology, and having something to show for it (aka building sweet websites).

And in Australia Pamela Fox has been inspired by Sara’s lead and is setting up a local version of Girl Develop IT in Sydney.

Kudos to Sara and Pamela for getting off the sofa and doing something to help build up technical literacy for women and girls.

This all fits rather nicely into the Plan Australia Because I am a Girl campaign:

You Can Help Change the World

Plan International says “There’s no greater enemy of inequality than keeping quiet!”

Act now! Spread the ‘Because I am a Girl’ message throughout your network of family, friends and colleagues.

Simple Things You Can Do Right Now …

  • Share your story here
  • Inform people about the campaign through your websites, newsletters, emails and other touch points. Plan can provide you logos and information on the campaign.
  • Host lunches with friends, partners and clients. Depending on the event Plan can provide content and speakers.
  • Plan can work with you to see how your business can build awareness among your customers and suppliers.
  • You can donate to Plan in Australia’s GirlsFund, that works to address the unique obstacles faced by girls.
  • You can sponsor a child with Plan. Over 48,000 individuals and businesses in Australia sponsor children with Plan.  Plan uses funds through child sponsorship to support projects that bring lasting change to a child’s entire community, such as gender equality.
  • For more ways on how you can support the campaign visit Plan Australia’s ‘Because I am a Girl’ website
  • Because I am a Girl Facebook Group
  • Twitter: @invest_in_girls
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Annalie Killian … a woman Catalysing Magic

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Here is another post in my series on inspiring women.

This time it is my friend Annalie Killian, who is also known as Catalyst for Magic (yes that is really the job title on her business card) or as @MaverickWoman on Twitter.

I’ve known Annalie for many years and have always been inspired and energised by her. Over the years she has evolved as an organisational change agent (catalyst) and intrapreneur. Yet several constants have remained with Annalie over the years, for example, her:

  • passion for change,
  • generosity of spirit,
  • extreme curiosity, and
  • deep joie de vivre.

Here is a bit of insight into the life journey of this woman who has challenged stereotypes and travelled far. In her own words:

How/Why I’m doing what I’m doing now?

Let me start with what I am doing now, then I’ll try and cover the how and why.

Since 2000, when I moved to Australia from South Africa, I have worked as “Catalyst for Magic” at AMP, a large iconic Australian Financial Services brand. My role is Director of Innovation, Collaboration and Communication, and I see it as championing the spirit of “ubuntu” – a Zulu word referring to our inter-connected Humanness” – in all its rich and imaginative and complex essence- and directing that magic towards meaningful and purposeful work and business outcomes. Call it culture, call it engagement, call it creative collaboration, collective intelligence– it’s all of that, and it’s what sets one company apart from the next.

Why I am doing what I’m doing now?

My best friend, who unfortunately died of cancer at age 33, sent me a card after a particularly trying incident working for an extreme bully, GM of Human Resources at the time at the Bayside Aluminium Smelter in South Africa. She said: “You will outlive him…you are a survivor- it’s inevitable”. At the time, I didn’t appreciate it as much as I do now….and I think the essence of what she was referring to is my resilience, resourcefulness and extreme adaptability.

So why do I do what I do? Maybe it was inevitable…I thrive in it! As a corporate maverick, I dodge, weave, swim upstream and take a lot of set-backs but keep on purpose when it comes to innovation and bringing others along. And yes, it is unsettling for some who want to cling to the status quo or the past.

How do I do it?

If “life is what happens when you are making other plans”, then I guess I don’t make too many plans but rather find ways to apply my strengths to opportunities I spot and shape my work that way. I have an insatiable curiosity and am highly attuned to faint signals that others often don’t notice. Believe it or not, these skills were forged in childhood by personal circumstances and it taught me to pick up on almost imperceptible signals and anticipate scenarios- giving me the best ability to cope and navigate through challenges. And I am

Who would have thought that this was preparing me to become a change agent, working in innovation in a large corporation, nurturing the adoption of ideas and collaboration among many to anticipate disruption, embrace change and overcome threats?

My proudest breakthroughs include facilitating the first democratic elections in South Africa in the Zululand region to a peaceful outcome in 1994, establishing the first Community Foundation in Africa and building that into a powerful transformational agency, and establishing + producing the AMPLIFY Innovation & Thought Leadership Festival since 2005. The latter two were the result of spotting signals early and converging many ideas into a powerful vision.

What is the best piece of advice you have ignored to get where you are?

Sticking to the straight and narrow road! I have always meandered down ally-ways and side-streets, and these have yielded the richest discoveries and sometimes set me on a totally different trajectory.

How many times did you nearly give up when things went wrong & what kept you going at those times?

Know that cartoon about the frog trying to strangle the Pelican that’s eating him? That’s me. I can be almost compulsive-obsessive when I want something. I NEVER give up. I just find a different way. And, I have learnt patience…I can bide my time. This is the hardest of course, but I have been rewarded more times than not by letting go of something and then revisiting it at a later time when circumstances caught up. Ideas can be way ahead of their time and one must be willing to cultivate the eco-system to prepare it for an idea. (This feels counter-intuitive because we know how slow organisations can be to change- but there’s no point forcing something so hard that it forces YOU out!)

Are you actually happy?

Yes! Unequivocally yes! I don’t have a perfect life, or actually perfect anything…but it’s sort of all working and there is harmony most of the time. I still have lots of ambition that I hope to realize and it would be great to really push my talents to see where the limits are. There are a few big dreams still looking for a physical manifestation- I’d like to play in a larger international arena and I would also like to help my 2 daughters achieve their dreams. One wants to be a musician and learn Mandarin so she can sing in China, and the other one wants to be a fashion stylist/ editor. I’d like to study Alternate Health like massage therapies as a hobby. (I love spoiling people!)

What do you wish you hadn’t sacrificed to be such a success?

It’s a flattering question, though I don’t think of success as a destination, more as a work-in-progress.

I have not been balanced at all times…favouring the mind and not honouring the body equally. I don’t sleep much…there’s so much living to be done! But no, I have never regretted not sleeping more!

I think my daughters have missed not coming home to cookies and milk served by me, but I don’t do guilt. I know they have gained in many other ways through the way I parent them, like a belief that being deeply immersed in doing something you love and becoming good at it is one of the most pleasurable things in life, and that all mastery requires effort. It’s very funny when I hear them sharing these thoughts with their teenage friends!

What mistakes did you make and what did you learn from them?

I make mistakes all the time…it comes with taking risk and learning. But it’s crucial to be very observant and spot a mistake quickly, then fix it immediately. It helps to have low ego and attachment to a process so you can amend it without feeling like it’s a loss of face!

Outside of a criminal offence, there are few mistakes one cannot overcome professionally or personally. But some mistakes can shadow you throughout your life. One of those is choosing a partner that is not right for you- and being tied to a bad scenario for a lifetime until your children are adults. That’s about the only warning I can give! And…mistakes should not be wasted, they are vessels of personal growth.

What would be the point of a mistake-free life? Can’t think of anything more boring!

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What do you work for?

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Had an interesting conversation with some friends recently and it got me thinking about what we work for.

In Western societies many of us work, in addition to money and sustenance, for self-actualisation (in a Maslowian sense).

Many of us pick work that is meaningful to us and which meets our aspirations. But many also toil away in work that has no significance beyond a steady paycheck.

In the past, for most of us, our toil was over by the time we had reached 40 years of age. As Hobbes said of life in his day: “the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short”.

But for many of us life is no longer like that. Instead we face long lives of comfort and ease. And this very longevity calls us to a different approach to life. As C. S. Lewis noted: “How incessant and great are the ills with which a prolonged old age is replete.”

Since mere survival is not the only thing we face in modern society, it is worth questioning what we work for over the course of our life.

What regrets will we ponder as, in old age, we face the end of this life? What things should we do now to minimise those regrets?

Will it be too much work that we regret? Will it be that we made too much money? Or will it be the human experiences of joy and sorrow that we missed, the relationships that slipped through our fingers while we toiled?

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Does being nice pay off for women?

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Not really – especially for women – according to some research by Guido Heineck that was cited in the Daily Telegraph recently.

None of this is a surprise to me due to a long participation in business and, in particular, male dominated areas such as finance and IT.

Some of the research merely confirmed personal experience, for example “…results suggest that only females’ earnings are positively affected by greater preferences for challenge rather than affiliation.” (Heineck, 2007, p.4) This translates as ‘women who do not value group membership as much as others earn more’.

Nice and overly polite people (read ‘passive’) don’t often get a chance to take on high profile projects. Instead the people who are obviously willing to take on a challenge get them. And, greater rewards are often attached to more risky projects or endeavours. That’s not to say those women who like a challenge are not perfectly nice and polite people.

I’ve noticed that women on my teams over the years haven’t always achieved the kind of roles they’d like. Well-qualified women often do not push themselves forward, while less qualified men are willing to give it a shot. This particular issue is one that I have counseled many younger women about. Putting up your hand for a project or opportunity is often the only way to get them. Rarely are they offered without some kind of track record.  Women with a high need for affiliation can rarely push themselves forward past that need.

Interestingly some female friends were irate at the conclusions drawn in the Telegraph article.  They felt that this kind of discourse had a place in the past.  But I just look at results.  People who achieve tend to have a willingness to prioritise achievement over affiliation. It seems to come down a question of intrinsic versus extrinsic motivation.

The full paper, dating from 2007, is available here (NB: opens a pdf in a new window).

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