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  • feedwordpress 23:55:43 on 2022/11/28 Permalink
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    File Under “Hardcore, Great Men Are All” 


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    There’s so much to say about what’s happening at Twitter, but I’m going to start with one word: “Hardcore.” That’s what Elon said he wants from all his employees going forward – a “hardcore” mentality, a coder-first culture, a sleep-at-the-office-and-pound-Red-Bull kind of sensibility.

    I’m pretty familiar with this culture – an earlier, less toxic version of it pervaded the pre-Elon tech world, a culture I reported on at Wired, the Standard, and in coverage of Google and similar companies in the early 2000s. While it had its charms – most of us have pulled an all nighter trying to get a product out – memorializing “hardcore” as a work ethos is a deeply flawed management technique. Not only does it foster deeply unhealthy relationships to work, it also celebrates a toxic brand of male-dominated power – the kind of power that many of tech’s current titans, including Musk, Andreessen, Thiel, and their ilk – seem to believe is threatened. In their writings, investments, and political lobbying, it’s clear that “hardcore” is a philosophy this group of Valley troll-bullies seem desperate to entrench.

    In fact, I think it’s fair to postulate that Musk’s takeover of Twitter, supported as it is by Andreessen’s a16, Oracle’s Larry Ellison, a boatload of Saudi money, and crypto mystery man Changpeng Zhao, is at its core driven by a  neo-reactionary response to the ongoing decline of the Great Man narrative across our society and in “woke” corporate culture. The myth of the hero founder has always dominated Silicon Valley: The energy-drink fueled “great man” of tech who solves the world’s problems not with diplomacy and tact, but through singular genius, movie star grit, and raw coding prowess. Elon is, of course, this myth’s current favored son, its most treasured proof. This is the man that took on the entire auto industry, that landed rockets on barges, that married rock stars and inspired countless Iron Man sequels. Never mind the government handouts, the endless lawsuits, and the constant promotion of hate under the guise of “free speech.”

    You’ll probably not be surprised to hear that I think the Great Man founder myth is stupid and facile, worthy of ridicule. And far better writers than me have torn it down. But I can’t get the pre-Elon Twitter out of my mind – because I knew the company so well. This was a culture committed to building relationships, that admitted its role in the world was complicated, nuanced, and required endless patience and diplomacy. Its people were not dedicated to profit above all else. Instead, they were dedicated to fostering the site’s unique role in the online world, to telling that story, to listening to criticism, to supporting those who needed support. Because of their work, Twitter’s corporate culture was equally unique.

    And who was at the core of that culture? I have a theory: It was the women.

    Twitter was probably the most intentionally open, accommodating, and thoughtful work culture the Valley has ever produced at scale. And it’s not a coincidence that a healthy percentage of Twitter’s senior executives were women. Nor is it a coincidence that nearly all of them have left. I started keeping a list of the extraordinary women I worked with over the past few years who have recently departed the company. And just for posterity, and perhaps for you all to add to, I present it here. Think about all the men cheering on Elon’s “Hardcore” philosophy, who agree with him that the people below, and countless others, are unnecessary. Read through these names, click on their profiles, and ponder the roles they played in the nuanced ecosystem Twitter once was.

    And then, let that sink in.

    Leslie Berland – CMO

    Sarah Personette – CCO

    Dalana Brand – Chief People and Diversity Officer

    Vijaya Gadde – Legal, Public Policy & Trust and Safety Lead

    Robin Wheeler – Head of Sales

    Sonya Penn – GM of Data and Developer Platform

    Lara Cohen – VP, Global Head of Partners

    Sarah Rosen – VP Revenue Product

    Stephanie Prager – VP Global Business

    Melissa Barnes – VP, Canada and Latin America

    Julianna Hayes – VP Finance

    Nola Weinstein – Global Head of Brand Experience & Engagement

    Joanna Geary – Sr. Director, Curation

    Of course there are, literally, thousands more. These are just the first 15 or so names of senior women executives who I worked with at one time or another, people who helped make Twitter the amazing place it once was. Please add yours in comments or email me, I’d be happy to add to this list. 

     
  • feedwordpress 16:52:17 on 2022/10/10 Permalink
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    Does Web3 Matter To Marketers? 


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    Over at LinkedIn I’ve published a short piece on Web3 – a primer of sorts for the many marketing pals who’ve asked me “does this shit matter!?”. As I do with everything I pen, I’ve posted it here as well. (image credit)


    In the more than 30 years since the digital revolution swept through marketing, most of us have adapted to the ever-present change inherent in what has become a technology-driven profession. But there remains a sense that we’ve lost something crucial – that creativity and true connection with our customers has been replaced by an ever more inscrutable system of tech-mediated platforms. We pour billions each year into media-tech giants like Google and Meta, and yet we yearn for a world where technology enables our business, rather than dictating it.

    Wasn’t that the promise of the Internet, after all – a one-to-one relationship with our customers, at scale?

    Where did that promise go?

    Marketers aren’t the only ones asking this question. Every so often a new set of ideas emerges from the world of tech that feels like a sea change. The World Wide Web – sometimes referred to as “the Open Internet” – was the first of these shifts. The second was the mobile phone, and with it the rise of social media and its data-rich platforms, yielding to us the framework under which we now labor.

     It’s that framework – which many now call “Web2” – that has birthed many of our most existential concerns: The public’s fear of surveillance capitalism, lawmakers’ perception of oligarchy amongst the platform giants, and most importantly, our own loss of agency given our dependence upon them*. In short, the technology industry feels ripe for a shift away from its current state of play.

     If you’ve read this far, you already know that this shift now has a name: Web3. So, what is Web3, and why does it matter to marketing professionals?  And most importantly: What problem is Web3 trying to solve?

    A Matter of Philosophy

    At its core, Web3 is a philosophy. That might sound like a non sequitur – isn’t Web3 supposed to be about technological marvels like the blockchain, cryptocurrencies, and “the metaverse” – whatever that is? Well, yes, and we’ll get to that in later columns, but to understand Web3, we must also understand its core beliefs – and to not too fine a point on it, those beliefs align with an arguably radical return to the original philosophy of the Internet, best summarized by one word: Decentralization.

     I’m simplifying here, and Web3 is a complicated topic (one that’s currently undergoing its own version of the dot com crash, but that’s another post). In short, the technologists, pundits, and proponents of Web3 believe our current technological landscape is broken, largely due to the consolidation of economic value driven by the rise of large platform players like Google, Amazon, Apple and Meta/Facebook. While they’ve driven unprecedented value for shareholders and consumers alike, today’s Internet giants have done so by employing an approach diametrically opposed to the original values of the Internet.

    And what are those original values? First among them is decentralization. Internet originalists believe the power to innovate and to create value should lie with end users, not with centralized platforms or corporations. A second value is openness, also known as portability – that users, entrepreneurs, brands, and anyone else can move fluidly around the Internet, bringing with them their data, their preferences, and their resources without fear of being locked into any one platform or organization. Another key value is interoperability – that companies and platforms adhere to a transparent set of protocols and standards that allow for robust exchange of value across the Internet. A related value is composability – that various services and programs can be combined, again through technological standards, to create ever more innovative and valuable systems.

     A Better Future

    In the end, the central philosophical pillar of Web3 is decentralization. As Web3 proponent (and prolific investor) Chris Dixon puts it: “Centralized platforms have been dominant for so long that many people have forgotten there is a better way to build Internet services.” The building blocks of Web3 – blockchains, token-based currency projects like Bitcoin and Ethereum, distributed autonomous organizations (DAOs), non-fungible tokens (NFTs) – are all part of a growing movement to remake the Internet free of centralized control. Will it work? Again, those are topics for future posts.

    But should marketers pay attention? Absolutely.

    From privacy concerns to measurement, brand safety to increasingly impossible creative constraints (who can tell a brand story in .7 seconds?!) – I’ve lost count of how many senior marketers have privately complained to me about the stranglehold Internet giants hold over their budgets, their go to market strategies, and their connections to customers. Publicly, CMOs are more cautious – we’re all afraid of the market power the platforms hold. But who amongst us wouldn’t like to see the status quo upended by a new wave of innovation that puts power back in the hands of consumers?

    *This ultimate definition of “Web2” differs massively from the original vision of Web2 that Tim O’Reilly and I pursued through our Web2 Summit series of events and white papers back in 2004-11. 

     

     
  • feedwordpress 15:33:35 on 2022/09/14 Permalink
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    Apple As An Advertising Company: Inevitable, or A $100 Billion Mistake? 


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    Well, until it’s not.

    I hope to write something more thoughtful soon, but this piece from CNBC prompted me to at least jot down a placeholder: Apple is clearly coming for the ads business, and it’s starting exactly where Facebook did ten years ago: The app download marketplace.

    First, the news – not that it’s that new given many smarter observers have noticed Apple’s recent pivot to advertising. From CNBC: Apple plans to sell ads in new spots in the App Store by year-end.

    The addition of these new ad units only strengthens Apple’s already  robust business of selling search ads inside the app store.  Apple also sells other types of advertising, but what you might not realize is how large the app download advertising business actually is: an estimated $118 billion this year alone. Google and Facebook/Meta dominate the category, but Apple’s coming on strong – aided in large part by its decision, under the cloak of caring about consumer privacy, to kneecap the third-party data ecosystem that underpinned its competitors’ offerings. In short, Apple made it far harder for its rivals to deliver ROAS (return on advertising spend), and advertisers, being logical businesspeople, are moving spend to Apple.

    Why does this matter? Hypocrisy, for starters. Apple is spending countless millions positioning itself as anti-advertising, while at the same time privately planning to grow its own advertising business to a significant percentage of its overall revenues and profits. According to reporting from Bloomberg and elsewhere, Apple’s current advertising business stands at around $4 billion, putting it roughly in the league of Twitter, TikTok, and Snap, all of which are struggling to build app download businesses (and failing, in large part, because they can’t use data from Apple’s ecosystem). But Apple has been hiring ad platform talent lately, and some research outfits predict the company could scale its ads business to $30 billion within the next four years – putting it in the top tier of advertising giants*.

    Once that happens, it’s worth asking: How will becoming an ads business change the famously privacy-first company? I plan on digging into this question – and welcome any thoughts you might have as I do.

    • * Yes, yes, I know that $30 billion is not much given Apple’s nearly $400 billion in top line. But study this chart, and think about the fact that Apple’s services revenue – which includes advertising – has a nearly four times higher gross margin than its devices business. Put another way, every dollar in ad revenue is worth up to four times MORE than a dollar in device revenue. 

    (And PS, watch this space – Germany is suing Apple for self dealing in its ads business…)

     

     
  • feedwordpress 15:27:33 on 2022/09/10 Permalink
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    Writing 


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    Time was, I sat down nearly every day of the week to contemplate a blank page – and a few hours later, more or less, I’d hit “publish” in the WordPress backend, and a few hundred (or thousand) new words would appear on this site.

    It’s been a while since I’ve done that. I love writing, a process I’ve often called “thinking out loud,” and my relationship to this site was one of the most productive and important connections to the world I’ve ever had. But it’s atrophied, badly, and not a day goes by when I don’t miss it. I’m writing today not because I’ve had some insight or itch to scratch – I’ve had a million of them over the past few years, and developed an annoying habit of ignoring them all. But to be honest, I’m writing today because I can’t stand the tumbleweeds and dust bunnies dancing around this place. My email signature – the one for battellemedia.com, anyway – still has a link to this site, and this morning I considered taking it off.

    Instead, I’m writing this, both a mea culpa and a promise to all of you who followed my work over the past few decades. First, the apology: I’ve met dozens of you in the past year who’ve asked me what happened to my writing, and it both pleases and pains me to hear that question. It’s something of a mystery to me why I stopped – I still write three pages a day in my personal journal, why did I fall out of practice in the public realm? Certainly my move to New York four years ago, starting another company, wrestling with my own demons as it relates to what I feel is worth paying attention to – all of that contributed. But I think in the end I just lost confidence that I had anything interesting to say. So to those of you who still believe I might, and who’ve encouraged me to start up again, I am sorry for my absence, and I will strive to make amends.

    And now the promise: I’ve found myself at a place in life where I’m asking rather big questions. Our last child left for college last week, my wife and I have re-located to our family home off Cape Cod, I now commute weekly to New York, which is a situation I vastly prefer. Living in the city was invigorating but exhausting. I suppose I should have known, coming from Marin County, that the cacophony of NYC would wear me down. I’m back in a place that feels right again, and dipping in and out of New York’s mad energy allows me to keep connected, but not lose myself to the noise.   So I promise to lean back into writing on topics that interest me – regardless of whether anyone notices or responds. It’s meditative, it’s healing, and I miss the hell out of it.

    I promise to be a bit more personal here, to acknowledge my ignorance and blind spots, to raise more questions than answers, and to reflect on the lessons learned over more than three decades covering tech, media and business. I also promise to answer every single one of you who reaches out, should you care to. It was just such an outreach which spurred me back to this blank screen, and to the publish button – which I’ll press now, thankful that I have the opportunity to do so. See you online.

     
  • feedwordpress 13:34:20 on 2022/04/07 Permalink
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    Has Innovation Died in Marketing? 


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    Caveat: This will likely be one of my longish, link-heavy Thinking Out Loud pieces, so I invite you all to pour yourselves a glass of your favorite adult beverage or rustle up a fine cannabis pairing, should you care to indulge…

    As The Recount prepares for a major launch this spring, I found myself again contemplating the state of digital marketing – a subject I’ve written about extensively over the years. To not bury the lead, I find myself profoundly disappointed in the industry, which I think believes it is innovating, but in fact, is making the same mistakes old school media companies made when faced with the rise of the internet 15 years ago. But before I get into why, some background on how I came to that conclusion. 

    The Recount will soon launch a novel live news streaming product. We’ve been working on it for nearly a year, and we’re taking exactly the kind of risks that startups exist to tackle. We’ve rethought nearly every aspect of what makes “good television” in a post-social, digitally native information ecosystem. And while it’s true The Recount has a large and highly engaged social audience (tens of millions of views and engagements each week), there’s no guarantee that audience will join us in the world of live streaming. We know we have to prove ourselves – we must build and iterate a compelling service that people will find engaging, useful, and even fun. It’s risky – hell, it’s more than risky. To succeed, we have to build a service – and a brand – that our audience will want to share with friends and colleagues. In short, we know we must deliver an experience that builds community – because no media brand thrives without community.   

    Community. The word is a bit careworn, bruised from its recent run-ins with Web2 platform leaders like Zuckerberg and the casual toxicity of places like Twitter and YouTube. But community is a fundamental element of a great media brand, and it’s central to our success or failure. We think it’s so important that we’re launching our stream on Twitch, a platform that couldn’t be more different from traditional news environments in its approach to community. With one or two rare and unconventional exceptions, news has not found its footing there. So why the hell are we trying?

    Fair question. As we thought through the implications of committing to a third-party platform for the launch of a crucial new service, and the challenges of convincing marketers that it will be worth supporting, I was reminded of a burst of writing I posted more than fifteen years ago. Back then I was struggling to navigate a similar kind of shift in how media worked. At that point, blogs and “user generated content” were an entirely new phenomenon, poorly understood and confusing to most folks in traditional media (the same might be said today of live streaming and “connected television.”) I collected my thinking in a series of posts under the loose heading of “The Conversation Economy.” The series kicked off with an insight that now feels obvious, but in 2006 was relatively fresh: Most media being made at the time was still a product of what I called a “packaged goods” mentality. Given the rise of Web2, I argued, this “packaged goods media” approach to media was certain to be eclipsed by a new, more community-driven format. At the time, blogging was several years into what turned out to be a short-lived run as the dominant form of expression on the Internet. The rise of blogs, I theorized, pointed to a tipping point in media’s evolution. Packaged Goods Media was on the decline. Long live its successor: “Conversational Media.”

    In my first post, I noted how nearly every at-scale media company – Viacom, NBC, Time Inc, NewsCorp, etc. – had recently retooled their “interactive” divisions, appointing new leaders who were less digital cowboys and more traditionally minded media execs. Even the digital giants – AOL and Yahoo! – were installing old school managers. This was 2006, mind you – Twitter didn’t exist, Facebook was two years old, Google was a search company that had just purchased YouTube. The “winners” of Web2 were still very much undeclared. 

    At the time, I questioned why the big media companies of the era were treating digital as if it were just another form of packaged goods media. Didn’t they know that this time, things would be different? For these media companies to truly win, I argued, they needed to commit to radically rethinking not only the format of their product, but their approach to community, and the business model as well. 

    So how did things turn out, 15+ years later? AOL and Yahoo! are now owned by a PE firm, Viacom is struggling to get to scale and apparently prepping itself for sale, GE sold NBC to Comcast, and Time Inc. is now owned by a billionaire philanthropist. NewsCorp relegated its digital efforts to a sideshow, and doubled down on the politics of polarization over at its subsidiary Fox News. 

    Meanwhile, the digital advertising business – a business dominated by those same large media companies 15 years ago – grew from roughly $17 billion in 2006 to nearly $500 billion last year. And we all know who reaped the lion’s share of that growth: the triopoly of Google, Meta/Facebook, and Amazon – none of which care to be described as media companies. 

    Which got me thinking: Whatever happened to the principles of The Conversation Economy? If the big digital giants beat the hapless old school media companies, did they deliver the conversational media I predicted would emerge? 

    To answer that, let’s first define what I mean by conversational media. In my post defining the term, I theorized that conversational media had at least five core characteristics:

    Conversation over Dictation. This is crucial. Packaged goods media assumes a one-to-many stance – in the case of news, that means an authoritative figure stares down the lens of a camera, telling you what’s important and why. Conversational media, on the other hand, allows for the audience to engage in a journey of discovery with the journalist, who acts more like the host of a conversation. 

    Platform over Distribution. Conversational Media are driven by network effects and the platforms that harness them. PGM products, on the other hand, are driven by tightly controlled distribution – think Comcast or DirectTV. If you make PGM, you care a lot about your distribution. In 2006, the open web was the platform, but over time, the Apples and Facebooks of the world recreated the distribution chokeholds of old media models. Bummer. 

    Service over Product. If you view your output as a discrete product (article, show, book, etc), you’re probably making packaged goods media. But if you manage your business as a service (search, social, stream, arguably even Substack), you’re in the conversational media business. 

    Iteration and Speed Over Perfection and Deliberation. By its nature, Packaged Goods Media is all about creating and shipping a highly produced product. The idea of beta is alien – it’s either ready to ship, or it’s not.  In conversational media, the key is to create, launch, and then constantly iterate. Conversational media are always in beta.

    Engagement over Consumption. Related to the first point, the model of interaction with audiences in conversational media is one of engagement – “lean forward” as opposed to “sit back.” At its peak, for example, my blog had far more comments than posts, by a ratio of about five to one. And the key to a good Twitch livestream, for example, is how the host(s) interact with the community in real time.

    So did the winners of the marketing business – Google, Facebook, Amazon – build us a conversational media nirvana? The resounding answer is … hell no. They delivered us yet another version of packaged goods media – feeds, built to be consumed. It’s true, their platforms are services, but all they’ve really done is swap traditional media-as-product models for a machine-driven model where consumers are the product. The community at the core of great media brands is non-existent. We’re consumers with a doom-scrolling feed bag strapped to our face. It sucks, and we’re starting to wake up to it.  If you’re looking for quality takes on the news, it’s even worse.

    But that doesn’t mean conversational media is dead. In fact, 15 years later, I’d say the five points above offer a good framework for a large set of today’s thriving media businesses. Substack, The Athletic, Twitch, The Information, hell, even Discord – all of them focus on their communities first. 

    And guess what they don’t depend on? Advertisers. Some incorporate sponsorship or limited-scale ad units (Twitch), but by and large the core business model of conversational media has been some form of subscription.  

    Now why is that? 

    I blame marketers, full stop (told you I’d get back to that!). About the time Facebook and Google rose to prominence, marketers began to pull back on their “innovation budgets” – a percentage of their media spend reserved for learning and experimentation. In the mid aughts, most big brand marketers reserved 10 percent or more of their budgets for experimentation. The world was changing rapidly, and marketers knew that they needed to understand that change by participating in new approaches to advertising. But by 2012, the year Facebook incorporated programmatic advertising into its main news feed, those budgets were shrinking faster than the polar ice caps. 

    In my third post of the 2006 series, the longest of the three, I opined on how marketers might leverage conversational media, and what it might take to bring it to scale. Brands need safety, quality, and scale, and at the time, there was precious little of any in the newly burgeoning conversational marketing space. Regardless, brands were funding any number of remarkable experiments. I surveyed an array of innovative conversational marketing efforts, from Dice’s “conversational banners” to Open Forum from American Express. The results of these campaigns were impressive, and augured, I thought, a renaissance in how brands might go to market. Perhaps brands, I mused, might learn how to “join the conversation” and act more like members of a community. Perhaps they might even launch their own conversational media services, in partnership with media startups. After all, your brand is what other people say about you when you’re not in the room, right? 

    Could have been, but the history of marketing over the past 15 years has not been one of customer engagement, and as for supporting innovation in news – it’s been mostly crickets. Innovations budgets have all but disappeared – one senior media buyer responsible for billions in annual ad spend recently told me that they hadn’t had money for media experimentation for nearly a decade. I then polled another half dozen marketing leaders on the same question – and got exactly the same answer from each. Sure, they were willing to test out at-scale platforms like Snap or Pinterest – but investing in startups trying new things? Not so much. Like their counterparts in big media companies, marketers gave up on learning how to create conversational media. So what did they do instead? 

    Again, you guessed it. The majority of their budgets funded Google, Amazon, and Facebook. These large platforms have perfected their data-driven marketing services, and they offered brands an irresistible trade off: Pour your dollars into my finely tuned black box, and our machines will kick out the results you want to see. From 2012 to the present, marketers learned how to spin the dials and pull the levers of the machines, but they failed at the one thing that should be setting them apart: Interacting with actual customers. They thought the big platforms would let them engage with their customers, but truth be told, they’d been disintermediated by the machines.

    This is not an idle observation. In the past few years, top CMOs have begun to publicly break with the platforms. On the record, they’ll say they are concerned about the inability to moderate unsafe content, but privately, they’ll acknowledge the elephant in the room: They’ve become too dependent on an intermediary they don’t quite understand – and they fret that they’re about to be made irrelevant. They’re also deeply concerned about the impact of these platforms on our national dialog – the loss of tens of thousands of journalism jobs, the rise of mis- and disinformation

    They’re right to be concerned. The platforms’ algorithms are spectacular at identifying a potential customer and placing a marketing message in front of them, but intentionally ignorant as to the context in which that customer might be engaged (I’ve written extensively on this phenomenon, which I call Lost Context). The results are great KPIs, but an increasing disconnect between big brand marketers and the customers they supposedly excel at understanding. Marketers have over-rotated on media buying – to the detriment of innovation. It used to be that the people who bought media had roles that let them be creative – they took risks, they tried new things. But now, smart CMOs are investing in building sophisticated media-buying machines of their own, replete with first party data, machine learning algorithms, and endlessly complex dynamic creative optimization services. It’s as if the answer to their dependence on the big platforms is to replicate those same platforms inside their own companies. I’m all for independence, but  true innovation means trying something entirely new.  

    The media landscape of 2022 is far messier, far more complicated, and even more unsettled than its 2006 incarnation. Television, the largest and most powerful of the traditional media sectors, is in full digital metamorphosis, and once again, the winners and losers are up for grabs. If ever there was a time to experiment, to learn, to try new things, it’s Right. F*cking. Now. And to not put too fine a point on it, there’s really only one way to innovate in any business: You have to spend money on things you aren’t sure will work. So I’m here to say it, loudly and proudly: It’s time to bring back the innovation budgets in media, and it’s time for media buyers to take back their profession. Our industry can’t afford to make the same mistakes we made over the past 15 years. If you agree, you know how to reach me – and I’ve got something cool I’d really love to show you. A few brave souls just might light the path to change. 

     
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