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Creating Mad Event Science

Each year 3M spends over a billion dollars on R&D. One Billion dollars! They have thousands of people working on solutions to new problems, refining existing products and just creating mad science.

Event Camp Twin Cities is an innovation lab for the meetings industry. A tiny one. The event is about sharing ideas and building relationships first and foremost. We generate awareness for new ideas, create new product trials for our partners and showcase thought leaders – or crazy people that want to test new ideas!

[wpvideo vdCmPX4L] We don’t have a billion dollars or a million dollars or a hundred thousand dollars. Event Camp Twin Cities is put together with duct tape, bailing wire, a little inegnuity and a truck load of passion. Our financial and in-kind partners and volunteers are the backbone of this event.

When Ray Hansen and I created this event – our premise was simple. Let’s create a safe space for people to try things that they can’t (or won’t) try in their own events. Let’s find thought leaders that don’t know that they are thought leaders and give them space to share their ideas. Let’s use social media and hybrid technology in ways that most people dream about (or blog about). Let’s get as many people involved as possible. If we can do all of that – hopefully – we will inspire people to go try something that they learned about at our event.

The First Event

In 2010, we showed our attendees Learning Journals, Pecha-Kucha, Business Games, Mass Collaboration, Story Slam, Glenn Thayer’s New General Session Model, alternative seating, etc. Most people had never heard of these concepts. Then, we wrapped the event in a hybrid experience that was unlike anything most people had ever seen. We had 550 people online and they stayed all day.

The event was a wild success. Here are some press articles that do an excellent job of painting a picture of what happened in 2010 and what this event is about:

While all of that press was great and made me feel good, do you know what really got me excited?

It was the blog posts, emails and phone calls from people that said – “we are trying _________  because we learned about it at Event Camp Twin Cities. Thank you.”

The Next Event Camp Twin Cities (August 25-26, 2011)

Event Camp Twin Cities will be special again this year. We are putting together a great program with over 20 content sessions loaded with fresh ideas, strategies and case studies. The event will take place in nine physical sites – all at once and all integrated. Those locations are Minneapolis, Amsterdam, Philadelphia, Toronto, St. Louis, Vancouver, Silicon Valley and two in the headquarters of two corporations. And, we are integrating a series of gaming challenges that are tied directly to the event content.

Never underestimate what a small group of committed people can do with duct tape, bailing wire, a little inegnuity and a truck load of passion. We are creating mad event science at Event Camp Twin Cities. It’s going to be a great event. It’s one that you won’t want to miss.

Reserve a spot for yourself today at

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Five Wishes for the Meetings Industry in 2011

It’s January. It’s that time of year, when all of us prognosticators and pundits look into our crystal balls and make big and bold predictions about the future.

Last year, I wrote an article called 10 Ways Social Media Will Transform Events. I talked about the way Social Media will transform communication at events. The article is still relevant today.

For 2011, I have five wishes for the meetings industry. With your help, these wishes could become reality. Have a look and let me know what you think.

1.  I wish we would stop stuffing people in chairs in rows and making them listen to speakers for 5 hours.

Seriously people. Friends don’t let friends stuff attendees into chairs to mindlessly listen to speakers babble for 5 hours per day. Attendees brains can’t absorb the 400-500 slides that you are throwing at them during the day. Plus, today’s attendees are smarter, more educated and have access to more information at their fingertips than ever before. Why don’t we do more to work on harnessing that capability?

Strangely, I feel like the reason meetings have not evolved more is that we don’t have enough good examples of what “different” looks like in meetings.There are many people talking about making events “different.” Yet, there are very few public examples of different approaches. It seems like we need to round up these meeting mavericks that are innovating and get them to share all of their examples and case studies with others.

Here is an example from my 2010 work that was recently written about in PCMA Convene: 5,000 Points of View. Please share yours as well.

2.  I wish that the meetings industry would invest more to create conversations and experiences that resemble the future of meetings.

We need to do more to create “safe” spaces for people to try out new and innovative event concepts.  The Event Camp Series, Engage365, BizBash’s Rethink Forum are a good start. Velvet Chainsaw Consulting’s Learning Lounge at PCMA’s upcoming Annual Conference could be another good example.

I think that we can still do a lot more. Would you be willing to sponsor (or work on) an innovation lab project in 2011/2012? If so, email me.

3. I wish hotels and venues made conference WIFI and LAN services more affordable for meeting organizers.

To me the venue Wifi discussion is like the wart on the wicked witches’ nose. It’s big, ugly and in your face – yet, you can’t do a darn thing about it. Help may be on the way.

Since October, I have been using Verizon’s MIFI card. It is a private wireless hotspot that allows me to connect 5 devices to the internet via Verizon’s cell network. It saves my bacon anywhere AT&T doesn’t work (like the entire state of Wisconsin). I use it rather than hotel or venue wifi while I am traveling. It makes life so much easier.

Hopefully, in 2011, we will start to see more competitive products like Verizon’s MIFI Cards and Tradeshow Internet that will put pressure on suppliers to improve their pricing and performance.  In the interim, I strongly encourage you to negotiate Wifi and LAN service levels and access into your venue contracts. This way, you can save yourself money and make the connectivity more affordable right out of the gate.

4. I wish that your event website was social media friendly and designed for mobile devices

With so many people accessing the internet from mobile devices, I don’t understand why your event website doesn’t have a mobile version. I get so mad when I have to look at a “browser” based website on my mobile phone. The text is too small, your flash graphics don’t work and it gives me a bad experience with your organization.

In the next two years, the number of people accessing content from their mobile devices is going to outnumber those that access content via PC.  It’s time to talk to your IT guy about setting up a mobile version of your site – it’s dead simple and will make your growing audience of mobile users happy.

While you are working on the website, go ahead and make your event website social media friendly, as well.  Please add some social sharing buttons for Facebook, Twitter and Email. These butttons should be put on each of the key pages of your website, so that attendees and fans can tell their “likeminded” social media friends about your event.  If you want people to talk about you in Social Media, you need to make it simple to do. A “tweet” button and a “like” button are about as simple as it gets. It amazes me how many of you miss this valuable opportunity.  (Need an example? See the buttons at the bottom of this post and every post on this site.)

5. I wish that I could transfer all of the crazy ideas for interaction and collaboration in my brain to your boss’s brain.

Imagine what would happen if there were like 10,000 leaders talking to meeting planners about getting people to collaborate and work together in large groups at meetings. I think that would be awesome!

What would it take to do that? Should we create some cards like the IDEO Method Cards to give away? Or is it enough to show leadership the TED examples and then let their imaginations start running wild?

Bottom Line

Those are my five wishes for the Meetings Industry in 2011. I don’t think it’s asking for the world. In fact, if I can get you and five of your friends to join in – we should be able to turn these wishes into dreams come true in a year from now.

What do you say? What should we tackle first?

Image Credit: krkdesigns
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Naming Events in a Digital World

As we start to bring more virtual and hybrid elements into our events – should we reconsider how we name these events?

In the past, we might have given an event a local or regional name. This name helped the event connect and identify with the city, state, or region where the event took place. If the event was a big one we might add the descriptor “National” or “International” to the name.

What about in the digital world? Do these naming standards apply?

Let’s look at Event Camp Twin Cities as an example. We called the event – Event Camp Twin Cities – because it took place in the twin cities of Minneapolis-St.Paul. The Twin Cities is the name for Minneapolis-St.Paul around here. We expected to draw most people from the area. So, the name seemed logical at the time.

What happened in reality is that we created something much bigger. We had 75 people participating in Minneapolis. Most people were from Minnesota, Canada (a northern suburb) and Wisconsin with a few East and West Coasters sprinkled in there for good measure.  Then, we had two remote sites that had about 20 people in them – one in Dallas, Texas and another in Basel, Switzerland. Finally, we had over 550 people participating live online from all over the world. These people came from all over the place.

Using digital technology, we took a regional event and created a global one. I think that we are going to see more events doing things like this. Calling these events “National” or “Regional”events – just doesn’t seem appropriate.

So what should we be calling these events? The Big One?

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The Future of Meetings: Are You My Mother?

Are You My Mother?The Future of Meetings was a hot topic at the MPI World Education Conference this week. While there was a lot of discussion around the topic – the answer was not so easy to pin down. At times, I felt like the baby bird searching for his mother in P.D. Eastman’s Story “Are You My Mother.”

Is “Technology” the Future of Meetings?

The topic of the future of meetings sends some people flying toward technology. This was evidenced by the thousands of attendees that flocked to the many technology sessions to learn about the latest whizbangs and strategies. This was evidenced by the paperless program, the Mobile apps and the Pathable community.

So, it’s technology right? Smartphones and that kind of stuff. Um, not exactly.

Is “Environment” the Future of Meetings?

The topic of the future of meetings sends others into the “better room layout” and “environment” corner. Joan Eisenstodt, for example, wants pictures on the walls, natural light and flexible space. When she says that many in the crowd nod with approval. Some cheer. Venue Executives mumble profanities. While others would just be happy if the room setup would match the session. “Rounds in the general session room? What’s that all about,” asks one attendee.

So, it’s environment right? Redesign the conference centers OR match the room setup to the needs. That must be the future of meetings. Um, not exactly.

Is “Content” the Future of Meetings?

The topic of the future of meetings sends others into the “content” corner. These people are talking about content delivery, interactive formats, learning styles, objectives, discovery, etc. They say less time listening to boring speakers and more time interacting in an informal learning environment. When someone says more collaboration and interaction – groups of people start whooping and hollering Texas style. Speakers scratch their heads and ask if better hand gestures would help.

So, it’s content right? Use more collaborative formats. Get people out of chairs and writing on white boards. Um, not exactly.

Is “Attendee Experience” the Future of Meetings?

The topic of the future of meetings gets others talking about attendee experience. It’s about putting the attendee at the center of the event. Ruud Janssen says that we need to think about it like “100 events for 100 people.” Another person talks about interviewing “professional attendees” – the conference road warriors – and using their needs as the model for how these experiences could work.

So, it’s attendee experience right? Design events with the attendee in mind. Um, not exactly.

Is “Storytelling” the Future of Meetings?

The topic of the future of meetings gets others talking about storytelling. It’s about narrative and personas they say. They talk about the strong characters in movies and books that we identify with. They talk about the dilemmas created in good vs. evil situations. They continue on with more stuff that is over our heads – but sounds good. Many nod in approval.

So, it’s storytelling right? We just hire a scriptwriter create good characters, put Bruce MacMillan in a flying harness and get Stephen Spielberg to show us how to produce the stuff. Um, not exactly.

Is “Inspiration” the Future of Meetings?

The keynote speakers from the Opening General Session will tell you that the future of meetings is about passion and inspiring people to become part of something greater than themselves. They will site examples of people coming from remarkable circumstances that you couldn’t ever imagine to do something extraordinary. Since, we are all amazed – we nod with approval and donate $20.

So, it’s inspiration right? We find someone or something that inspires us – like Bruce Willis or the A-team. Then we book them for our next event. That’s the ticket! Um, not exactly.

Is “Outside the Industry” the Future of Meetings?

The topic of the future of events gets others to talk about looking outside our industry for the answer. Looking for inspiration in art, in movies, in design, in Farmville, in nature and in space. Or was it in Oldspice? Regardless, asking ourselves what the Future of Meetings looks like – doesn’t help – because we all have the similar answers. As we hear this point of view, we nod again.

So, it’s looking outside ourselves right? We watch a few OldSpice commercials, play Farmville and “friend” that Zuckerberg dude who created Facebook – then we will know the future of events. Right? Um, not exactly.

So what is the Future of Meetings?

Well, if the future of meetings is not technology or space or content or attendee experience or inspiration or outside factors – then what is it?

I have no idea. I just can tell you that it is not ONE of those factors – it is all of them. As far as I can tell that is the conclusion drawn from the MPI World Education Conference.

What do you think our future meetings and events will look like? or what do they need to look like?

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Note: I did receive partial registration reduction for agreeing to participate in the Social Media Guru program at MPI’s World Education Conference.

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Do You Hear the Noise? One Year Later

One year ago, today, I pressed the publish button for the first time. My first post – “Do you hear the noise?” started a regular conversation on this blog about using technology to tap into the ideas, expertise and opinions of the many to build a powerful community at events.

Over the past year, your comments and retweets fueled me to write more than 57 posts. That is about twice as many as I thought that I would write. Thank you for your time, appreciation and dialogue. I appreciate it more than you know.

In some ways, I think that we have come a long way since my first post. In other ways, I think that we are just getting started. There is still so much to do.

Too many event organizers are still stuffing attendees in chairs and forcing them to listen to boring speakers, uninspiring leaders and anyone else that they can find to fill a slot.

We have to work on this together.

Over the next several months, I will be working on some new initiatives that will help bring these discussions to life in new ways. If you would like to participate in one way or another, please let me know. I will appreciate your help.

Here is a brief overview of some of those initiatives.

> Event Camp Twin Cities. Ray Hansen and I are pushing the social, innovation and collaboration envelope with this event. We are throwing out the chairs, putting attendees in charge of an italian racing team, creating an innovation lab and conducting a social media barn raising. It’s ambitious. It will be collaborative, innovative and a blast! (Learn More)

> EIBTM World Wide Technology Watch. This year, I am joining Corbin Ball, Bruce MacMillan, Martin Sirk, Ruud Janssen, Paul Hussey and Lynn Wong on the judging panel.  I hope that we uncover some great new tools this year. (Learn More)

> Going Digital Podcast. Mike McAllen and I are going to record new content for our Meetings Podcast Going Digital series next week at MPI’s World Education Conference next week. If you would like to be interviewed, please let us know.

Bottom Line

Thank you again for your support this past year. I look forward to additional discussions on how we can tap into the ideas, expertise and opinions of the many and continue to build powerful communities with events.

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Five Perspectives on Technology in Learning & Events

Last week, I came across five different articles on technology that are worth your attention. In some cases these articles are directly related to meetings and events. In other cases the linkage is indirect. Regardless, I thought these perspectives would be useful to you as you think about using technology inside of your events.

Feel free to comment and share.

How Can Technology Enhances Live Meetings?

Are you looking for some innovative and forward thinking on the role that technology can play in meetings? Checkout the Webinar and White paper from the IACC (International Association of Conference Centers) on Technology. This webinar is loaded with advanced thinking in communication, collaboration and co-creation using technology and live events.  They cover everything from the brain to space utilization to technology trends – and much more.

IACC Though Leadership Summit Video (first 90 minutes had me scribbling ideas madly)

> Summary Blog Post

> IACC WhitePaper

Can Technology Make You Happy? You Betcha!

A recent survey of 35,000 people found that technology was linked to happiness. People of all ages agreed that they liked the things that technology can do for them. The statistics are counter-intuitive to those that say that technology is harming our lives – and that we need less of it. (Read More)

Helping Students Learn How to Enjoy Learning

“A classroom should be the place for students to open their minds and also express themselves”, says Travis Allen founder of the iSchool Initiative. Travis’ group is bringing the student perspective on technology use into the learning development process. (Read More)

How to Optimize Your Texting Response Rate

Speakers – Are you looking for strategies that help you improve your response rates with audience polling? PollEverywhere recently summarized several tips together in one place. This summary is super-helpful. (Read More)

Sidebar: The speaker Jim Carrol used Poll Everyhwere to solicit answers to the question – what is the biggest challenge for the meeting industry going forward?

Seth Godin Offers Sound Ideas for Developers Creating iPad Applications for Meetings

There are a lot of people that are predicting the role that the iPad will play in meetings. In fact, I have been a part of the prediction parade twice: iPad – It just works -but will it work for events? and What iPad Means to Meetings. The marketer, Seth Godin put together some sound advice for anyone developing an iPad application for meetings of all sizes. (Read More)

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How Many Remote Controls Does It Take To Watch a Movie?

Sitting down to watch a movie at my home is an adventure. What about at yours?

Sometimes I feel like I am in one of the Indiana Jones films. There are treasure hunts, puzzles, etc. Let me explain what happens.

Indiana Jones blended image

Step 1: Equipment Check

There are three remotes that control the TV, DVD player and cable at my home. Each of these devices has about 20 buttons each. For some reason, I need all three of them to turn on household favorites “Baby Einstein” or “Dora the Explorer.”

Without fail, whenever it is time to start watching a movie – one or two remotes have been captured by miniature pirates (disguised as princesses) and hidden with other loot.

Step 2: Remote Control Treasure Hunt

Once, I have identified which remote controls are missing – I begin my treasure hunt (without a map).  Since my little one has loot hiding skills that would make Davy Jones proud, it takes me several minutes to find these remotes.

Step 3: Which Button is It Anyway?

You would think that turning on the TV, DVD player and changing the channels would be simple. Sometimes I feel like I am solving some type of riddle or complex Suduko puzzle. There are numbers and letters going everywhere. I have to correctly identify the order of the remotes then select the correct buttons to push. Since, there are 60 buttons, I regularly get it wrong and have to start over. Luckily, I don’t get dropped into a viper pit after making mistakes.

What Does This Mean For Events?

Smart phone apps, handheld devices, virtual event technology and social media tools are all technologies that require attendees participation. While I am willing to work with the three remotes and play treasure hunt, attendees will not do it. They are going to use technology that supports and enhances their event experience – AND helps them achieve their objectives.

So, the next time an event technology vendor says – “Wow – let me show you the latest blah, blah, blah….It’s Awesome!!”  Consider the question posed at the start of this post: How many remote controls does it take to watch a movie?  Then ask yourself how many treasure hunts and complex riddles will you need to help attendees solve to effectively use this technology?  If the answer is – a lot – you may want to choose another solution.

image credit: tim_norris
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Interactivity is important, because…

Let’s see if we can build a short presentation around the importance of interactivity to hybrid events using ONLY your ideas. I think that we can do it. What do you think – will you help us try?

All that I need you to do is answer this one tiny question: Interactivity is important for hybrid events, because _____________.

Then, I will take care of the rest. I will try to post the presentation here by the end of next week.

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Is Your Event Technology Vendor Prepared for the Moment of Truth?

Are you ready to embrace Attendee 2.0? Maybe you are considering a combination of mobile phone applications applications, backchannels, hand-held devices, mobile texting or social media tools for your next event.

While any of these technologies – if implemented correctly – will be sure to enhance the event experience, you need to be prepared for the down side. What happens if the technology fails?

This is the situation that I like to call the Moment of Truth. The purpose of this post is to help you identify event technology vendors that are prepared for the Moment of Truth.

What is the Moment of Truth?

To me, the Moment of Truth is that point (or points) in your event where the technology MUST work. It could be a voting session, or on-demand badge printing or the backchannel or whatever. While 95% of the time these event technologies will work – there are going to be situations when they fail for one reason or another. It is in these moments that you find out what type of vendor partners you have on your team.

In my opinion, one of the differences between an exceptional vendor and a bad vendor are how they handle these situations. Good vendors have mitigation strategies and solutions. They also have battle scars. Bad or New vendors don’t know what they don’t know.

Seek Solutions First – Blame Later

One of the challenges for event organizers is that there could be several causes for the technology failure. It could be the software, the hardware, the wifi network, power failure, the leaky roof, etc. When there are several vendors involved in the service delivery – you don’t have “one neck to ring.”  As a result, some vendors take this opportunity to play the blame game. “Wasn’t me,” they say.

In these moments, you need vendors that are willing to work together to solve problems. There will be plenty of time to assign blame and fight over the “who done it” after the event.

How Can You Tell If Your Vendor Is Prepared?

You can uncover the preparation and preparedness by interviewing prospective vendors. Here are some things that you might want to discuss:

  1. What is their risk mitigation plan? Ultimately, you don’t want things to fail. So, of course, they should test the technology setup to make sure that things work correctly. But, you also want them to check things again before the moment of truth to make sure that nothing has changed unexpectedly. If they are not doing this – they should. Are there other steps that they can take to reduce the risk of failure?
  2. What is their backup plan when things don’t go as planned? You want to find out if the backup plan is multi-dimensional and layered. Do they have a checklist of things to consider? Do they have support resources to call – in case of emergency? Do they have backup plans for backup plans? It is a red flag if they don’t know what you are talking about.
  3. How do they react when things fail onsite? Ask them for an example. Listen closely for what happened, the steps that they took and how they resolved the situation. Did they take the lead in diagnosing solutions? Did they work with others in a collaborative way? Don’t trust the salesperson who says “our stuff doesn’t fail.” He is either an idiot, lying or new. Ask to speak with someone else or find another vendor.
  4. Are the onsite staff prepared and capable of handling these situations? The person you are speaking with might be a sales or marketing type that does not go on-site. Find out about the experience level of the on-site teams. Are they trained? Do they have support manuals? Do they have 1st line and 2nd line support at the main office for unusual problems?
  5. Can the vendor describe a time where their technology failed (or nearly failed) and how did they recover?  Here you want to hear an example of how they recovered from a disaster or prevented one from occurring. Be sure to find out how they have changed their technology or onsite processes to prevent these situations (or minimize the risk of these situations) from occurring in the future?

Bottom Line

Most of the time your Attendee 2.0 experiences are going to work as planned. However, when things go wrong, you want to make sure that you have an experienced wingman (someone with battle scars). Some of these questions above will help you filter out the good, experienced vendors from the bad vendors.

Based on your experiences – what would you add? Or is there anything above that needs further explanation?

Photo Credit: Rabblefish
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Seven Event Insights from the Frozen Tundra

Last week, I was in the frozen tundra of Minneapolis talking with people about meeting design and event technology. The events people there are creative, innovative and energizing.

In the discussions, we pushed and pulled on the future of event technology in meetings and events. We talked about technology adoption, the future of face to face, the role of Social Media, the backchannel madness, increasing social network adoption, fears with virtual events and much more.

Here are some of the things that captured my attention from these conversations:

  1. Should you seriously consider a paperless event? The average age of people that prefer digital materials over paper based materials is now 50. It makes me wonder how long it will take before we start to see a major push to paperless events. Any ideas?
  2. Generational communication. An event organizer from Augsburg College told me that the college was sending event invitations to students through Facebook, because students are not using email. How are you communicating with the different generations attending your events?
  3. Many events are not using the Audience Response System (ARS) tools effectively. ARS is a powerful communication and engagement tool. However, I continue to hear that event organizers are not maximizing the potential of this powerful tool. I think that we need more people to share their ARS success stories. What do you think?
  4. There is still a strong fear about virtual events. Despite efforts to make event organizers feel comfortable that virtual events are complimentary to face-to-face events, many event organizers are either afraid of virtual events or think that it is a temporary thing.  It seems like there is still a lot of work to do here.
  5. Corporate events need your help to be more innovative.  Many corporate events are cookie cutter because marketers and corporate staff count on us to help them understand what’s new and possible.  We need to challenge ourselves to make sure that we are helping marketers see what is new and possible.
  6. Interactive Hybrid Meetings. By allowing virtual and face-to-face attendees to vote, ask questions or submit ideas regardless of their location, IML has a new service that helps event organizers build bridges between the virtual audience and the face-to-face audience in hybrid events (or regional telepresence events).  I think we are going to see more event tech solutions like this emerge on the marketplace – if they are not here already.
  7. Tradeshow lead capture still needs innovation. It has been awhile since I have been to a US tradeshow. The last time I attended one, I thought the lead capture process was out-of-date and in need of innovation.  The team at Living TradeShow have created a super-simple FOB that simplifies lead exchange, puts the power to exchange leads into the hand of the attendee, gives exhibitors better data and makes the whole process paperless.

Bottom Line

The world around us is creating new ways for us to communicate and collaborate. But it’s messy. There is a lot of trial and error. Best practices are still emerging.  When you solve one problem – two new problems can emerge.  For people that are used to control this can be scary stuff.

What do you make of these observations? Is there anything interesting that jumps out at you?

Note: This Blog Post was written and uploaded in draft form while I was on an airplane. Though the Wifi was terrible and I had to finish it after I landed.
Photo Credit: scelis
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