Cleve Gibbon

content management, content modelling, digital platforms, technology evangelist.

Content Modelling Series – Done

KristinaAndCleveIt’s been fun few years, but my content modelling blog post series has come to an end. I started it to amplify what others were saying about structured content, and to make it accessible. When I started, there was gap: everyone knew structured content was important but there weren’t many places to go to show you how to approach it.

Content modelling is important.  It’s about designing content together, as part of a cross-disciplinary team.  Not from the tech up, or from the business down, but as a joined-up, sustainable team across the organisation.  

A content model is a communication vehicle.  Content modelling is the process to facilitate that communication. Value content modelling over the content model.

As I close out this series, I want to review where we’ve been, what we’ve learned and start to think about what comes next.


Content Modelling Series

Content Modelling Series

Content modelling is such an ugly name for such a useful thing. Just like metadata, people outside the content field don’t like hearing about content modelling. They switch off, roll their eyes and pull out their mobiles to see if anyone’s liked their tweet.

But that hasn’t stopped the rise of content modelling. Over the last few years we’ve been pulling together this series (I say ‘we’ because many have contributed to this single blog). It’s now a resource hub for anyone interested in learning how to approach the design of structured content. It’s no longer at the sidelines of conversations about content: the number of people and organisations doing content modelling has grown.

The content modelling series and the full list of events

Content Modelling Workshops

Confab Intensive 2016 Content Modelling

In 2011 I met Rachel Lovinger.  We decided to get together and run workshops on Content Modelling. Rachel helped shape the workshop and ensured it appealed to content strategists. When Kate Kenyon joined our company Cognifide to head up content, we added personalisation.

Our workshops sizes seem to be growing 20-30% year on year. Even with the geeky name, they are well attended with folks from social media (Facebook, Google, Twitter, …), Agencies (Accenture, Razorfish, Sapient, …) and large organisations (Bayer, Sabre, Marriott, Amazon, …).  This is great.

There are also many different types of content modellers approaching the discipline from different angles.  Mike Atherton, Jeff Eaton, Joe Gollner, Noz Urbina, and Rahel Bailie to name a few.  This is where I go to learn, and I recommend you do the same.

From Mechanics to Application

The focus of my content modelling series has been on the mechanics of content modelling.  What is a content model?  How do you approach content modelling?  What design tips and hints can I share?  By the end of the series, I hope you’ll be able to answer those questions. I’ve noticed that things have moved on since I started this series. Five years ago, people were asking, how do we get started?  That’s no longer the question they need answering: now, practitioners are landing at our workshops with content models asking how best to  apply them.

Folks have graduated from the content modelling 101 class.  They want more. So Cleve, I’ve got this rather basic content model, now what?  I say, make it a better communication tool.  How?  Make it richer by strengthening the relationships and their meaning?  Why? Because then you can start applying content models to:

  • Architect content APIs.
  • Inform Personalisation.
  • Design authoring interfaces.
  • Align multi-disciplinary teams.
  • Do UX for consumer experiences.
  • Define and enforce content rules.
  • Shape taxonomy and metadata needs.
  • Document the shape, size and scope of content.
  • And so on…

The Next Step? Onwards to Domain Modelling

Domain Driven DesignAs you can see, there is so much more to do. Although the content modelling series is complete, it only conveys the mechanics.  The focus must shift towards the application of content models to drive business impact.  

We need more that just a content model to have business impact. A model just shows how content types relate to each other. To have impact, we to show how those content types interact with the wider business domain. And for that we need a domain model.

A domain model is the business view of world. It expresses the essential complexities of the business domain as a series of structures and meaningful relationships, jus like a content model does for content. Technologists use them to perform object-oriented design, and I’m seeing more folks using them with content modelling (or content design). Again, look to Jeff Eaton and Mike Atherton for more.

Why am I telling you this?  Because I think making content modelling a key business activity is about to become our next big challenge. If you want a better grounding in this and you’re more technically minded, read the book Domain-Driven Design. Back in 2009, I invited Eric Evans to our offices in Poland to guest lecture on the subject of domain modelling at our local university. He changed the way we thought about software and content in the space of an hour.

I don’t have all the answers yet, but I have a feeling we’ll be hearing more about domain modelling and its relationship to content going forwards.


That’s a wrap. This is just a big thank you to everyone that got out of bed, travelled, and paid to attend our workshops. The feedback and emails have been really constructive and helped improved the content modelling series.  It’s made it all worthwhile. So thank you.




To Video and Beyond

A couple months ago I met Lujza.  She’s into video. Big time.

We all know video is important.  Some already citing video as the most important type of content for truly engaging with consumers.  But what steps can we take to really understand how effective video is at doing that.  Well, that’s where Lujza’s story is really interesting. Over to you.

Lujza Bubanova, Co-founder of YouFirst & Divano

Lujza Bubanova

Lujza Bubanova of Divano and YouFirst – Video

Hi! Before co-founding Divano I was a professional golfer. I got into media tech while studying for a Masters of Digital Marketing at Hult International Business School in San Francisco. As a student, I started a conference called Startupism.  That led to me securing a spot at the Stanford Persuasive Technology Labs as an intern studying behavioural patterns and then media consumption of contemporary viewers. So what did I find?

We can gauge the ability of viewers to consume two sources of entertainment at a time and at the same quality level as if consumed from just one source.  Think TV and mobile.  Not only can be do both but the sum of the two parts is drives superior engagement.  This finding now serves as the fundamental hypothesis for Divano’s value creation model during ad breaks (more on Divano later).

I’m also tapping into the new area of emotion metrics focusing on youtubers and Mulit-Channel Networks (MCNs) allowing them to pre-test content before release.  With YouFirst, you can do what the big movie/tv productions having been doing for years but a fraction of the cost using technology.

Read the rest of this entry »

Get your Digital Power Steps On

Joe Pulizzi and Robert Rose of the Content Marketing Institute always make me think.  This week their thought-provoking notes overlapped with something that has been niggling at me for some time now: future planning.

I’m a firm believer that the most successful leaders continually plan for tomorrow.  However, they must equally deliver value and realise benefits as they go. To keep the dream alive, and keep people going.  This is really hard.  How do you create a plan that has a beginning, middle and an end?  Cue some solutions from NASA.

The NASA Effect

It’s not often to get so sit down and chew the cud with NASA.  I’m a lucky man. I did recently, and even managed to get them out dancing too. NASA. Dancing? Who knew.

Anyway, we got talking about the economics of space exploration, as well the science.  All fascinating stuff but the story that resonated with me most was how they approached the challenge of space exploration.  The story and the plan.


See that football pitch above. Well, if you were to take a long step, say two metres per step, in 32 steps you could  just about get over the half line.  Standard thinking. Linear. Conservative. Easy.  That is not going to get you anywhere quickly.

Now take a look at planet Earth. On average, our moon is 384,000 km away from us.  That’s a long way. But what if we invested and innovated to double the distance travelled with each step? The first step of 2m, the second 4m, the third 8m, you get the picture. So, if you’re working this out in your head, yes, wait for it…In just under 32 steps we could get to the moon and back.  The moon.  And back!

That is exactly the culture, mindset and challenge that NASA brought to space exploration.  The story and the plan. And they made it.  NASA took power steps.  Inventing and innovating with each stride.

Digital Transformation Power Steps

We can learn a lot from NASA.  The future digital leaders are taking power steps now.  They are already ascending and working their competitive advantage to the full.  In Joe Pulizzi’s latest note he shows us how Pepsi and Mondelez are taking power steps and recreating their marketing departments around producing and monetising their content.  These disruptors, and others, are on the move.  In Pepsi’s case, they reduced editorial edits to media and content from two weeks to one hour.  That’s a power step.

We also seeing massive disruptions in finance technology, or fintech, but they are calling in exponential finance.  The numbers are staggering.  In 2010, $1.8 billion was invested in fintech. In 2015, the total was $22.3 billion.  Those are power steps, people.

We are also delivering content platforms, that when adopted properly, require significantly fewer people to operate and optimise around the basics.  Instead these people can be redeployed to do higher-value tasks that create new value and deliver real business impact.  Again with the power steps.

So what?

We are seeing power steps being taken everywhere.  Linear laggards are being overtaken by power-step leaders at exponential rates.  The majority of those laggards don’t even know it is happening.  But ignorance is no defence in this everything-to-lose game we call digital.  Not only that, but the gaps opening up between leaders and laggards look unlikely to be closed.  It’s literally, eat my (moon) dust.  And just to bring this point home, the last power step on our trip to the moon gets us back to earth in a single bound.  That’s one small step for a laggard, but just one giant leap for a leader.  The difference in competitive advantage to be gained for a single power step is mind-blowing.

So, how are you approaching your future planning? Now’s the time to get your digital power steps on.


The Connected Customer Journey

Last week I had the good fortune to attend an unconference session run by Chris Satchell.  He’s ex-CTO of Nike. He understands customers. Now as Chief Product Officer over at Comcast, he led with this thought provoking one-liner:

Your brand is your customer journey.

Think about that for moment.

We’ve all heard that your brand is not what you say it is but how others perceive it.  Brand perception boils down to how your customers engage with you. The journeys you take them on.  It’s the sum total of all customer experiences – for better, for worse – across all touchpoints.  Your brand is your customer journey, but they must been connected.



The challenge lies in mapping out these interconnected customer journeys.  They are hard to create in the first place and really difficult to sustain ongoing success.  Continuously changing over time, connected customer journeys require so many people across the business to collaborate.   But that is exactly what success looks like for those companies building superior brands.  The ability to design and deliver connected customer journeys is a critical component of competitive advantage in digital today. No longer an optional, connected customer journeys are the new norm.

Read the rest of this entry »

Content Modelling Series – Update

Short update.  It’s been a little bit hectic over here in the content modelling series.  To summarise what we did:

The content modelling reboot got off to a great start and thank you to those of you that shared the articles and contacted me with improvement suggestions.  This month we’re going to hit content packages and design guidelines for content types and attributes.  Then in June we’ll tackle relationships and modules.

Again, if folks have ideas around the content modelling series, get in touch and share them.


Content Modelling Series – Rebooted

ShaftShootingI’m currently sitting at home listening to the ‘Theme From Shaft’.  It soothes the soul. More importantly it has helped me make an important decision.   Let me explain.

I’m sitting on a shed load of content modelling material that will most likely never see the light of day.  Not to mention grow old, stagnate and ultimately become completely useless.  Gathered from project work, workshops, presentations, conferences, talking with smart people, and a even a book that I started but had to put down for work commitments.  Instead of taking another year to try and reshape it into something, why not practice what I preach, test and learn, and get some immediate feedback.  So I’m hoping what I share today will be useful to you tomorrow.  I promise to share little and often over the next few months through my content modeling series.  I think that makes sense.

What changed?

Over the last couple years I’ve been talking with clients, typically large multinationals, to help them design intelligent content to drive better customer experiences.  Content modelling is the art and science of designing intelligent content.   Author experience, content API definitions, aggregated/syndicated content, taxonomy and metadata, responsive and adaptive content, effective content management, multi-channel delivery, asset and content production: these and many other content services depend upon intelligent content.  Nothing brought this home to me more than the Intelligent Content Conference 2015 with its extraordinary healthy mix of content strategists, UX, content engineers, content marketers, and technologists.

Then in early 2015 I met the folks over at Cancer Research UK in London who are on a digital transformation journey that like so many others are working through the chaos of designing useful and usable content for people get the right experience, typically during stressful times, everywhere, anytime.

Decision made. Let’s make things more accessible Cleve.

Architecture & Governance

I’ve also had a shift in focus over the last twelve months.

My work focus has shifted more towards content architecture and more recently governance.  It was always there but now it’s more critical and relevant to what I do.  What I’m seeing is that architecture and governance are two sides of the same digital coin.  You can’t do one without impacting the other.  Where architecture tackles the structural complexity of widespread organisational content and technology; governance strives to control behavioural complexity by being clear on who has the real decision-making authority to everyone knows who’s accountable and/or responsible for what. Although I’ve pre-dominantly worked on the architecture side of the equation, structure, over the last couple of years governance challenges have seen me focussing more on the people and process required to establish target operating models to get organisations digitally fit.  More on this later, but structure and control are linked.

Confab Intensive

Until then, I hope you content modellers out there find this material useful. If so, please let me know.  That’ll give me the kick I need to keep going.  Also, I’ll be joining a bunch content practitioners at Confab Intensive in Portland this Fall 2015 to give a workshop on Content Modelling for Personalisation.   Hopefully, I’ll see you there.

I'm speaking at Confab Intensive on Aug 31–Sep 2, 2015 in Portland, OR.

From Design Skimping to Design Thinking

Mini CooperThis post has been on my mind, on and off, for about ten years now.  I know, I know; I’m slow.  It’s about the wide and numerous assumptions people make about design when creating digital products and services. I’ve been doing this for over twenty years now, and to sum it up, we just don’t spend enough time doing design.  We pay good lip service to design, but by and large, design is under valued, under sold and always under scrutiny.  This is blood boilingly crazy when clearly the likes of Apple, GE, Google, Tesla and Netflix are founded upon the results of great design. So why do the rest of us skimp on design?


Defining design

Design is problem solving.  Take digital transformation. The challenges businesses face here are gnarly, but we tend to use words like complex and multi-dimensional.  There are no single convenient solutions. Equally, there are no completely wrong answers.  Instead, we live in the grey where success and failure depends upon how we identify, approach and ultimately solve complex problems.  This is design.

About 15 years ago, when you discussed design with (web) sponsors and stakeholders, design always meant creative design.  Nowadays, that has marginally corrected itself to be more inclusive of architectural design, system design, content design, operational design, and so on.  Sadly, we don’t carve out enough time for designers to design. Increasingly that sees us solving the wrong problems and/or cranking out mediocre solutions.

Solutions should be useful and useable, otherwise they are still problems.

Designers Design

A designer solves problems within a set of constraints – Mike Monteiro

Not everyone can design.  We have artists, writers, musicians, athletes for a reason.  We also have designers.   Countless times I’ve witnessed projects fail because the wrong people are doing design. How many times have you seen subject matter experts / stakeholders, and others solving problems rather than articulating them for designers to solve?  This is a dangerous misuse of everyone’s time and core skills, resulting in the wrong set of outputs and outcomes.

Some designers ignore the constraints.  Recently, I sat across the table from a project manager responsible for co-ordinating the efforts of her creative team responsible for designing the customer experience for a set of web sites.  I was representing the technology team tasked with designing the digital platform that will ultimately bring these customer experiences to life. I asked when we should arrange for the creative team to get familiar with the target medium.  To get an early heads up on some of the downstream constraints.  The implication was that was an activity beneath the creative team’s pay grade, and it was highly unlikely that they would ever entertain the notion.

I call this exclusive design. I get it.  Some people like to design without constraints in order to explore the adjacent possibilities in a constraint free world.  Then adapt and rein it back into reality.  I’ve seen this  “sort-of” work but it had to be well-managed through continuous open and honest dialogue; we were designing.  If not, there will be a very expensive ‘undo and rollback to reality’ exercise.  A constraint free world?  Only when I’m dreaming!

A designer solves problems they have to help identify within a set of ever-changing constraints: without authority – Ian Fenn

I prefer inclusive design.  Where teams co-create, embrace and overcome the constraints together.  An all for one, one for all musketeer-like approach to design.  These multi-disciplinary teams develop rich symbiotic relationships from the get go.  Your shit, is my shit, like agile pigs in shit (see below).   Here content strategists, technologists, operations, creatives, and support all have a design voice and are committed to the design effort.

Scrum Pigs and Chickens

Design is about continually finding and over coming ever-changing constraints.  This is difficult to do in isolation. I’ve found the best results come by working to the second law of velocity: it’s easier done than said, where seeking forgiveness on your failures rather than permission to do anything yields higher returns in the long run.

Design Complexity

For every complex problem there is a simple solution that is wrong – George Bernard Shaw

Fred Brooks coined the term ‘essential complexity’ back in 1986 in his seminal article entitled No Silver Bullet.  A must read. It’s a software engineering classic that lends itself to just about any discipline.  Essential complexity is baked into the very problem being solved; you cannot remove it.  As a designer, your mission – should you choose to accept it – is to  design a solution to a problem without adding ‘accidental complexity’.

Accidental complexity stems from not really understanding the problem and/or approaching the problem in the wrong way.  Accidental complexity is avoidable but seldom is through a lack of design.  For example, the majority of content management solutions being implemented today, right now, will not have afforded the right amount of time to understand (strategy) and design (architecture) for content to deliver the right-time experiences that their consumers yearn for.  So in addition to what is already a mind meld of essential ‘content’ complexity, we are adding an unhealthy and avoidable serving of accidental ‘content’ complexity through a lack of design thinking.

Design Time

We need to sell design.  Both internally within our organisations and externally to our clients.  The internal sell is exhausting but rewarding. When a project management lifecycle doesn’t have a design phase, that’s a hole that needs to be plugged.  Sometimes design artefacts are crammed into discovery or requirements phases.  Personally, design is sufficiently important to warrant it’s own time and place in the delivery process.  Not surprisingly, every organisation I’ve ever worked for, I’ve had to fight to either get design into the process and/or afford it the time to do it well.  Again, internal and external forces factor make this challenging; skills, budget, time.

I believe in agile software development.  But its just the how.  Lean is why we do what we do in agile.  Lean philosophies around the continuous improvement of working practices (kaizen) and getting out of the office and working with the customer (gemba) are just two important terms we lend from lean.  Lean thinking needs design thinking to deliver true agility.  However, witnessing first hand the number of agile software development  projects that lead with a short two-week design and then heads down sprinting into two-week  build iterations is not sustainable model for future success.  The level of essential complexity is rising within today’s digital problems.  Design thinking needs to supplant design skimping if we are going to succeed at the speed and scale that our clients want to engage with their consumers.

Design Thinking

Design is how we operate. It is human-centred.  It defines how things work long after that amazing launch party comes that no-one can recollect; good times!  Design establishes rationale and helps gauge efficacy through set of guiding principles that governs the solution over the long term.

BMW invested heavily in design thinking.  Soon after they acquired Rover back in 1994, they started producing Mini Coopers.  I was drafted in to train BMW engineers in emerging software technologies required to automate key systems for manufacturing faster, cheaper, better Mini Coopers.   What I witnessed first hand at BMW was design thinking across the entire organisation.  As an example, during the Rover days, as a car progressed through the assembly line, engineers got under the car, completed their task, and moved on.  With BMW, they obviously re-visited the problem and designed a completely new system where the car was raised, lowered and rotated to match each and every engineers perfect working conditions as it progressed through the assembly line.  The impact of design on efficiency and effectiveness was clear for all to see.

BMW are not alone.  Thomas Edison, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs surrounded themselves with smart people to progress design.  The design thinking links in the references section talk directly to this.

Design Wrap

We are living in a complex world that’s changing at break neck speeds. We have designers from multiple domains innovating in the overlaps.  Where development meets operations (devops), digital meets content (experience), people meet products (engagement).   However, we are seriously under investing in design thinking.  My advice to you is to fight for the right to design because it’s never something you’re given but is absolutely something you should take.

Design Thinking References

Grow Slow or Die Fast – Confab 2014

Remember Blockbusters?  What about Kodak?  Popular dinner time talking points for digital blunders.  Then the ranting starts.  I ain’t going down like that.  Not me. No way.  No how. Not on my watch.  This kind of corporate fear fuels popular grow fast or die slow digital agendas so convincingly that common sense doesn’t get a look in.

I'm speaking at Confab Europe 29 September - 1 October in Barcelona

I’m going to Confab Europe Barcelona in September.  Ahh, beautiful Barcelona, to join content strategists, managers, executives, designers, and others who believe that we have to think hard about content in order for it meet rising digital expectations.  For content to flow seamlessly across multiple channels, formats, and devices, to truly get everywhere it needs to be to engage with YOU, we must think big, but start small. Or, put another way, to grow slow or die fast.

Some things just can’t be rushed.  Baking. The waltz.  A good port.  I’ve seen many try and the majority fail with catastrophic consequences.  We all have our own war stories but our ability as an industry to learn from past mistakes is painful and predictably repeatable.  It would seem that taking a sensible approach to sustainable content is immediately at odds with business expectations to achieve that. What to do?

First of all, book your Confab Europe 2014 tickets and get yourself over to beautiful Barcelona.  All done, good, let’s move on.

It’s the way that you do it.

Remember Fun Boy Three and Banarama? Of course you do. Eighties pop groups that came together to give us this:

It ain’t what you do, it’s the way that you do pretty much sums up the problem nicely. I’m a massive fan of starting small and continuously delivering value back into the business. It keeps you honest. For me, growing slowly at the start makes solid business sense.  The strategic tactician in us all should paint the big picture but move quickly to discover, design and deliver the immediate first step from all the competing adjacent possibles.  To focus.  With that step built and firmly down in the ground, it’s time to step up and take in the new landscape.  Check out the new horizon, it will look different.  Your new will give you new capabilities that means you can potentially do things differently.  Then see how this fits into the big picture.  What’s changed?  Shall we pivot or preserve on our current trajectory?  Big picture okay?  No, then fix it.  Done? Good, then make the decision and get one with making the next step.

Of course, it’s not as simple as that but even the mention of this common sense approach doesn’t sit well within some organisations.  It’s just not how they operate.  Some pay lip service to think big, start small, whilst others openly kick it into touch.  And when I say organisations, it’s people in organisations.  People struggle with agility.  Some have been badly burnt. People don’t have the confidence or courage to embrace change.  Or more likely, people don’t have the safety or support to learn from failure or admit they ever failed.  And so we protect ourselves and push to see the return before investing any time, effort or resources.  The fear factor is palpable.   I ain’t going down like that.  Not me. No way. No how.

Come to Confab 2014

In Barcelona we talk through the pros and cons growing slow using examples wherever we can.  Please bring your own. Why? Because building sustainable content and the digital infrastructure around it to get content everywhere is hard.  So let’s put our heads together and figure this stuff out.

See you there.

Fish out of water

Ooooh, it’s all a bit different in here isn’t it? This seems to be a place about managing content yet this post is written by someone whose role isn’t about content management. My role is CONTEXT management.

Let’s explain; Cleve has signed up for a Secret Santa blog post and I’m the post he gets. It’s written by a learning and development (L&D) professional who knows a bit about IT and is interested about other functions which make my job easier. That’s why reading up on content management is such a challenge – there is a whole industry in creating and managing content in the L&D field which is a reason the industry won’t change.

To me, Content Management (CM) is a misnomer outside the world of content management. In the world of L&D, context (as I mentioned previously) matters more. It’s interesting to read through the ‘rules’ of how content management do their jobs and it seems to be more of what L&D is calling curation.

Have a look at this post from Ben Betts, one of the leaders in curation within the L&D field. Now compare and contract with our host’s post from July about getting back to basics. There are a few points worthy of consideration.

I like Cleve’s ACT mnemonic. The idea of building for the audience is an interesting one; in context management (XM) the audience are not passive and will have higher expectations from the content being presented to them. A quick glance at the uptake of MOOCs in the world of L&D demonstrates that it’s not so much about the audience; – if they don’t like the content they’ll soon stop interacting.

The content in Cleve’s ACT mnemonic needs to be a bit different when curated. The ‘obvious’ piece of content may not be the piece that people need to have delivered to them. There’s a surge in gamification in L&D – what about making your user work for the content? In learning terms it’ll be more meaningful.

Lastly, Cleve talks about technology and how his CMS wasn’t fit for purpose. In L&D there’s a seismic shift away from Learning Management Systems – LMS – as a way of delivering content. You can’t count everything that counts and a new way of measuring engagement with content is coming for L&D in the form of the Tin Can Api. I’m not convinced by Tin Can yet for reasons too long to detail here but if you work in CM you need to understand about how it might change your role forever.

Anyway, I need to get back…nice to visit and thanks to Cleve for hosting.

Merry Christmas.

No model survives first contact with real content

At Content Strategy Forum 2013 in Helsinki, in a great presentation on “Deblobbing in the Real World”, Jeff Eaton said something that resonated deeply with me:

No model survives contact with real content.


I whole-heartedly concur.  But, something was still not right.  A week later, all became clear.  I  needed to tweak the sentence, just a little, to make things right with the world again. So here goes:

No model survives first contact with real content.

Better. Definitely expand “first contact” to mean the first few encounters with real content, but it’s an important distinction to draw out for anyone designing structured content. Why you ask? Read the rest of this entry »

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About Cleve Gibbon

I'm Cleve Gibbon, CTO at Cognifide where we are passionate about digital content.

My sort of up-to-date cv tells you my past, linked in shows you my professional network and on twitter you can find out what I'm currently doing.

This year I plan attend a number of events. Hopefully I'll see you there. I'm easy to find as I'm always laughing. Find out more about me and get in touch!
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