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Dave, email sent...

Dave, can this be a place for commentary and discussion on the merits of the T&S changes and their effects on the bloggernacle? Good.

Hearing you ask about possible expansion on other blogs makes me ask the question-- why? I know you're being tongue in cheek, but I'm wondering why T&S should want fifteen permanent bloggers. Isn't that a ton? And far more than they need to keep good, consistent content going every day? I'm interested to see if they find ways to keep guest bloggers going along with the huge chorus of other voices. This is really an interesting decision that I think will have more far-ranging effects than are presently evident.

Example: What if BCC did feel pressure to add a few members to the cast, thereby increasing the volume of posts there? Would that cause readers to give up trying to follow both uberblogs and just choose one or the other, based on liberal/conservative leanings? Would that outcome and the resulting political schism be a good or bad thing? Or, what if the general readership sees the recent permablogger selections as an overwhelming mandate toward hyper-educated academics, driving the run-of-the-mill T&S consumer to more lowbrow fora? Given the choice of new bloggers, it seems clear that the objective is diversity, which is good, but does T&S risk becoming an ivory tower too detached from normal Mormon life to be an important commentator on it? Is it notable that of the fifteen, not a single one lives in Salt Lake City, and only two in Utah? Good or bad? Finally, in such a highly intellectual setting, how would Kingsley's erection jokes be received? Unless he finds a way to place them in the context of Heidegger or Durkheim, my forecast is: not well. I won't even ask whether this is good or bad.

I can't speak for them, but I believe some people were getting busy and other people were running out of ideas. Yet they wanted to keep maybe 2 - 3 stories a day going. I also think each blog has a "feel" or a kind of vibe. So I don't think criticizing them because of their background is too apt, any more than criticizing mine for being filled with boring pretentious philosophy is. (grin)

The more the merrier. What counts are interesting stories. What happens, quite often, is that people start up and time and interest limit what they write and the blog dies after a month or two.

Now I have no shortage of things to write about. I think in part that is because of the narrow topic I picked. Say what you will, but with broad topics you quickly exhaust them. . .

Interesting thoughts, Dave, Ryan, and Clark. Yes, a lot of thought went into this expansion. I know that it potentially moves the blog in different directions. Among the goals were to become more diverse, to include more women, to keep the good material flowing. We're actually becoming _more_ Utah-centric with the additions, I think. (Previously, we had one Utahn (Jim). Now we have a second full-time and a half-time Utahn.) Hopefully, the expansion will have lots of positive effects and little of the problems Ryan fears. But it's a real potential issue, and we're doing our best to be aware of it.

I think Ryan is overestimating the relative effect of one blog on another. There's no real competition going on, outside of theatrics put on for show. For example...

As for T&S becoming an ivory tower of intellectuals, most would say it's already too late.

Well, I don't know that we can really ruminate on the latest changes at T&S--they promise to be a breath of fresh air for a very successful group blog. Not that established posters are old and stale, it's just that people run out of original ideas after awhile. Being solo here at DMI, I try to rely on media stories and my own wide reading habits to generate interesting new ideas to chat about. Guest bloggers have served T&S terribly well over the last year, but new permabloggers is a good thing too. Sooner or later I imagine a few of the original founders will "retire." Life goes on.

Perhaps new T&S blogger Frank the Economist can lauch an inquiry along the lines of, "What is the optimal number of bloggers for a group blog?" Just winging it, I'd say four or five are a minimum for a good group blog, and above about fifteen one starts to get the equivalent of traffic congestion.

Dave, I agree with your upper number, but not because of congestion -- I think it's a matter of site personality and interest. More than a dozen people, and you've transitioned from a group blog to some kind of mega-consortium. Individualized voices become less meaningful when they're drowned out in successive posts by other voices. If you want to have a site that counts on interesting personalities and a sense of community, you've got to keep it under 15, I think.

I think that both T&S and BCC have done an excellent job in the field of group blogging. I agree with Steve on the numbers and with Clark on the content ("what counts are the interesting stories"). However, Ryan also makes a really good point--the material does seem denser nowadays over at T&S and will conceivably only continue in that direction with so many PhDs speaking a specialized vocabulary that non-PhDs don't have as second nature and that even other PhDs in different fields might not have such a simple time with. I am very optimistic about the new perma-bloggers at T&S and look forward to their writings (particularly Melissa and Rosalynde), but I can see the potential for a breakdown in communication or in interest-level if the new permabloggers incorporate too much PhD level discussion (which can seem like an insiders league to a non-PhD, even one with other graduate education).

An interesting side-note: by taking such a marked PhD turn, and all at once, T&S is differentiating itself from BCC. In that sense, Steve is right when he says (even if it was tongue-in-cheek) that there isn't any competition between the two. They offer different fare. BCC is made up mostly of ivy-league (practicing) lawyers. T&S is becoming more of an academic circle with these additions, it would seem (especially if Nate and Kaimi join Gordon in legal academia in the near future).

I hope my thoughts didn't sound overly critical. It goes without saying that T&S is a very high quality blog, and I'm sure that will continue. However, I agree with Dave and Steve that it might be in danger of collapsing under its own weight, with so many different voices. One of the reasons I never read Meridian is the sheer burden of knowing there's a front page there with seemingly hundreds of different stories, all written by people I"ve never heard of. I became an avid reader of T&S back when there were maybe six or seven posters, and I think I stuck around because I was able to quickly get a feel for the identities and perspectives of those posters. Not sure that would be so easy to do with 15 posters. Just saying the addition of five bloggers will definitely make more waves than we might think.

Kaimi-- are you really counting Wilfried as a part-time Utahn? Does he fit that description in any sense besides the most literal, geographic one? :)

By the way, if Clark's (?) impression is true...that the November Five (tm) were added in order to shore up the volume in light of others losing interest or originality, I think the best thing to do would be to retire the diminishing writers before adding the new. That way it doesn't end up getting so top-heavy.

Steve, i don't expect that these changes will have great effects on other specific blogs-- that was Dave's speculation. But I'm not so naive as to think that changes at T&S won't have ripple effects in a general sense throughout the bloggernacle. Let's face it, for any perceived flaws, T&S remains the center of the LDS blogging universe.

Clark, as for running out of things to say, I think that is one problem with taking too scholarly an approach to blogging. Where one might have moments where she can't come up with anything worthy of high-level academic discussion, it's rare for a person who's interested in the gospel to just run out of basically interesting things to say about it.

I must admit my initial reaction to five new bloggers at T&S was one of dismay. Not that I don't like the people that were added, mind you, but I worry, as someone just said above, that the personality of the blog will change by there being so many voices. I worry that the sense of community will be diluted by there being so many personalities to contend with. I enjoy the diversity of perspectives, but I also like knowing the personalities and interests of the various perma-bloggers. I feel like I've gotten to know Jim, Russell, Kaimi, Nate, etc. quite well over the last many months, and now the blog might morph into something unrecognizable. Hopefully I'm wrong.

Of course, I tend to be against change, as a rule, and so I'm probably just being grumpy. I'll get over it, and I'm sure I'll quickly learn to like the new additions.

And by no means should this persuade the T&S folks to rescind their guest-blogging invitation to me, which I promise to accept as soon as I feel like I've got the time. :)

Aaron B

Here's an observation: "Blogging" tends to be an informal, friendly, even chatty sort of exchange. Blogging communities emerge around topics of common interest, but the informality of the whole enterprise remains. T&S posts are (choosing words carefully) the least informal of Bloggernacle sites. Some posts seem to cry out for footnotes and a standard "do not quote from this article without the author's permission" notice. Granted, T&S bloggers generally have credentials and experience to aim high. And there's no reason that "the informality of blogging" has to apply to every forum. But, at times, I get the impression that T&S posts just try for a little too much. Of course, I might just be off base on this, and it doesn't apply to all or most bloggers or posts. We'll see how things develop.

I used to comment a lot at T&S, but as comment threads have lengthened, I find little motivation to read 50 comments in order to make an informed comment number 51. Plus, T&S seemed to lurch to the right about three months ago to the extent that I felt some of my comments were better left unsaid (so I come here or go to BCC to comment). Perhaps the new T&S cohort will balance things out a bit.

Ryan: "Clark, as for running out of things to say, I think that is one problem with taking too scholarly an approach to blogging. Where one might have moments where she can't come up with anything worthy of high-level academic discussion, it's rare for a person who's interested in the gospel to just run out of basically interesting things to say about it."

I think I heartily disagree here. I really think there are only so many general things to say before you really start to repeat yourself. That's why I left most mailing lists several years ago. Everything started to repeat. Likewise while I check out most new blogs, I rarely read them because they seem to be repeating what I've heard before and what other Mormon bloggers have said. It's pretty rare to see something knew, and almost always it is a more technical historical point or more technical intersection between some field and Mormon thought.

I've been blogging for more than a year now, and I've not come close to running out of things to say, precisely because I take a more scholarly approach. Indeed I feel behind on a list of things I want to say. Further I notice that I have more to say now than when I started.

Compare that with most other blogs that don't narrow the discussion down. Generally, as I said, they run out of things to say after a month or so.

Clark's perspective is interesting. I think that taking a narrow, scholarly approach is one tack that can make the blogging experience worthwhile. Another way of doing it is to emphasize personal perspectives and experiences. Sites like Feminist Mormon Housewives and other niches still have plenty of places to go. I think Bcc takes a similar angle, focusing on our individual voices and giving a little freer vein.

I think that we're over-analyzing here. Times and Seasons is a very cool blog, and I don't see that changing any time soon.

No objection there: T&S is a very cool blog.

Clark,

Maybe I need to back down a little bit: you're right that finding a good niche like you have done, as have William Morris and Justin Butterfield, can provide a good context for lots of topics. I guess what I'm saying is that where ideas that will be interesting at an academic level must be developed and nurtured over a long period of time, as well as researched and place in an academic context, gospel insights can come quickly and full-grown. Or maybe I'm just projecting, because I find it difficult to come up with academically challenging ideas for a few posts a week, but have more than enough personal experiences/insights on the gospel in general to keep a blog running.

By the way, I understand why you've dropped off mailing lists. But you have to remember that the ideas of a group are very different from the ideas of an individual. Where any one member of those mailing lists might have had thousands of original ideas, the back-and-forth of many participants will force the discussion back into the median zone of rehash and political bickering. Note how many times a thoughtful post at T&S has analyzed some nuance of the margins of a gospel topic, and how quickly the discussion moves from any kind of originality into a repetitive ruckus over SSM or Sunstone. Groupthink kills originality, no?

I think there is some truth to that Ryan. Further I agree that more journal oriented blogs can always find something to say. I'm not sure people enjoy journal entries quite as much. But that's probably my own personal biases showing. I suspect most journal blogs probably get far more hits that I do.

I'm not sure Groupthink kills originality. Rather that group to and fro only has so many places to go. i.e. quickly you'll get down to a few fundamental points of disagreement from which all other positions flow. So if you have two groups that disagree and you can find those places of disagreement, what is left to say?

Where group discussions don't break down like that is on more technical discussions where there is always new data being produced/discovered. However the areas where that happens are smaller as is are the number of posters able to discuss such matters.

BTW - I think T&S is great. Further I think that the ratio of lay topics to more scholarly topics has remained about the same.

A real plus for group blogs or those with a large pool of commenters is you can draw on the personal experiences of dozens or hundreds of people for commentary. So a post or discussion on a GA talk at BYU or the temple dedication activities in New York or a Mormon Studies conference in California will probably have two or three people who were actually in attendance and can give first-person accounts. Likewise, there are usually two or three who have read any book that's discussed or met any scholar that's in the news.

Speaking of first-person reports . . . I'm still looking forward to John F's promised report on the Evangelical sermon in the Tabernacle last week!

All of a sudden, I'm feeling like I need to go back to school if I'm going to keep up at T&S. I think they're keeping me around for the fluffy blond cheerleader factor (Ryan, please don't share your list of people who should retire/be retired!). Actually, except for Jim's Sunday School lessons and the occasional discussion that lurches off into specialized philosophical topics, I don't think the general tone is all that academic. I haven't been in grad school for years (and I wasn't ever very good at it), and I've been talking exclusively with toddlers for most of those years, but I feel like I can generally make sense of the discussions. Maybe they're just so far over my head I don't even know what I'm missing?

Dave, it's interesting that you perceived a lurch to the right--we have near-constant discussion among ourselves between those who think the blog is too liberal, those who think it's fine, and... um, that's all. I'm the only one who ever feels like it's too conservative and I'm only good for one or two rounds against the right-wing guys before I just wear out and go back to posting other people's poetry.

This is somewhat off-topic and a rather obvious thing for me to say, but -- I like the poetry, Kristine. I look forward to more.

Kristine, what are your arguments that T&S is too far to the right?

Kristine,

Lol..there's no list of people that should retire. I was only saying that if there are bloggers who feel like they've run out of ideas, they should retire. I'm not saying anyone has!

John, most of my arguments refer to your comments :).

Kristine, is that true? I don't see how my irascible, to-the-right comments can make T&S seem more to the right. After all, if I am making right-wing comments, doesn't that imply that I am militating against something (otherwise no need to make the right-wing comment in the first place)? When you said that you felt that T&S was too conservative, I thought you were referring to content in the posts of permabloggers, not to the arguments of commenters. Do you also see the group of permabloggers and their content as too conservative?

Whatever happened to Lyle, by the way? I always enjoyed his commens even when I disagreed with them. Is he safe in Iraq?

Lyle is not yet in Iraq--still waiting on deployment. I got the feeling that he thought he was "banned" from T&S for abrasive commenting. . . .

While I can't speak for others, my experience is that while most T&S permabloggers tend toward the right end of the religious spectrum, they do so in a pleasant and friendly way, and I can't think of a single exchange I've had with a T&S permablogger that has left a bad taste in my mouth, whatever the topic or level of disagreement. And there are several T&S permabloggers who post and comment from the left side of the religious spectrum, at least part of the time. So if I have a perception that T&S lurched to the right at some point, that's an observation on the larger T&S community, not the permabloggers, who I have invariably found to be a polite and friendly bunch.

My view is based on what some "right side of spectrum" (RSS) commenters say and how they react to differing opinions, sometimes with less grace and style than should be the rule. On Mormon forums, I think "left side of spectrum" (LSS) commenters exercise a good deal more discretion, a skill developed over the years in Sunday School classes and other Mormon forums, where there are simply a lot of things you just don't say and you learn to phrase rather carefully the things you do say. Since RSS opinions are never really out of place in Mormon forums, whether in church or online, some RSS commenters never develop any discretion.

Finally, I emphasize that I use right and left in this context as referring to conservative religious views and liberal religious views, not as political tags. There may be some correlation, but the habit of conflating the two in religious discussions is unfortunate. Religious topics are sensitive enough without throwing politics into the mix.

CAVEAT--I didn't intend for this thread to be an extended discussion about T&S, but if that's what people want to talk about, so be it. But this isn't my "I have a problem with T&S" petition. I don't really have a problem--they're good and getting better. I'm hustling along with my own set of upgrades to stay in the same ballpark. Stay tuned . . .

Maybe it's because I'm shallow and have commitment problems and adult-onset ADD, but I was already kind of losing it for T&S before the changes, and the changes make me even less excited. All of the new people seem perfectly nice and brilliant; but. In my opinion, it's becoming much less like a blog and much more like an on-line BYU Studies.

Davis, ouch! That comment, that T&S is becoming like an online BYU Studies, is sure to be received as an indictment by many at T&S, who, from what I've observed, have little respect or use for BYU Studies. . . .

Kristine, as to the increasingly academic nature of T&S, I don't think it's that controversial of a claim, especially with the addition of five PhDs. If the PhDs at T&S are on board with Greene's hand-wave rule, then there is real need to worry about the discussion at T&S because commenters without PhDs will have less incentive to contribute if they suspect that what they say will be "dismiss[ed] . . . with a wave of the hand" at the election of the PhD'd permablogger. I don't think that this is where T&S is at right now, but it is something to consider. . . .

I agree with Davis, to a certain extent. Scan the front page and the comments of T&S. It's incredibly rich, but also extremely intellectualized -- deep thoughts abound. They are only becoming more so. Whether this is a negative thing or not, I'm not sure -- it depends on what their goals are -- but I like it, personally, which I why I'm drawn to them like a moth to the flame.

I appreciate the assessment, but I do wonder how much of this is a false dichotomy.

/ (minor?) rant on

Yes, T & S did just add two established professors, a recent Ph.D., and two Ph.D. students. And yes, every T & S permablogger (incredibly) has a degree beyond the bachelor's. But I'm not sure that that makes us so much more academic than the immediate comparison at BCC -- after all (almost?) every historical BCC blogger also has an advanced degree. Steve, Aaron, Karen, Christine, Dave, and Mat are all J.D.'s. Jennifer and Jeremy are both Ph.D. students. Kris we know about. Possibly the sole exception here is John Hatch -- I'm not sure if he stopped after the B.A., but he's about to publish a historical book, so even with only a B.A. he's close to as academic as anyone else.

Now, BCC did just go add two regular joe's in Bob and Logan -- if well-read recent college grads can be considered regular joe's. They're both likely on their way into post-graduation education of some sort, with the main reason they're not already there being that they aren't old enough to be there. (They're five years younger than I am, and a genuine break from the rest of us mostly-30-ish bloggers).

There are definite tone differences between T & S and BCC. But I have to think that they arise from the particular people involved, not from the levels of education.

/ (minor?) rant off.

Thanks for listening. :)

To come to the defense of the beseiged Kaimi--clever PhDs (as opposed to dull ones) always have new and interesting things to say or at least a novel twist on seemingly common issues. And that's just what a successful blog needs over the course of months and years: new and interesting comments and posts on seemingly common and recurring issues. If T&S were composed of 15 "regular joes and janes," it would be a pretty boring place. Geez, when just Nate was busy and absent for two months it got noticeably duller. Hats off to T&S for staying interesting for a full year!

Kaimi, that's not a rant -- it's an honest opinion. And I think you're right, for the most part. BCC and T&S both have educated participants (though it's clear that T&S has more degrees under it's belt...).

But I wouldn't be so quick to write off the differences as merely tonal, either. There are real substantive differences as well, although I choose not to enumerate them here for sheer laziness' sake. I'd agree, however, that whatever differences there are, we can't simply ascribe them to differences in education.

Kaimi,

I don't really think the degrees of the bloggers are relevant. Our paltry and near-defunct website has a JD (Ryan) and someone working on an MA (me). In my opinion, it has a lot more to do with the interests of the blogger and the ways in which he/she writes about those interests. Every single person that blogs or reads/comments on blogs is looking for something different from their participation, so I can only speak for myself. Personally, I'm looking to talk about issues that are relevant to my life. I get plenty of exposure to academic exchange and writing and research. And if I wanted more of that in a Mormon context, I would subscribue to BYU Studies and Sunstone, etc. So, my complaint wasn't so much with the choice of new bloggers, all of whom seem like brilliant and nice people, but with the fact that many of them seem to blog about turgid academic subjects. Does that make sense?

I was kind of kidding with the cheerleader thing, but you guys are really making me think that someone with my obvious lack of intellectual heft should not be commenting at T&S, let alone be on the sidebar. I really don't see the "deep, intellectualized" thing--it's true that some posts are like that, and it's clear that several of the T&S people have some serious mental horsepower. However, I've never seen a comment "dismissed" because it wasn't academic enough--Jim F., for instance, who really could afford to do that, is very careful to try to engage most commenters, regardless of whether they are able to discuss their thoughts in technical philosophical terms or not. And look at all the big comment threads--they're all current events and socializing.

Maybe I'm really, really naïve, but I honestly don't understand the tendency to pigeonhole people according to their academic credentials. Plenty of dopes have degrees from Harvard, there are lots of Ph.Ds in the world who just aren't that bright, and plenty of high school dropouts who are brilliant. One of the things I most like about the blogosphere is the sense I've had (maybe mistakenly) that the discussion exists independent of the kinds of hierarchies and totemic politicking that characterizes many discussions in academic settings--if you say something smart, nobody cares where you went to school; if you say something dumb, someone will tell you it's dumb, no matter how many letters you have after your name. (And it's just really hard to keep Nate Oman interested in what you have to say for more than three comments, regardless of how smart everyone else thinks you are ;) You just have to get over it.)

aaargh, misused apostrophe.... please forgive me!!

oops--typing at the same time as Davis, I guess, and clearly missing the point. We're not too academic, we're just *boring.* Can't argue with that, except perhaps to point out that you're all not only *reading* our boring stuff, but doing meta-analysis of our boringness ;)

So Greene's hand-wave rule won't be implemented at T&S?

Kudos to Davis for using "turgid." The last time I used it was in describing an ex-girlfriend. Long story...

you see? That's precisely the type of comment you CAN'T make at T&S.

Kristine,

That's the thing. I'm not reading the boring stuff. I haven't read a full post at T&S for a while. I understand that many people do read them, and that the bloggernacle doesn't rise and fall according to my whims. I'm simply stating that I think it's get more and more boring. People's degrees have nothing to do with it.

Good blogging style turns on informality and brevity. Personally, I follow a three paragraph rule: Any post more than three paragraphs is too long. No blogger is paid by the word. I also use links, bolding, italics, blockquoting, and caps to break up lengthy, mind-numbing paragraphs of the type sometimes seen at T&S.

Dave,

I totally agree with you on your rules of good blogging.

Just to offer my own slightly different perspective. To me the comments here illustrate a very different perception about blogging. Allow me an analogy. I had a roommate who loved watching The O'Reilly Factor. Not because he necessarily agreed with O'Reilly, but because the format of short 3 minute interviews diced things down to manageable and discussable common sense takes on issues. In contrast I hate O'Reilly and most similar news shows precisely because I find they end up dealing with superficial topics or deal superficially with important topics. I'd much rather listen to NPR interviews which are often 5 - 20 minutes or longer and probe a little deeper. Further when I have a discussion I want something focused more on what is wrong and not just a descent to a different application of common sense or opinion.

But that's me.

I fully confess that the kind of blogs that have short 2 - 3 paragraph takes I often only briefly glance at. I much prefer 3 - 10 paragraph discussions that are little more in depth. That's not to say there aren't shorter posts I enjoy. There are many here I enjoy obviously. Likewise I have a fair number of short posts on my own blog.

I guess the point is that perhaps some want FoxNews and some want NPR. (Ignoring the political leanings of each news source for the moment)

For instance my favorite LDS blog right now is Mormon Wasp with its longish discussions of history that I often overlooked. My favorite political blog is Belmont Club with similiar length writeups on the war.

Here it comes, the Long Bloggers get out their steely knives . . . . Okay, let me expand my rule a bit by dividing bloggers into two classes.

Long Bloggers (who do posts of 3-10 paragraphs) live or die on content. Don't expect anyone to read 10 paragraphs unless the content-to-paragraph ratio is high. In other words, if you just say in 10 paragraphs what I could say in two, you are simply a Long-winded Blogger. But high-content bloggers like Clark at MM, Nate at T&S, and Justin at MW are successful Long Bloggers.

Short Bloggers (1-3 paragraphs) live or die on wit, brevity, originality, and relevance. It resembles standup comedy--you've got 15 seconds to be funny or you're dead (not that I've ever done standup). Readers have no mercy. BCC is full of good Short Bloggers. Kaimi is a good Short Blogger--as befits one who started out at Bcc.

Dave, there are only two kinds of people in the world, long bloggers and short bloggers. . . .

I've been following these comments very intently. I hope I'm not stoking an almost-put-out fire. At first I found it easy to say the problem was too many PhD's, but Kaimi and others have argued persuasively enough that I'm convinced that's not it.

The real problem is that T&S is so big that unless you can devote huge amounts of your time to it any more, you may as well not participate at all. If you only comment every so often, you're ignored or dismissed, it feels like.

The reason adding more permabloggers is a problem in general is just that it already seems so impersonal. It's almost like you could switch out any commenter/permablogger for any other. It didn't used to be that way, but now it's so hard to get to know people individually with all the people who participate.

(Whew -- three paragraphs!)

Yes Logan, I can't imagine why anyone would want to sign on to T&S and become just another indistinguishable permablogger face in the academic crowd. Much better to sign on at Bcc, where you can be yourself and proud of it. A cheerful place where everybody knows your name.

My own solution to the T&S non-problem is to cherry pick--I follow posts by my favorite authors and those other posts that appear particularly interesting. The closet economist in me notes that the comment congestion problem could be cleared up by charging a penny per line for comments. Since the marginal value of most comments to anyone--reader or writer--is well below what that low threshold implies, the volume of comments would plummet and the average quality would soar. Absent such a mechanism and observing an oversupplied good, I apply my own rationing rule to allocate my scarce time to their oversupplied product.

That's pretty good, Dave. They could have everyone register an account that would be kept track of automatically and billed weekly or something. You're right -- it wouldn't be too prohibitive, but would make people think twice.

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