Navigating Information

Project 1 — MDES/MPS Communication Design Studio

Intro + Organization Exercise — 8/29

We started our first Communication Design Studio class by exploring the form and function of small wind-up toys. We saw how we gave these toys qualities just by looking at them and how these qualities and their form influenced our thoughts about their movement. Our class was specifically drawn to a set of metals toys with visible mechanical components.

We were then asked to answer around 15 question on Post-It notes. The questions included where you are from, what do you like the most about Pittsburgh, and what is one thing you are proud of? We then broke off into groups and created affinity maps of the answers.

We finished class by breaking up into the groups for our first project. We are tasked with investigating “ways of using communication design to help people become better informed citizens by teaching them how to carefully read content (not just the words but the forms of content) and encouraging them to make comparisons among information sources.” My team members, Chen and Mary, and I are tasked with analyzing the US Powerhouses (ABC News, CBS News, and NBC News).

Analysis of Online News Services — 8/30

ABC News

First of all, the ABC News website looks like the type of website you would expect from a large organization. It seems to be put together solely to deliver information to a user. Very little risk was put into the visual design of the site.

At the same time, there is a lot of competing material. You start looking in one area of the page and are distracted by motion in another area of the page. The website seems to be placing a large emphasis on capturing a user’s attention, by using mostly negative headlines.

It uses a card-based model and a strict 15 column grid, with rows containing either 3 5-column cards, 1 10-column card and 1 5-column grid, or a 15-column card divided into 5 3-column video containers.

The website has a limited numbers of colors. These colors include two familiar shades of blue for nav bars, a yellow for alerts, and a red for notifications.

One interesting note about this site are the visible categories in the main nav bar. The nav bar lists: US, international, politics, lifestyle, entertainment, and VR. I did not expect to see VR as a visible category.

There is a huge emphasis placed on imagery, both static and moving (videos). It at times distracts from the other content on the page. The imagery also seems to used as an assist for grouping content. If you see a picture of Trump, you can expect to see a number of articles related to Trump in that card.

Headlines on the home page are designed to grab attention. They add credibility through the addition of names whenever possible (Trump, AG, Pope, black leaders, etc…). You also see a lot of big numbers in headlines.

CBS News

The CBS News website also looks like the type of website you would expect from a large organization, but with less structure. The lack of structure, makes it harder to engage with the content.

Similar to the ABC News site, there is a lot of competing material. But unlike the ABC site, there is much less video. Instead of being distracted by motion, you are distracted by headlines and articles with a lack of structure.

The site utilizes what looks to be a 9 column grid and uses no cards.

Unlike the ABC News Site which has rows, the CBS News site has no rows.

You also see negative headlines on the site, but with less of an emphasis on news. Some of this can be seen in the main nav bar categories which include news, shows, video, CBSN, and more. The site also places less emphasis on names and numbers.

The website has a limited numbers of colors. These colors includes a shade of blue for the nav bar and a red for headers, publication dates, and actions.

The site contains much more variations in type treatment. It plays with weights, colors, serifs, and sans-serifs.

Similar to the ABC News site, a lot of the headlines have very similar content. The CBS News site utilizes sub-headlines to provide more information about an articles’ topic.

NBC News

The NBC News website at first glance looks to be the most modern/clean, but when you look closer you see a lack of organization and a lack of attention in the implementation. In some places, white space looks to be placed completely randomly.

The website uses mostly negative headlines, but has a small Recommended section. You can find more uplifting stories in this section.

The site uses a 4 column grid and no cards for organization.

The website also has a limited numbers of colors. These colors include blue to identify different categories/sources and one red headline (I don’t understand why there is only one red headline).

The main nav bar does not list news categories. In order to access those you have to click on a drop down. What the nav bar contains are links to the Nightly News, MSNBC, Meet the Press, and Dateline.

There is less emphasis placed on imagery than the ABC News site. The few images you find support an article’s headline.

Similar to the ABC News site and not the CBS site, there is little variation in type treatment. One typeface is used in all the headlines, while another is used for headers, the nav bar, and categories.

Reflection on Tuesday— 8/31

Tuesday’s class brought up a concern I had over the summer during my internship.

During that internship, I was primarily tasked with redesigning and rebuilding a website. While the website was used as a promotional tool, it was also the central location for project documentation.

Early on in the process, I started questioning whether the visual design I was proposing would distract from the actual content of the site.

Visit a couple of documentation websites. You will start recognizing similarities in their structures and visual languages.

Why are the websites this way? Would a different structure or visual language distract and not assist? Would developers (the primary users of these sites) be drawn to a website that does not look like a typical documentation site? Or would they dislike such a site and avoid visiting it?

Reflection on Thursday’s Reading — 9/2

Davis brings up schemas and how they influence our thoughts and actions towards things. It notes that “when we confront a new stimulus, we quickly identify or categorize the general domain to which it belongs and response accordingly with attitudes and behaviors that we assign to that domain through our prior experience” and how these “schemas are shaped or amplified by media repersentations.”

I wonder how much these schemas are being influenced by self-generated media (the types of media being generated on social media apps). Are individual’s schemas being influenced by other’s now that you have more access to their own “mental structures” than ever before. Is this better than having mental structures guided by large corporations?

Analysis of Headlines — 9/2

At 3:38 PM on Saturday, September 2nd, the top headlines on the three powerhouse websites are:

ABC News

Trump meets with Harvey evacuees and volunteers in Houston

CBS News

Trump visits Harvey victims in Houston — live updates

NBC News

Harvey Threatens to Tip Working Poor Into Destitution

All three stories are focused on Harvey, not unexpected at all. But what are the differences among them.

First off, ABC and CBS start each headline with Trump. Trump brings eyes and clicks, people want to see what he is up to. Why does NBC not mention him? I am not entirely sure, but they have taken quite a different approach. NBC’s focus on the “working poor” and “destitution”, is significantly more depressing than what you find on the ABC and CBS website. I found it interesting that you had to scroll a fair amount to find your first instance of Trump on the NBC website. Has NBC taken an active approach to mention Trump less? Are they catering towards a more left-leaning audience?

Another interesting thing is CBS’s use of “live updates”. “Live updates” are more of what you would expect more from ABC’s, CBS’s, and NBC’s tv channels. Does CBS pull most of its online users from its television viewers, whereas ABC and NBC web users aren’t necessarily television viewers.

I was also interested in how capitalization was used in all three headlines. ABC and CBS used the capitalization I would expect in sentences, while NBC’s use of capitalization is reminiscent of what I would expect in titles. Why is this done? Does ABC and CBS want to create more narrative-based headlines, while NBC wants more bullet point headlines? Is this due to the type of readers frequenting the sites, does NBC cater more towards a “bullet point” audience?

One new story unrelated to Harvey or Trump are the wildfires in Los Angeles.

ABC News

Los Angeles wildfire largest in city’s history, mayor says

This story is in the second row of stories, right on or below the fold depending on your devices’s screen.

CBS News

Los Angeles wildfire spreads to 5,000 acres amid Western heatwave

This story is below the fold depending on your devices’s screen, around 3 or 4 stories down.

NBC News

La Tuna Canyon wildfire threatens more than 200 homes in California

It’s a struggle to find this story, it’s a side note in the Top Videos section.

Do ABC and CBS users have a desire for more local stories, whereas NBC users are more interested in national stories? But, how can that be true if Harvey is such a big story when in some ways it is a local story? Is it because of the destruction of Harvey? Is this connected with why NBC’s top story was so depressing?

Reflection on Tuesday’s Readings — 9/2

Crisp’s piece delves into context and how who initiates the work influences a design. It brought up some questions for me concerning the interests/concerns of designers and those who pay for their work.

How do you navigate the interests from multiple parties? When you are hired, are you being hired solely for you ability to produce and not your concerns? Is it ok to not fully address the concerns of those who initiate work? Should you be evaluating an initiator’s concerns before taking work? Naturally, you will not agree with everything someone or something else is concerned about, but how much disagreement is enough to not take a job?

Who’s Behind the Powerhouses — 9/3

After reading Crisp’s piece, I thought it might be helpful to investigate the powerhouse’s initiators.

ABC News

ABC News is the news arm of the American Broadcasting Company (ABC). ABC is a subsidiary of the The Walk Disney Company. Their headquarters are located in New York City’s Upper West Side.

ABCNews.com was initially launched in May 1997. It was “a joint venture between Starwave Corporation and ABC”. Starwave was later bought out by Disney.

ABC’s revenue is partly driven by advertising income, in 2016 a 30 second commercial for their show Modern Family cost around $225,000.

James Goldston is the president of ABC News. Before he was the president, he was the senior vice president for content and development and an executive producer of NBC’s Good Morning America.

The board of the Walt Disney company include the CEO of Nike, the COO of Facebook, the CEO of Twitter, the CEO of GM, and the CEO of the Walt Disney Company.

CBS News

CBS News is the news arm of the Columbia Broadcasting Company (CBS). Their headquarters are located in midtown New York City.

CBS’s revenue is also partly driven by advertising income, in 2016 a 30 second commercial for Thursday Night Football cost around $525,000. While a 30 second commercial for their show The Big Bang Theory cost around $290,000.

David Rhodes is the president of CBS News. He was initially at Fox News, where he eventually became the Vice President of News. He then moved to Bloomberg, before moving to CBS.

The board of CBS include the CEO of the NAACP, partners in law firms, the CEO of Sony Music Entertainment, the Dean of the Harvard Law School, and the CEO of the CBS.

NBC News

NBC News is the news arm of the National Broadcasting Company (NBC). NBC is a subsidiary of Comcast. Their headquarters are located in midtown New York City.

ABCNews.com was initially launched in 1996. It was “a 50–50 venture between NBCUniversal and Microsoft”. Microsoft no longer has a stake in the site.

NBC’s revenue is also partly driven by advertising income, in 2016 a 30 second commercial for Sunday Night Football cost around $675,000. While a 30 second commercial for their show This Is Us cost around $270,000.

Noah Oppenheim is the president of NBC News. Before he was the president, he was in charge of the Today Show and a senior producer on the Today Show.

The board of Comcast include the directors of financial firms, TV executives, CEO of Pepsi, the CEO of the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, the CEO of DuPont, and the CEO of Comcast.


A couple of interesting things to point out in regards to the three organizations are: the tech influence on ABC’s board of directors, the backgrounds in TV of all three presidents, and how much more ad revenue the NFL brings in.

Layout and Categorization — 8/4

I was interested in further exploring the layout and categorization found on these sites. What is similar and what is different between the sites?

ABC News

Like the other two sites, ABC News has a nav bar, but unlike the others it is static and always visible. The site has very little categories or sub headers, it for the most part is card based. The cards do have tags, which are placed within that card.

The first row on the site contains a story card and a card with tabs for top stories and latest stories. The second row contains a trending video card and two story cards. The third row contains a politics card with sub stories. The fourth row contains a “More News” card and two story cards. This patterns continues on more or less till about 8 rows down where the content dramatically shifts. You start finding lighter stories, stories concerned with food and fitness there.

The lack of categorization lends itself to flexibility, what stories are published is not dictated by design of the site. There is also a sense of consistency throughout, mostly derived from the use of cards.

One question I do have is, why do some stories have a card whereas other are located in a list.

CBS News

Unlike ABC News, the CBS News nav bar is not static and disappears when you scroll. The site has tons of categories, including very similar categories. You will find the same story having multiple categories.

You will also find that it is not uncommon for a category to have only one story. That story will have a category, headline, and sub headline.

There are no rows on the site. The right hand column contains CBSN Live stories, a list of stories you can watch on CBSN Live, social media links, “Stories that Inspire”, and market news. There is always a top story to the left of the right hand column. On the bottom right of the top story, you will find latest news stories. To the left of top stories, you will find a lot of different categories with different stories.

There is a large emphasis on latest news. The latest news stories all have the date and time the story was published. It looks like the content in the right hand column is consistent. You can expect to always find a stock market chart there.

NBC News

Like CBS News, the NBC News nav bar is not static and disappears when you scroll. The site has a large amount of categories, but none of these categories are found on the top of the page.

The top left of the page is divided into a large amount of stories, with tags located under the stories, but no overarching categories. To the right of those stories, is a recommended list section.

NBC is unique in that it had a local news section.

Similar to ABC, there seems to a clear differentiation between lighter and heavier news. Below local news, you will find featured stories and top videos. Under the top videos, you will start finding the lighter news with categories like better, mach, and sports.

Similarities and Differences Between the Sites — 9/4

After looking at the sites for a coupe days, I decided to create lists of their similarities and the unique characteristics.

Similarities

  • Language of headlines, all relatively negative and fear based
  • All parts of big organizations (CBS News is the by far the smallest and have a revenue of 14 billion dollars.)
  • All contain lighter news, but those stories are overwhelmed by heavier news
  • Relatively clean designs, use of blue

Unique to ABC News

  • Card based
  • Lots of structure (strict grid and use of rows)
  • Do not have rights to NFL football (not counting ESPN)
  • Heavy tech emphasis on board
  • Headlines structured more as narrative
  • Emphasis on imagery

Unique to CBS News

  • Heavy use of categories (sub-headers)
  • Use of sub headlines
  • Emphasis placed on “latest” and “live” news
  • Headlines structured more as narrative

Unique to NBC News

  • Presence of local news
  • Website started with Microsoft
  • Tough to find more local stories, if story is not in your local area
  • Headlines structured more as bullet points
  • Language is maybe a little bit more depressing

Reflection on Visualizing Website Characteristics— 9/5

It’s been somewhat of a struggle sketching out characteristics of the sites without reverting back to sketching out something similar to a screen.

This brought out some questions for myself in regards to how this is done effectively. Does effectively sketching out the characteristics of the websites mean that 100% of the people seeming them understand what they mean? Or does it only need to be understood by 80% or 60%?

What does this mean for icons? If 40% of users don’t understand what an icon represents, what is the purpose of using it? Say you swap those icons for text, what percent of people will understand what that word is supposed to represent? Or is it okay if the first time a user sees an icon or word that they lack an understanding of what it represents, but gain that understanding after seeing it a couple of times.

Reflection on Tuesday’s Class — 9/6

In Tuesday’s class our group began by listing out all the characteristics of the websites we wanted to bring attention to. We settled on the:

  • Organization of the sites
  • Hierachy of the sites
  • Amount of imagery
  • Proportion of imagery to text
  • Contrast found on the sites
  • Organizational priorities
  • Strength of voice
  • Available personal customization

We also began organizing our narrative.

We want to emphasize that ABC News, CBS News, and NBC News are all part of big TV network organizations driven by profit/retaining users and how that motivation partnered with each network’s unique characteristics (ABC: tech influence on board, CBS: smallest organization and audience, NBC: smallest amount of funding) influences the structure, form, and content of their websites.

One sketch we had difficulty with was the portrayal of the tech influence on the ABC board. We attempted to show this through a comparison of a “nerdy” character and a more normal character. We are going to continue working on that one.

Most Frequent Words — 9/6

I decided to run the home pages through an online most frequent words service.

Some interesting results were:

  • The number of times Trump was found. Trump was found 21 times on the NBC News, but only 11 and 10 times on ABC News and CBS News. Does this make NBC more liberal in their liberalism? Or do they place an extra emphasis on names for credibility? Does this make them more subjective?
  • The number of time Korea was found. Korea was found 2 times on ABC News, 12 times on CBS, and 4 times on NBC. Korea, at least to me seems like a big story, why is it barely found on the ABC and NBC site? Does this mean that CBS sensationalizes news more than ABC or NBC?
  • The number of times America was found. America was found 5 times on ABC, 2 times on CBS, and 13 times on NBC. Does this make ABC and CBS the most subjective? Or NBC the most isolationist?
  • The number of times health was found. Health was found 4 times on ABC, 6 times on CBS, and 18 times on NBC. Is NBC not concerned as much with harder/heavier news than ABC or CBS? Does this mean that NBC is more concerned with clicks?
  • The number of times some form of threaten was found. It was found 2 times on ABC, 0 times on CBS, and 8 times on NBC. Does this support the idea that NBC is concerned with clicks and the most isolationist?
ABC News, CBS News, and NBC News Most Frequent Words

It would be cool to run these results through a program that can measure the tone/strength of the words.

Reflection on Thursday’s Class — 9/7

During class, we finalized our content and visuals for our presentation next Tuesday. We also separated the content out so that we knew who was going to present and visualize each section.

One thing we noticed was our heavy reliance on scales.

It seems like every time we wanted to visualize some sort of continuous variable with no distinct values, we visualized the extremes of that variable to create a scale. Are there better ways of doing this? We couldn’t think of any.

For example, we have a visualization for the tone of content found on each of the sites. While two of the sites take almost opposite approaches to their tone, the remaining site takes a more moderate approach to their tone. We weren’t exactly sure how to visualize that moderate tone, so we visualized an apathetic face and an angry face on the two sides of a scale. We then noted where each of the websites fell on that scale.

Reflection on Tuesday’s Class — 9/12

Today in class, each team presented their mental model.

The presentations turned out to be more difficult than I expected. While we were able to run through the presentation and work on the timing of our visualizations and talking points beforehand, we still came across some things were we not fully prepared for.

For example:

  • What part of the board should you be be sketching?
  • In what direction do you sketch? Left to right? Top to bottom?
  • Where should you stand when you are sketching? You don’t want to be in the way of viewers, but you still have to sketch and you don’t want to be in an incredibly uncomfortable/awkward position.
  • Can you ensure that you are mapping and annotating your visualizations so that they make sense to someone later?
  • How do you best highlight visualizations? Should you be pointing at a sketch when you talk about it?
  • How do go about your sketches? Do you go about your drawings strategically so that viewers are not confused about your sketches? What is the best way to do that? (For example: my scale sketches, should I draw the scale first?)

One key takeaway I had is that traditional statistic visualizations (bar charts, pie charts, line charts) should be some of your best friends for this type of assignment. A character, icon, or novel visualization may make sense during the presentation when it is being directly talked about. 10 minutes later, it may not make as much sense to someone who understood it 10 minutes before. While a well done bar chart is easily understandable, whether it be in the middle of a presentation or days later.

First Maybe Second Draft of Zine Copy — 9/13

We were also tasked with using our mental models to create zine spreads to create better informed citizens. Our team divided up our mental model by the higher level categories (visual structure, visual form, and written and visual content) and I was assigned the introduction and visual form sections.

The following is not my first draft (maybe second or third draft) of my section of the copy.

Introduction
Not unlike other online services, the US Powerhouses (ABC News, CBS News and NBC News) present a tailored experience representing both internal and external motivations. Our zine will help you better recognize and understand what you are reading and seeing on each of the powerhouses’ websites and the motivations behind that content.
Powerhouse users should first recognize that ABC News, CBS News, and NBC News are all parts of large organizations primarily in the television business. Anyone can own a piece of each of these businesses, by having a share of their stock. Because they are being publicly traded, the majority of their decisions are profit driven. They hope that the stake of each shareholder increases by primarily focusing on the retention of their user base.
It is also important to point out that both ABC News and CBS News are part of large conglomerates. With ABC being part of the Walt Disney Company and NBC being part of Comcast. CBS, unlike ABC and NBC, is not part of large conglomerate with a yearly revenue of more than 50 billion. This is reflected in the budgets of each of the powerhouses, with CBS having a smaller budget than both ABC and NBC.
Another thing to keep in mind when you look at each of these websites, is the composition of their boards. While CBS and NBC have a board filled with the type of individuals (network executives, partners at law firms, etc…) you would expect on a television network’s board, ABC has a heavy tech emphasis (CEO of Twitter and COO of Facebook). This heavy emphasis on tech is reflected in the visual structure and form of the ABC website.
Visual Form
The visual form of all three websites while similar, have a number of differences that differentiate them from the others.
Contrast in Color and Type
Contrast in color and type play a significant role in the usability of each of these websites. You can find greatest contrast in color and type on ABC. This is seen in the images with a dark transparent overlay and white type or the light gray background with white rectangles (cards). While not at the level of ABC, the contrast found on CBS is evident in the variation in type treatments found in headlines, sub-headlines, and links. The contrast on NBC’s site is not as great as that found on ABC or CBS, this is evident in the all white background and the identical type treatments of a large number of headlines.
The high levels of contrast in color and type found on ABC make the content more user friendly, allowing users to easily engage with their content. While, NBC’s users struggle with their content partly because of the lack of contrast found on that site.
Proportion of Imagery and Texts
The proportion of imagery and text is also interesting to look at. While imagery can make a website’s content more engaging, it could also represent an emphasis on emotions and not the facts. While an emphasis on text, could make the website less engaging.
ABC News places a huge emphasis on imagery, specifically on their homepage which is covered with images of different sizes with small headlines. Each of these images correspond to its own story. You do not find as many images on NBC, whose homepage has an almost even proportion of imagery and text. CBS’s homepage uses the least amount of imagery and is very text heavy.

Reflection on Thursday’s Class — 9/14

During class, we attempted to combine our mental models and create separate affinity diagrams for the visual structure, visual form, and written and visual content of all the sites.

This also ended up being relatively difficult, especially trying to interpret the different visualizations from the various groups. It had been awhile since everyone presented their models, which made it difficult to decipher the meanings of the different visualizations.

We did see some similarities between all the groups and settled on three higher level categories for written and visual content visualizations: scope, tone, and style.

Written and Visual Content Affinity Diagram

We also had a quick design jam to create design interventions aimed at creating better informed citizens.

My group came up with NewsPal, a daily email containing links to articles another user (who has engaged with content similar to you) visited over the course of the day.

Ideally, NewsPal would connect individuals with similar interests but very different backgrounds. Allowing a grandfather from Nevada to see the news read by a teenager in Alabama and vice versa.

One question Stacie brought up was how do you get individuals to enroll in such a service who are not interested in what news other individuals are reading. I don’t think I have a good answer for this question and I’m not sure if there is a non-autocratic way of going about solving such a problem.

It seems like more and more responsibility is falling and will continue to fall on organizations with large user users and how those companies go about assisting their users in getting out of their bubbles will determine if there are bubbles in the future or if there are not. If such companies can increase a user’s awareness hopefully they would be more open to a service like NewsPals.

MediaBridge — 7/26

My group and I developed MediaBridge, a design intervention designed to “help people become better informed citizens”.

MediaBridge is an intervention designed to bring news readers a broader range of opinions and perspectives. We target everyday news and media consumers who are interested in what others in their network are reading. The intervention connects individuals through their common interests and encourages a more open mindset through personal relationships. These connections and relationships influence users into a more tolerant and accepting mindset.
Take for example, Joe Jones a 50-year-old from Alabama who regularly visits Breitbart. MediaBridge targets Joe via Breitbart ads (MediaBridge targets users through the websites that they frequently browse) with messaging similar to “See what other Americans are reading”. After clicking on an ad, Joe is directed to a customized web page visually geared towards more conservative audiences. After learning about and signing up for our intervention, Joe receives a daily email of what another user (in this scenario, Phil) has read. Phil is Joe’s best friend’s dentist and shares Joe’s interests in Vice Presidential history and the U.S. Constitution. Because of this shared connection, Joe is more willing to view the articles that Phil has read.
In Joe’s daily email, article headlines and summaries are edited with a more neutral tone in order to remove opinion and heavy-handed bias. Due to this lack of tone, Joe reads news stories he wouldn’t have, potentially leading him to CNN. Although he may consider CNN to be “fake news”, he hopefully becomes more open to a more representative selection of news sources when he realizes he is interested in topics covered by outlets he does not visit.
MediaBridge doesn’t only target conservatives. Take for instance, Amber Campbell a 25-year-old resident of New York City interested in food trends and restaurants in NYC. She rarely reads the news and MediaBridge targets her through Instagram ads, asking if she wants to view what other “foodies” are reading. She signs up for MediaBridge and receives daily emails. One day, she is connected with her boyfriend’s cousin who shares her interest in food festivals and Hell’s Kitchen. Through daily emails, MediaBridge encourages Amber to read more worldly stories in addition to the stories she currently reads. After a few weeks, MediaBridge includes a progress update. The update shows the type of stories she is viewing and includes encouraging messages to either keep up the good work or view a wider range of news. These messages also draw attention to filter bubbles and bias found in media.
For MediaBridge to work, we would need access to an individual’s social media and browsing history in order to gather information on their interests, their connections, and the media that they consume. The customized websites would also have to be maintained per interest.
MediaBridge User Flow
Liberty Website
Matcha Website
Daily Update Emails

Summarization of Reflection — 7/26

This project has brought up a number of things.

I was always aware that bias in media was an issue, but had not spent a significant amount of time focusing on the issue. This exercise did provide that time. Through it, I was better able to understand how these news websites were built and the motivations behind them.

It was also useful to think about an intervention to increase the awareness of a a reader. It is easy to say “filter bubbles” are a problem, but not easy to break those “bubbles”. While my group’s concept is a little pessimistic about humanity, it would be very interesting to see how successful it could be.

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