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The One Question Business Owners Should Ask When Looking At Data

Small Business Owners Should Ask Questions About Data“So what?”

Although the question may sound stupid and the answer may seem obvious, it is absolutely necessary to ask.

The Web is overflowing with rich data, but much of it is mined and reviewed in the absence of clearly defined goals. Oftentimes, mining data is expensive. Many businesses have aimlessly followed the big data trend and now have nothing to show for it. Business owners would benefit immensely from data — big and small — if they knew how to turn that data into actionable insights.

Here’s an example from personal experience that illustrates this point.

Turning data into action

When I’m not blogging, I analyze data collected from 200,000 websites reaching over 250 million people each month to identify important inbound traffic trends. Last month, I produced a report titled “Search Traffic vs Social Referrals,” which reviewed the amount of traffic the top 5 search engines (Google, Yahoo, Bing, Ask, AOL) and the top 5 social media platforms (Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, StumbleUpon, Reddit) drove to websites during the past 13 months.

The predetermined goal was to understand–relatively–how much traffic search engines and social media sites sent to sites around the Web.

The data suggested social referrals to sites doubled over the past year. As the marketing manager for Shareaholic, I asked myself the all-important question, “So what?” I reasoned that because social media has driven an increasing number of visits to websites, more resources should be invested into improving social reach. Thus, I began creating content that was more shareable versus simply optimized for search engines.

Asking “So what?” when looking at data drives you to extract important information–the kind of data that can provide valuable insights useful for making sound business decisions.

The above example illustrated how I, as a marketer, used inbound traffic data to make smarter marketing decisions. Similarly, you can look at financial spreadsheets, technical data or the results of a survey to improve your business.

Looking beyond the data

With all of this said, it’s important to have a bit of healthy skepticism toward findings. When I discovered social media referrals grew 111% year over year, I didn’t immediately — and blindly — follow the numbers.

I researched the underlying causes for the recorded trend to make sense of it all. In this situation, my research corroborated the trends I saw. The explosive growth of social networks such as Facebook, Pinterest and Twitter provides supporting evidence that social media could — and did — drive an increased number of visits to sites across the web.

Conclusions

Essentially, data gives you an opportunity to observe trends, understand why the trends are happening and make wise decisions that will help your business.

If you’re in the planning stages of a data mining project, be sure to ask the question, “So what?” before moving forward. Pursue the data with meaningful purpose; don’t gather data for the simple sake of doing so.

If you’re wrapping up a research project with nothing to show except spreadsheets filled with numbers and charts with poor labels, don’t feel overwhelmed, and don’t throw in the towel. Instead, figure out ways to use the data to further business goals.

 

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How Clients and Contractors Can Succeed Together in a Freelance World

Client MeetingIn today’s economic environment, more people than ever before are freelancing or doing contract work. Freelancing is fraught with uncertainty–that’s the nature of the game–but Carol Tice figured out a way to earn a six-figure salary as a freelancer. Tice, a writer, then took an even bolder step and built a business that coaches and teaches others how to make a living in a freelance world. Tice also has advice for businesses looking to work more effectively with their growing freelance staffs.

Tice, author of Make A Living Writing and Starting Your Business on a Shoestring, knows that being a freelancer isn’t easy. She also knows that giving up a salaried, benefited office job doesn’t necessarily mean you’re in for a huge pay cut. In fact, contractors can and should make a full-time salary–if not more than what they earned as staffers.

Tice’s career as a full-on freelance writer began in late-2005. Six years later, in 2011, she was earning a six-figure income, and during the last few years she has committed herself to helping “the most freelancers earn the most money the fastest.”

In 2009, Tice published the inaugural post on the Make A Living Writing site. But it wasn’t until 2012 when Tice’s business really took off. By then, she had also built the Freelance Writers Den, a community that supports writers who hope to earn a full-time salary without working a staff position ever again.

When asked how many writers she has helped, Tice said she isn’t sure. “I think what happens when they start making six figures is I lose touch with them because they’re too busy to hang out in the Den anymore.”

Just as individuals need to figure out how to make the freelance model work for them in order to (at least) make ends meet, businesses must learn how to effectively engage and manage freelance staffers.

Tice’s recommendations include:

  • Avoid cheap solutions. (You get what you pay for.)
  • Pay contractors fairly and in a timely manner.
  • Look for ways to improve communication with far-flung staff.
  • Be available.

The last two points are especially critical. Tice urges clients to make themselves available to talk freelancers through projects and to answer any questions that arise during the course of the project. Being proactive will head off problems.

Likewise, Tice suggests that freelancers ask as many questions as they need to in order to have clear understanding of clients’ expectations. Too many people jump on a project without fully grasping what the client wants and how they can deliver on that, she said.

Indeed, the client-contractor relationship is a tricky one. Everyone has to do his or her part to ensure success.

 

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How Two Websites Turn Smiles Into Pageviews

Websites Turning Pageviews into SmilesYou own a business, website and/or blog, yet the adage “build it and they will come” does not always seem to apply. Indeed, driving uniques, repeat visits and page views is extremely challenging. Successful sites demonstrate that you can make it work by making people smile.

Feel-good viral sites Buzzfeed and Upworthy make it look easy. They have successfully figured out and applied the secret for creating and curating share-worthy content. In August, BuzzFeed reportedly received 85 million visitors to its website. Upworthy, with its 22 million monthly uniques, can’t go toe-to-toe with Buzzfeed, but the traffic it generates would make most site owners drool.

What are they doing right?

Both Buzzfeed and Upworthy are using a combination of heavy visuals, must-click headlines, need-to-read listicles, and stories that are touching or simply make people smile.

Why does it work?

There are a number of reasons why this content mix works. In short, images increase engagement, the right headline can make your content go viral, and lists are an easy sell for readers because they make “a very specific promise of what’s in store,” according to Copyblogger Founder Brian Clark.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, smiles turn into page views organically.

Need proof? Read three Buzzfeed stories and watch three videos on Upworthy. In all likelihood, you will smile several times while consuming this content. You will likely also feel compelled to act on the content–sharing it so that others can feel the joy, too.

After all, a smile is contagious, and, in our digital society, one endorphin high can be the catalyst to making 20 or–if you’re George Takei–20,000 people’s day.

What can businesses learn from this?

Your content should strive to make your customers happy–even if you’re not in the media and publishing business.

The easiest way to start is by talking like a real person–the era of artifically stiff business-speak is over. If your content makes your business easier to relate to, users are more likely to remember it. They are also more likely to share news about and content from your business with the people they know–potential new customers.

The authenticity may even make ‘em smile.

 

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Which designer and developer tools are better? Pencil Case knows

PencilCase AppFor designers and developers, their tools mean everything. Without the right software, apps, programs and websites could never be perfect.

Of course, to an artist and a coder, nothing is ever perfect, but the right tools may help make the job or project easier, helping creators to produce their best work possible.

Enter Pencil Case, which rates tools for designers and developers, so creatives and coders can “discover, collect and share” resources such as Dribbble, GitHub, InVision, and more.

A peek inside the beta

An email invite to the Pencil Case beta reads:

“Pencil Case is a free-to-use web-based app which aims to help designers and developers – just like you – ensure they’re always equipped with the best tools. Create lists (known as ‘pencil cases’) and save up to ten of your most valuable resources inside each one. We track how popular each resource is and display the results in a searchable chart, so everyone can see what’s popular and what’s new, and who’s using what. This helps you find the best tried-and-tested resources, determined by like-minded creatives, with a focus on quality over quantity.”

The web-based app currently hosts 523 resources, and it allows members to “suggest a resource” that isn’t yet listed.

Search “editing” and Pencil Case provides 23 results for tools under the slightly narrower category “image editing.” When ranked according to popularity (the number of times a resource appears in members’ pencil cases) we get:

  1. Adobe Photoshop
  2. Adobe Illustrator
  3. Sketch
  4. Pixelmator
  5. Adobe Fireworks
  6. Slicy
  7. Enigma64
  8. Pixel Dropr
  9. Retinize It
  10. Adobe InDesign

Click on any of the listed resources to expand, revealing a short summary of what it is and why it is awesome, Then jump to the product’s website, “view” what Pencil Case has to say about it and which members added it to their cases, or save it to your own case.

A better pencil case

This isn’t kindergarten anymore. And although the name evokes innocent memories of primary school, Pencil Case is no doubt a service for big kids.

In April, Pencil Case had nearly 500 members . As the community grows, the number of showcased resources will increase and the site’s rating quality will improve.

Although Pencil Case’s web-based app is a bit limited, Edward Williams, the site’s founder, assures users, “We’ll be constantly updating the website so visit regularly and follow @pencilcaseapp on Twitter for updates.”

Why care?

Designers and developers are often so overwhelmed with information and choice that it can be difficult to decide what tools to use for their next project.

Apps like Pencil Case will make it easier for creatives and programmers to discover the best tools on the web, so instead of spending egregious amounts of time finding and researching tools that will take your project to the next level, you may soon be able to identify the right programs that will help you build better.

Request an invite for the Pencil Case beta at its website. Or get direct access thanks to Erlibird.

 

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Forget waiting in actual lines. WaitAway will text you when your table is ready

WaitAway AppLike owners of other businesses, the biggest fear for restaurateurs is often the lack of customers. But being successful in getting people through the door can be a double-edged sword in the dining business. Having a line that extends from outside the front door to along the sidewalk and around the corner can be bad in the long run if diners realize the food was merely good, and not worth the two-hour wait a second time around.

But now there is a solution that won’t trap diners in crowded waiting areas, or confine them within 5 meters of the premises (how far do those blasted restaurant pagers allow you to wander anyways?), so you can go off and explore the neighborhood until your table is ready.

After requesting a table and giving your phone number to the host, WaitAway will text you immediately with an estimated wait time and once again when your table is ready.

My first encounter with the app was as a diner at the Meatball Shop in Greenwich Village, NYC. I arrived more than an hour early for the proposed dinner time because I was in the neighborhood earlier, running an errand.

“Danny, party of 4,” I told the hostess after asking how long the wait would be.

“75 minutes” is what I vaguely remember due to my awe and shock, realizing, What a coincidence! The rest of my party will arrive in about 60 minutes!

Almost immediately, I received a text confirming my reservation with a link that would allow me to check my wait status.

Drats! I’m one of the few iPhone users without a data plan. Let’s just hope the estimated wait time is accurate.

To my frustration, my guests arrived later than they quoted — but just in time. To my surprise, the table was ready almost at the exact time the hostess estimated (give or take a few minutes).

Oh, mystery software, how I love you.

At the time, I was unaware the program that pinged me with my wait information was the WaitAway app. But whatever it was, I was excited someone had come up with simple, user-friendly technology that let me avoid claustrophobic anxiety.

How do businesses benefit from this kind of software? Sarah Turcotte of FastCompany reports that after the Meatball Shop’s first month using WaitAway, walkaways decreased 30%.

This is absolutely a step up from range-restrictive pagers. Yet WaitAway is not alone in the space. BuzzTable and NoWait are two other businesses offering queue management software.

Mobile communications is exploding. Adopting mobile technology will be important for every business. Business with physical locations will soon have to figure out ways to leverage mobile tech to provide an exceptional customer experience. Otherwise they may be left biting the dust when competitors get ahead of the technological curve.

Programs such as WaitAway provide more convenience and transparency to increasingly demanding consumers, who offer their loyalty to businesses they love and trust.

What new tech are you using for your storefront location?

 

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Gibbon.co and the world of online learning

Gibbon.coThe problem with higher education isn’t just the high tuition fees or low job placement rates. Much of higher education is also marked by inflexibility; stubborn curricula limit the learning experience and prevent students from working at their own pace and from anywhere.

Luckily, there’s another way you can get a world-class education without having to step foot in a classroom ever again.

A new way to learn

Gibbon.co promises its social learning platform will be “the easiest way to get ridiculously smart.”

The site, currently in private beta, will allow users to “Create, share and follow Learning Flows, containing articles, books and videos.” Learning Flows are carefully curated resources that organize information already available on the web to provide a “clear path of what to learn.”

Ever do a Google search to try to learn something? In 0.47 seconds, Google identifies 57,600,000 results for the search term “Ajax programming.” Less than half a second is all it takes to source anything and everything there is to know about “Ajax programming.”

But where to start? And what type of human can afford the energy or time to read through the more than 57 million results? Without proper guidance, you’re better off paying an Ajax professional to fulfill all of your programming needs.

Learning Flows on Gibbon will “guide [users] to the best content available on the web to learn a specific topic.” This won’t be a dull classroom lecture. Discussions are encouraged and peers may offer help to each other.

Since Learning Flows will be user-generated, problems, propaganda and errors are sure to arise. Yet, there are more than enough honest experts and knowledgeable individuals out there who will create Learning Flows that make it really simple to gain the knowledge you want.

Welcome to the world of online learning

E-learning is booming. On the supply side, online learning upstarts such as Skillshare, Udemy, and Coursera are offering an incredibly wide range of courses for free, or for a small fee. Many higher education institutions are bringing courses online too. On the demand side, Coursera alone boasts more than 4.3 million “Courserians” on their homepage.

It is clear there is no shortage of expertise on the web and that many millions are eager-to-learn outside of the traditional classroom setting.

Entrepreneurs should be among the eager-to-learn, since building a business and managing it through different stages of growth requires a constantly evolving and improving skill set. If you run your own business, you — and your staff — should invest in education of some sort for personal and professional growth.

Fortunately, you won’t have to spend thousands of dollars — if you spend any money at all — for you and your team to learn the skills necessary to take your business to the next level.

Go on, start learning!

 

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3 Critical Pieces of Advice for Business Owners from Mixergy.com’s Founder, Andrew Warner

Mixergy - Advice for EntreprenuersFor Mixergy.com, Andrew Warner has conducted more than 900 interviews with business experts, founders, and executives. He has also worked with successful professionals to craft over 100 different courses that teach members proven methods for growing a business.

A talented interviewer, Warner extracts experiences and wisdom from interviewees who explain step-by-step how they grew their business and overcame obstacles, and what viewers can learn from those experiences.

Mozy once helped Warner recover his files when his Macbook Pro decided to retire itself, now Warner is returning the favor by sharing the three ways entrepreneurs and small business owners can build better businesses:

1. Become an interviewer

Warner’s interview with Heidi Roizen is the first thing he mentions. Roizen is a world-class example of a someone who knows how to network. And she attributes much of her success to her ability to build relationships.

At her first job, Roizen took it upon herself to edit the company newsletter.

Why?

Because it gave her access to the CEO, allowing her to build that relationship and consequently meet other important and influential people.

Warner says, “If you’re an interviewer, you can get in more doors than if you send a note saying, ‘I’d like to do a business deal with you.’ People sit down for interviews, and then naturally — it happens to me all the time — they will want to do business with you.”

As an interviewer, Warner built a relationship with Roizen. He has also established strong connections — even friendships — with the 900 other entrepreneurs, including me, who have sat down with him for an hour long conversation to share our experiences, expertise and mistakes with viewers.

You don’t have to edit a company newsletter like Roizen did, or conduct in-depth video interviews as Warner does. You can interview incredible people even as the author of a personal blog.

You will be surprised how many people will open up to you, and how those new connections will help you succeed.

2. Diffuse the “counter mind” and empower the “true mind”

Warner, like everyone, battles self-doubt.

“Anything that we do, that’s worthwhile. There’s a part of us that makes us doubt ourselves. So I might come here to do an interview with you, and in my head I’m thinking, What if I don’t have anything as interesting to say as Gary Vaynerchuk? What if I’m having an off day? What if I say something really stupid?

With so much emotional stress and hesitancy, how could anyone accomplish anything meaningful?

“The same thing happens when you read a book about sales. They’ll teach you exactly what to say. They’ll give you the scripts. They’ll show you the process, and then, you’re supposed to pick up the phone and you won’t even do it.”

Warner calls this paralyzing mentality the counter mind. Conversely, there is the true mind, which requires we give it more head space so we can be ourselves.

“If you can diffuse [the counter mind] and bring out the true mind, then you can walk into a conversation and people can pick up on the fact that you’re comfortable. You can learn how to do something and actually go and do it because you’re excited about the rewards of it.”

3. Systematize workloads

Small businesses often struggle to grow. Sometimes, that is because a business is limited by what its owners are capable of.

“We founders tend to do everything. It’s our companies and we’re really good at doing everything and so we end up doing it all. And then we get overwhelmed, and we hire someone and we say, ‘You, do this. Solve this problem for me.’ And they can’t do it right, and so we take it back on our shoulders.”

In the early stages of Mixergy, Warner believed he couldn’t possibly delegate the tasks of pre-interviewing entrepreneurs, editing the videos and managing the business’ finances. So he assumed those responsibilities, overwhelming himself, only to realize that it was he who limited the firm’s potential.

Warner decided to finally hire a professional video editor, but the relationship didn’t work out. Warner confirmed his suspicion that he was the only one capable of running and supporting his company, and so he video edited once again.

Yet, it wasn’t that Warner was the only qualified person to do the job.

“The mistake I made was: I didn’t explain to whomever I was hiring how to do the job right. I didn’t systematize my job so that anyone else can do it.”

Warner, remembering his interview with Derek Sivers, concluded owners should: “[observe] how you do something, tell everyone else how you do it, and then let them do it that way.” He created Mixergy’s “manual,” a step-by-step guide for how to do the different jobs.

And he has been successful in growing the company.

“I gave [the manual] to our [video] editor, and now the editor is better than I am because in addition to doing what I do, he’s improved the job. But at least he started by editing the way I do it.”

Warner no longer has to be Mixergy’s sole work hero. The company has grown to nine people. With eight other capable team members, maintaining and updating the “manual” is more important than ever.

“Here, if someone can’t make it, if someone wants to take a vacation, the manual is there. The next person can pick up their job and do it.”

 

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What’s it like inside the highly selective, invite-only Young Entrepreneur Council?

Young Entreprenuer Council LogoThe exclusive founders-only club is not shy about naming names.

A quick scroll through its member directory shows that Joe Fernandez (Klout), Jennifer Fleiss (Rent the Runway), Adam Goldstein (Hipmunk), Jake Nickell (Threadless), Neil Patel (KISSmetrics), Shane Snow (Contently), and Slava Rubin (Indiegogo) are all part of the family.

To date, the Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) has received more than 14,000 applications to join the group. Yet fewer than a thousand people can proudly carry the YEC member label. [Full disclosure: I joined the YEC, as the co-founder of Blank Label, more than two years ago.]

It was never about recruiting big names or keeping numbers artificially low for vanity’s sake though.

Scott Gerber, Founder of the YEC, envisioned an organization, created by entrepreneurs for entrepreneurs, that provided founders with the resources and tools they needed to keep growing. And that meant only accepting more candidates when the YEC staff was capable of providing more members with a wide variety of services such as virtual and in-person networking, online forums, VIP access to events, PR opportunities, exclusive discounts on business products and services, and an outlet to “give back” as a #StartupLab mentor.

The YEC in action

Much of the value from organizations such as the YEC comes from networking. If you’re looking to expand your network, someone will put you in touch with relevant contacts. For example, I met Matt Wilson, co-founder of Under30Media, through YEC in New York and got access to the launch party for Under30Experiences, a new kind of travel company. If you have specific problems, the group can direct you to someone who has been-there-and-done-that and may even have a foolproof “how-to” manual for resolving the issue.

YEC also provides its members access. The organization has brought members into highly exclusive events including one at the White House. The YEC also hosts private lunches and dinners with angel investors, venture capitalists and government officials.

It all comes from the comfort and support intrinsic in knowing you are not alone. Gerber says, “you don’t have to go search for yourself, and not really know where to start. You can rely on us not just to find who would be right for you, but also make warm introductions on your behalf. So ultimately we turn you into a superconnector without having to put all of the time and effort, and frankly, trust for every person that you’re meeting because we as the intermediary have done all of the work for you by vetting the community.”

Increasing value to members

Gerber discloses that the YEC is preparing to offer more back office services. He says that the group is about to launch national healthcare, with bookkeeping and accounting will soon be available too.

“Our goal is to also help our members to save money [and] to have the most efficient services possible to support their businesses.”

If time and money are the two most limited resources founders have, the YEC looks to help save its members both.

Although the YEC does not publicly state how much annual member dues are, Gerber is confident the fees are fair, given the services the YEC offers. In my experience, I’d agree. Most small business owners could easily afford the cost, and they would be able to justify it because of the value they get in return.

“At the end of the day, we are building a brand for the long run,” says Gerber. “With one core goal always remaining constant, and that is to help entrepreneurs worldwide and empower them in a variety of different ways.”

Alternative organizations

I love the YEC, but I am biased.

There are several other organizations business people can join that offer similar value. These include Sandbox, Young Presidents’ Organization, Entrepreneurs’ Organization, and Founders Card. Each has its own advantages, but I can’t speak to personal experience.

The point is: Whether you’re a founder, executive or manager, you should know that you don’t have to run your business alone. There’s a community somewhere with entrepreneurs who may happily extend a helping hand.

 

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Make email social with smail.fm

When Google recently rolled out new updates for Gmail, users were very vocal.

Some hated them. Some love them. Some decided to poke fun.

Of course, there was a time when email wasn’t so controversial. When it was introduced, email revolutionized how we interact. Now it doesn’t impress us with the speed of communication. Now it’s a source of stress.

The Berlin-based developer AppGestalt is hoping to make email social (again) with its smail.fm project. AppGestalt describes smail.fm as “a fun and easy way to talk to your friends with all the advantages of email like forwarding and threading.” While the project is still in pre-beta, the smail.fm homepage prominently features a screenshot of what future users might expect.

Snail.Fm

With the smail.fm client, you can compose a message, search your archives, and read messages that are organized by contact and aggregated in a clean, IM-like form. Correspondence with a certain individual is presented in a thread that displays all the messages you’ve received and sent, with the most recent messages appearing above the fold. The thread also identifies who said what and when the message was sent.

The beauty of this is that emails from an individual you care about no longer get lost in the mess that is your inbox, because you can say goodbye to easily misplaced single messages. Every message your best friend Jacob ever sent you, and every reply you sent, will be right there when you open up your correspondence with him.

smail.fm’s email threads will be particularly useful to busy professionals who won’t have to cross their fingers hoping their current email solution’s search function will, without fail, pull up the emails they are desperately looking for.

Email users should be excited for projects like smail.fm that propose a new method of communication that organizes messages around the people in your network.

Sign up for early beta access with smail.fm at its website.

 

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Unlock the potential of incentives with Kiip

Kiip RewardsPeople love free stuff. Giveaways, samples, kitschy mugs and t-shirts, you name it.

But free is easily abused and quickly forgotten.

When customers get something for free, they often fail to appreciate the value they are getting. So, how can businesses get more for their marketing dollars?

Make customers ‘earn it.’

Kiip allows mobile app developers and brands to reward users for accomplishments they make. The company’s tagline, “every achievement deserves a reward,” underscores its approach.

“For us, it’s all about the timing. Kiip allows your brand to reach users during achievements — these moments of elation, either with real, tangible rewards or gifts of virtual currency.”

What’s better than completing level 25 after two hours of frustration? Getting a nice reward for doing so.

Users no longer take your offers for granted and feel more brand loyalty because they earned it. Big brands such as McDonald’s, Amazon, Pepsi, 7-Eleven, and Sony Music use the platform to offer promotions.

And it’s not just for brands and games. Kiip’s rewards platform has been used by the productivity app Any.Do and for the fitness app SoFit as well as others.

Demonstrating impact on mobile marketing

Kiip is designed to support marketers’ efforts in creating an emotional connection with brands and increase customer engagement. The company claims in a press release that businesses joining the network have initial engagement rates of 15 percent, compared to the industry average 0.4 percent click-through rate.

While the company is still in its infancy, it has already garnered its share of plaudits. Business Insider has gone as far as saying “[Kiip's CEO] may have cracked the future of mobile advertising.”

Learn more about Kiip for businesses here.

 

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