On Increased Entry Costs In The Progressive Blogosphere

In my post yesterday about changing dynamics in the progressive, political blogosphere, there were quite a few excellent comments. Two that really caught my eye were by Jeffrey Feldman and a response to Feldman by andy k. First, here is Feldman's comment:
I think what you're describing is the transition from an open to a competitive market dynamic. Price of entry is now high enough that solo bloggers are not quite making it in, and established bloggers are innovating to retain their share.
I think this is exactly right. When the progressive, political blogosphere began, it was structured in pretty much the same fashion as the conservative political blogosphere. Almost every single major progressive blog was founded and operated by a single individual. However, starting in late 2003 with the introduction of a scoop platform to Dailykos, a process began where highly trafficked, highly linked progressive blogs continued to innovate far beyond the structure of a single blogger serving as the sole, mainly punditry oriented, content provider. Virtually everyone supplemented their writing staffs with guest bloggers, or even new, full-time bloggers. Virtually everyone started moderating their comments or requiring registration in order to post. Many blogs became community sites, with greatly enhanced user-generated content. Video, radio and other forms of multimedia became the norm. Many websites enhanced their political capability by starting Act Blue pages, founding PACs, or starting nationwide activist campaigns. Investigative journalism and live, on the ground reports from important events became commonplace. People scored interviews with, or even blog posts by, major figures in the progressive ecosystem and Democratic leadership. Bloggers themselves started appearing in a variety of high visibility media locations, including hosting radio programs, television interviews, meeting with former Presidents, and speaking before major conferences. Revenue streams were added, from Blogads, to Feedburner, to fundraisers, to consulting gigs, to sponsorships. Many are even publishing books. Now, more than three years later, it has come to the point where the early structure of the progressive political blogosphere has been almost entirely done away with. The days of the major, solo content generator, pundit blogger are all but over.

The blogosphere may have started as a new form of individual punditry, but at its elite levels, the progressive blogosphere has now moved beyond that. Take a quick look at the structure of the new progressive blogosphere elite, and consider how difficult it is for a new blog to break into this group (or even to maintain its place within the group):
  • The Huffington Post: A mega-blog with dozens of writers, many of whom are drawn from the highest levels of the progressive advocacy system, Democratic consultant class, and Congressional leadership. It can score virtually any interview it wants, has numerous live blogging features from important events, and even has potential funding from large donors.
  • Dailykos: The ultimate community blog, with 120,000 registered users and nearly a dozen regular front-page writers. It produces over 500,000 new words of content every day, on virtually every topic in politics, and has attracted writing from virtually the entire Democratic leadership. .
  • Raw Story: A significant outpost of investigative journalism and newswire consolidation. It has multiple staff writers and regular original stories..
  • Talking Points Memo, including TPM Café and TPMMuckraker. The first major progressive blog has now added a community oriented website with regular, high-profile guest bloggers and loads of original, investigative reporting.
  • The Demcoratic Underground blog, which just happens to be attached to the largest online progressive community as all (twice as large as Dailykos, by some measurements).
  • Crooks and Liars. A major blog with several front page writers. It has connections to Blue America PAC, and is by far the best filter for progressive news video to be found anywhere on the internet. The video is culled from hundreds of hours of DVR recordings taken every single day.
  • Think Progress. The extremely well-funded and staffed blog of the extremely well-funded and staffed Center for American Progress. Much of their unmatched rapid-response, original video and research is produced by paid staff.
  • Alternet Blogs are attached to now-established news organization Alternet. Original video, orginal reporting, investigative journalism, analysis driven punditry--you name it, you can find it here.
  • Firedoglake boasts perhaps the tightest community of commenters in the blogosphere, is the main outlet for Blue America PAC, has been at the forefront of investigations into, and coverage of, the Plame affair, features huge amounts of video and pictures, actually moved to Connecticut for the Senate primary last year, and has several, major front-page writers.
  • Americablog, which rose dramatically in national prominence by exposing Jeff Gannon, is a group blog that is often called the most effective GLBT activist outlet in the entire country. Of course, that isn't all it does.
  • Eschaton, is one of the last, top-tier, solo-content provider independent blogs around. Atrios has somehow managed to put up twelve posts a day, every day, for five years. A superhuman effort few can match.
  • Unclaimed Territroy. Another solo-content blog that relies on several, long posts every day from Glenn Greenwald. Again, a supherhuman effort. This is a theme among the remaining solo-conent provider blogs--the individual provider must produce almost un-imaginable amounts of new content every day.
  • The Agonist: A major community blog featuring newswires, multiple front page writers, and significant user generated content.
  • Hullaballo: A similar structure to Unclaimed Territory (although it came before Unclaimed Territory). Digby is by far the main content provider, but of late has taken on weekend and occasional help. As with Atrios and Glenn Greenwald, check out how much digby writes to get an idea of what it takes to be an elite, solo-blogger these days.
  • Political Animal (Washington Monthly) and Tapped (the Americna Prospect) are major blogs produced by major national periodicals. This alone gives them access to writers, research, and journalistic resources that are difficult for independent bloggers to match.
  • MyDD, if I may be so bold, to include us in this list (our incoming links on Technorati would put us in this group). We have long engaged in a variety of high profile activist projects and on the ground reporting. We also provide infrastructure and election analysis that goes well beyond what you will even find in established, national news outlets.
There are several more impressive, nationally oriented blogs that I did not list due to space constraints: BooMan Tribune, Feministing, Informed Comment, Talk Left, The News Blog, Pandagon, Mathew Ygelsias, etc. However, I believe the point has been made. The current requirements to becoming a top progressive blog are far in excess of what they were just three or four years ago. Except for those rare individuals who can produce a seemingly inexhaustible amount of content such as digby, Atrios, and Glenn Greenwald, it has become all but impossible for a single individual to rise to the top anymore. The solo-content provider model is dying off. The new model demands highly successful progressive blogs to virtually become media and advocacy organizations in their own right. It is, as Feldman noted, a situation where continuing innovation by players in an open market forced a competitive market dynamic.

To get an idea of just how much more competitive it has gotten, take the example of MyDD. In order to only marginally improve our market share since August 2005, we have done the following: hired Matt and Jonathan, added Breaking Blue, changed the site layout, incorporated an advanced content tagging system, conducted several national activist campaigns, commissioned three original polls, conducted a huge amount of on the ground reporting from over a dozen major events around the country, produced exceptional electoral forecasts, built the Liberal Blog Advertising Network, published scores of high profile interviews, revamped BlogPac, and agreed to God knows how many interviews with outside news sources. And oh yeah, we did some good blogging too, almost doubling our average daily amount of new content. That allowed our traffic and incoming links to increase by about 20-40%. By comparison, in the sixteen months from April 2004 to July 2005, we did not conduct nearly as much original work, and our traffic and inbound links increased by about 1200%. Within the national blogosphere, the market dynamic has changed dramatically, and the entry barrier to the "top-tier" has become far more difficult to break through.

This brings me to the second comment I noted in the thread, written by Andy X:
However, in many States, the local market is still very open for new voices, especially in states that still do not have well known statewide scoop blogs.

In Maryland, we still organize using leftyblogs and Blognetnews, because most of use have our own personal blogs. As long as new voices and bloggers in Maryland join leftyblogs, there is a good chance they will get regular traffic.

There has been some recent talk about trying to set up a scoop based blog for the Free State, but the only issue is that many of us Democrats in Maryland get along well with our right-wing counterparts and tend to be more moderate.

I am surprised then, that the blogosphere may be reaching some sort of apex, because in Maryland there is a lot of room to grow.
And that set off a lightbulb in my head to finally explain the rise of local blogging. The entry barrier for successful local blogging just isn't as high as the entry barrier for national blogging. Because it is somewhat less developed, the market for local blogging is much more open. People can still run their personal websites and be groundbreaking in a local area. Even now, sometimes just starting even one blog on local politics in your area can make you a trailblazer. Of course,e ven that is changing, as local blogs are rapidly maturing and expanding all over the country (and BlogPac is helping them on that path). It may be more open now, but it also might not be long before many local blogospheres reach level of development as the national blogosphere has currently reached.

Finally, I think this also helps explain the explosion of social networking sites, and the Obama Facebook phenomenon. They just have lower barriers to entry, and a less competitive market dynamic for their users. While blogging used to be the lowest cost means of democratizing political content generation, it isn't anymore. A MySpace page or a Facebook profile is easier than even a blog was four years ago. Higher entry costs in the blogosphere could very well be shifting large numbers of new participants to even more democratic forms of content generation. It remains to be seen what impact this will have upon the blogosphere, the netroots, and upon politics itself. It is very possible that the blogosphere will either collapse due to a lack of funding, or develop into a new form of establishment elite.

This all quite dizzying to think about, but after my post on the professionalization of the netroots, and on stagnating political blogosphere traffic, at least now I finally have a hypothesis. Thank you for your comments, because they really pushed this discussion forward. Also, isn't it impressive to see all of those blogs / websites listed together? New progressive media has emerged as an extremely flexible, innovative, and powerful political force.

Tags: Blogosphere, Media, meta (all tags)

Comments

28 Comments

Insider/outsider mentality

The other thing to consider is how easy/hard it is to attract new non-blog readers to top blogs. If new readers read Kos for the first time and think find it inaccessible, then it may get harder to attract those who are less intravenously connected to politics.

by niq 2007-02-06 09:45AM | 0 recs
Re: Insider/outsider mentality
there is no advertising / marketing budget. that is certainly a major problem, related to our other financial difficulties.
by Chris Bowers 2007-02-06 11:30AM | 0 recs
good point

Three years ago, we were all beginners, so those unfamiliar with blogs could go to dailykos and chat with a bunch of other people unfamiliar with blogs. But now, the blogospheric readership is rather expert at the ways of the blogs, the CW, the taboos, etc. That may be driving some of the "plateau" factor.

I wish I knew how we could establish a "beginner's blog" to keep bringing in new political junkies-to-be.

by msnook 2007-02-06 12:19PM | 0 recs
Re: Insider/outsider mentality

If you email two friends a day from a site with a story of interest to them, and they follow the link to the story, have you created two new readers for that site?  I don't know for sure, but have been trying that method to get progressive friends who are not early adopters to check out the top blogs.

by Youffraita 2007-02-06 02:03PM | 0 recs
useful thought

a couple things to note:

the word blog is thrown around like crazy.  in reality its a type of web format.  using the word blog is as general as the word magazine.  many of the sites you have mentioned have changed their format that supercedes "blogs".i think a better title for many of the sites would be independent news media.  it allows much greater bounderies and doesnt limit to peoples immaginations.  not all the sites that you mentioned have the same thing.  some are commentary, some are watchdogs, some are information.  these should be more defined if these sites are going to expand to a wider market, which would create people to give it a chance. (and stop the bill o'reilly's of the world from using one word to define everyone).  

ive always made the argument that the online political community has sent fear in the eyes of the newspapers/TV/radio.  that is why their commentator's always try and belittle blogs.  To me, this is just the case of the free market in full effect.  

in addition, i would make the argument that its not that difficult to start a blog as a single user.  huffpost and dailykos reach multi-millions but they didnt at the start.  people could work to match kos at his early years.  that is true independence.  if the site is new, independent, and quality, it has the chance to expand.

by asdf 2007-02-06 09:58AM | 0 recs
Re: useful thought
Yes, many have moved past what would be defined as a blog. In fact, the original definition of a blog was probably close to a single, independent content generator solely operating a free website with original posts and time stamps. The more these websites change, the more they leave the definition of a blog altogether--or at least make the term far less useful.
by Chris Bowers 2007-02-06 11:31AM | 0 recs
Re: On Increased Entry Costs In The Progressive Bl

I mentioned leftyblogs in my comment, and they really do play a huge part in my own (and most likely many others) consumption of local blogs in Maryland.  They are the "tie that binds" so to speak.  If blogpac finds that they have some extra cash lying around, leftyblogs would be a great organization to give to.

One thing that could lead to greater readership among local bloggers, as well as increase the possibility for new solo bloggers to reach national prominence, would be a leftyblogs type utility based around specific issues or regions.  

by andy k 2007-02-06 10:30AM | 0 recs
Re: On Increased Entry Costs In The Progressive Bl
we will certainly consider that!
by Chris Bowers 2007-02-06 11:31AM | 0 recs
Re: On Increased Entry Costs In The Progressive Bl

One of VA's blog-innovators, Waldo Jaquith, started up a blog aggregator, to put every single VA political blog on one page. It's an excellent resource and a good way for new blogs to get traffic.

by msnook 2007-02-06 12:27PM | 0 recs
the long tail

Several thoughts on this:

The barrier to entry for reading blogs is also higher now than before, for exactly teh same reasons of fantastic growth. With respect to the list of major blogs, remember that not everyone reads all of them. I probably only have time to read four of those on any regular basis (WM, myDD, DKos, and Atrios). Even then that consumes a significant amount of time, especially Dailykos which really is a blogsphere unto itself.

Ultimately you are describing a classic Zipfian distribution where the top tier blogs command orders of magnitude more traffic than the next ones, but the small fry taken as an aggregate probably have equivalent traffic.

The comparison to Facebook etc is misleading because these are blogging platforms/metablogs akin to Dailykos. There are numerous tools like tagging and del.icio.us and wordpress plugins that tie together blogs on diverse platforms from Blogspot to Wordpress.com to Typepad, but as far as I am aware penetration of these cross-platform linkages (again, horizontal connections!) is not as deep on the social networking sites as they are on the freeblog platforms. That's because those sites derive their revenue from building links within their communities, creating walled gardens. I'd argue that a political blog can have more impact and more potential for influence/growth outside those gardens than inside them. Sure, the social networking sites have lower barriers to entry, but they have higher barriers to exit.

Local blogging is indeed where the growth is, but the entire problem scales. Fast forward ten years and there will be a network of local blogs at gigantic traffic levels, but these too will be reaching a plateau. Where does growth come from then? Looking to local blogs to supply indefinite growth is like building more highways to reduce traffic or buying more hard disk space for file storage; eventually excess capacity becomes used up. What's needed is for the big blogs to harness the eneregy of their communities outwards, beyond the blogsphere. That's why myDD is probably the single most important blog in the libsphere because its pioneered this outward-focus the most.  However at some point the boggest blogs can't do what myDD does because they are simply too big.

What we need then is to encouurage local blogs, but not with an eye towards becoming the next WashingtonMOnthly or TPM, but rather the next myDD. The innovations here need to be commoditzied, and distributed, and seeds of the same need to be planted in every state.

There really is a revolution underway. But we can't be seduced by traffic alone as a measure of success. a better measure might be Edwards and Iran.

by azizhp 2007-02-06 10:31AM | 0 recs
Re: the long tail
Actually, I'm pretty sure that the 50,000 lowest trafficked progressive blogs, if there are that many still active, have even half of the traffic of these fifteen or twenty blogs combined.

I'm not sure what you mean by the Edwards and Iran measuring sticks.
by Chris Bowers 2007-02-06 11:27AM | 0 recs
Re: On Increased Entry Costs In

One thing i think is interesting to note is that there are some niche areas that the progressive blogosphere does not fill.  For example, two Democratic constituencies (women and glbt) are represented in the list above. But what about other core Dem constituencies, such as African Americans and Labor? Part of the problem on the former is the low number of minorities currently participating in the blogosphere. But Labor? I realize that many blogs cover race and labor issues, and all the blogs cover these issues to some extent or another, but as far as specialization goes, there is some room for a few niche blogs to make some headway, I think, in the same way that AmericaBlog has for GLBT issues and FireDogLake has for women's issues. FireDogLake also has a lot of pro-labor content, so perhaps that's being covered even though that isn't a particular focus.  Also, Steve Gillard is pretty well-known on the minority side, but I would call him a major blog in the same sense that the other niche-community blogs are.

Also, I think that part of the blogosphere stagnation problem (and the minority participation problem) relates to internet access. States with less access are less likely to have a well-developed blogosphere. Also, though the internet is becoming more universal, I'd stop short of saying that EVERYONE has internet access. This also puts a limit on possible traffic, which will always be a crosssection of total internet users. It may be that given the current pool of users, the progressive blogosphere has reached a "saturation level". Encouraging universal (or at least increased) access would certainly help the progressive blogosphere's traffic, bottom line, and diversity composition since it would increase the pool of total users.  

by AmericanJedi 2007-02-06 10:42AM | 0 recs
Re: On Increased Entry Costs In
It isn't the "digital divide." Online political activists and those who generate political content online are just as diverse as the rest of the population. This is a problem specific to blogs.

I don't think the solution will be to simply create niche blogs for every group, thus resulting in demographic ghettos. There needs to be national blogs focusing on a range of topics where everyone feels comfortable.
by Chris Bowers 2007-02-06 11:29AM | 0 recs
Re: On Increased Entry Costs In

I kind of agree with the issue of access that you mention.  Or perhaps it's not necessarily access, but rather a seeming lack of knowledge in some places of how to embrace, organize, or become a part of an online community.  Since becoming more of a blog participator myself, I have tried to find out from time to time the status of the blogging community in my home state of Missouri.  While there are definitely blogs there (even some liberal ones!), they mostly subscribe to the single-user model.  With the exception of Fired Up Missouri, it seems to me that there is very little statewide organization of grassroots and progressive resources.  Of course, this probably reflects on the strength and level of organization of progressive resources in the state as a whole.  It's a bit hard to tell, since I don't live there any more, but it seems that the "real life" contingent of progressive organizing must be in place before the online one can hope to gain a hold.  

by JonesingforaDem 2007-02-06 02:05PM | 0 recs
Re: On Increased Entry Costs In The Progressive Bl

I'd like to see more issue focused blogs.

by Matt Stoller 2007-02-06 12:22PM | 0 recs
Re: On Increased Entry Costs In The Progressive Bl

I think there are lots of issue focused blogs out there, but I wonder how much they get read and linked by the dominant players in the national progressive blogosphere.  

The issues I am most familiar with relate to science policy and global warming, and there are plenty of blogs out there dealing with these issues in a variety of contexts: RealClimate, Chris Mooney's blog and Pharyngula for evolution/intelligent design issues are the ones I read most often.  Also, for example, Bruce Schneier has a blog dealing with security related issues that covers a lot of policy, and then there are people like Juan Cole and Daniel Drezner that are academic foreign policy blogs.  And that is just the issues I follow most carefully.  I have no reason to believe that there aren't specialized blogospheres dealing with other policy issues.

by TimSackton 2007-02-06 01:14PM | 0 recs
When does innovation=mergers and consolidation

Also, isn't it impressive to see all of those blogs / websites listed together? New progressive media has emerged as an extremely flexible, innovative, and powerful political force.

At some point it starts to make business sense to merge blogs together to bring more eyeballs, thereby bringing more ad revenue.
For example, tomorrow Glenn Greenwald moves to Salon. In the short term, this is good for both of them. When Glenn announced this, a fair number of his commenters said they would now subscribe to Salon. Likewise, Glenn is going to get alot of new readers from Salon.
But somewhere down the line does it mean that all blogs/websites gobble each other up and turn into a festering crusty oligarchy of progressive mainstream (a "mature market")? Probably.
And do individual bloggers turn all careerist and mercenary with an eye to their future place in the constellation of oligarchs? Yuck.

by johnalive 2007-02-06 12:52PM | 0 recs
Re: When does innovation=mergers and consolidation

i agree that will happen.  i think new blogs will fill the shoes of the first progressive blogs though.  its a cycle, but in the case of the internet, its a pretty level playing field.  people can't compete without money on TV/Newspapers/Radio, But if the message gets diluted on the internet, the reason people go to see won't be there anymore.  On the good side, There needs to be more progressive voices in the MSM so maybe our news merging with the other news could be good (with newer independent progressive blogs pushing everyone in the correct direction)

by asdf 2007-02-06 02:12PM | 0 recs
Not just local blogs

I don't think it is just local blogs where there is still room for growth.  There are a number of specialized blog markets, which touch more or less on progressive politics.  For example, I read a lot of academic and science bloggers.  There, while there are some groups sites (i.e., Crooked Timber, RealClimate), the dominant model is still single owner blogs (i.e., Pharyngula, Bitch PhD, etc).  The overall audience for academic blogs is surely much smaller than the overall audience for national progressive blogs.  But that I think lowers the barriers to entry, in the same way that local blogging, by targeting a more focused audience does.  

by TimSackton 2007-02-06 01:08PM | 0 recs
Re: On Increased Entry Costs In The Blogosphere
Just an observation.  I'm fairly new to the blogosphere.  The larger sites mention the term community but it doesn't feel that way.  Very few of those leaving comments take the time to communicate with each other.  The older established bloggers are closing ranks and that's a shame since we liberals already have enough of that to contend with in the MSM.
And, who knows what great voice is being silenced by this move.
by Deb 2007-02-06 01:19PM | 0 recs
Re: On Increased Entry Costs In The Blogosphere
You are new to this, but you claim to have some insider scoop that older established bloggers are somehow closing ranks?

That would be news to me.
by Chris Bowers 2007-02-06 01:24PM | 0 recs
Re: On Increased Entry Costs In The Blogosphere

You need to tell us which blogs you're talking about. Which larger sites mention "community but it doesn't feel that way"?

I find this particularly ironic because there has been dismayed commentary on Glenn's move to salon as damaging that community. Glenn has assured his commenters that that won't happen.

by jayackroyd 2007-02-06 02:06PM | 0 recs
If I were Kevin Drum

I'd be a little ticked off. Otherwise this is a good summary.

No dis to Duncan, but what he does is quite different from Digby and Glenn.

I do believe that if a single person blog showed up with quality and quantity at the level of Glenn and Digby, it would soon be recognized.

High bar, though.

by jayackroyd 2007-02-06 02:00PM | 0 recs
Entry costs?

I'm not at all clear on what you're calling "entry costs", Chris.   Someone wants a liberal blog?  They need a net connection, a couple of hours to learn the software/service, and a basic grasp of the language.  That's it.  Same as it's been since I set up my first mostly-daily commentary site in 1997.

Or are you talking about a financially self sustaining blog?  I can't really tell, from your examples.  Some of them obviously do just fine, economically, but there are a few that I can't imagine come close to supporting their authors.  I would definitely agree that that's pretty difficult to pull off, but I'm not sure that the entry costs constitute the majority of that barrier.

Or is it simply enough traffic to call yourself a big kid on the block?  If that's it, well, I can sort of understand the claim, but you've got a pretty good counter example to your argument (as I understand it) right there - Glenn Greenwald.  He came out of nowhere, and on the strength of his writing alone, vaulted to the top of the liberal blogosphere (it sure as hell wasn't his site design or fantastic ads . . .).

I guess I'm just trying to understand what the point is.  Is it hard to make a living off a blog?  Hell yeah, but I'm not sure it's any harder now than it used to be.  You've got a much much larger pool of willing advertisers now than you used to have, a much bigger audience, and you don't have to explain what a blog is every time you make a sales pitch.  Picture that three or four years ago.

But if you just want to join the conversation?  Stir a little bit here and there?  It's easy as it's always been.  

by Blacknell 2007-02-06 03:16PM | 0 recs
Alas

And here I've been toiling away at my modest blog never realizing that it is all for nought!

by jonswift 2007-02-06 08:54PM | 0 recs
Re: On Increased Entry Costs In The Progressive Bl

as more folks start to use feed readers (aggregators, a la Google Reader), it'll become less necessary for Atrios and other solo bloggers to post so frequently.

by shmooth 2007-02-06 09:08PM | 0 recs
Re: On Increased Entry Costs

But you won't take any ideas on how to build an infrastructure that makes sure we continue to have a lot of diverse progressive voices, Chris.  You and Matt keep posting these laments, and then you ignore people who have ideas to change the situation

Carolyn Kay
MakeThemAccountable.com

by Caro 2007-02-07 05:49AM | 0 recs
Re: On Increased Entry Costs

BlahBlahBlah.  Buncha nonsense.  Read one A list blog and you've read them all.  Same takes on the same topics utilizing vaguely dissimilar phraseology.  Ho-hum.  

Read 12 little bloggers and hear 12 vastly different viewpoints on a wide variety of topics.

Go ahead, A listers.  Continue your incest and heads up one anothers assholes mindsets.  You've pissed off a world of bloggers who are removing links to your "big" blogs en masse and are refusing to emmbed links even in reference.  We'll just type in your address if we even bother to take note of you.  Then we'll see how far your takes on matters will travel.  You might get mentioned on CNN and continue your journey toward membership in the MSM you so ironically profane.  Big deal.  Study after study has been done showing how info travels across the blogosphere, and without little bloggers, your stories will become more and more insular.

You think you can attempt to disembowel little bloggers wholesale, negatively affecting their income by lowering their ratings and readership without a backlash?  A backlash that will, ultimately, do you far more harm than any you attempt to inflict, because we will be linking to one another across a broad spectrum, while your A Listers readership will become more and more static.

Way to go, dumbass.

by theanalyst 2007-02-10 04:31AM | 0 recs

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