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Computer gaming companies are choosing IBM over Amazon


A few weeks ago I mentioned on the first day of IBM Connect conference that it is clear now beyond any doubt that computing power is becoming the next utility like electricity, phone, water, and cable TV.  I predict that there will come a day in the very near future when few companies will still have their own physical data center.

This article at thestreet.com is more proof of that as the gaming industry is the first to make this move.  But even more interesting is that IBM, not Amazon, Google or Microsoft, is leading this trend.  This adds even more credibility to IBM SmartCloud for Social Business and why I see it eclipsing Microsoft Office 365 and Google Apps in the coming years as businesses of all sizes seek more business-directed solutions than what those consumer-focused, consumer-driven businesses (Amazon, Google, and Microsoft) can provide.

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How IBM is raising the stakes with Social Business right in Microsoft’s back yard.


IBM is coming to Seattle to talk about Social Business!
See the event schedule. The event is March 5.

Did I have anything to do with this?  Not that I’m aware of.  But I am glad to see IBM finally recognize the Seattle area market is tired of having no options besides Microsoft to choose from.  Like everywhere else, businesses here like innovation and they like competition.

So from the makers of Watson, the computer that beat the champions on Jeopardy! and the perennial leader in new patents awarded, comes the innovation of Social Business.  This is a game changer in business communications technology much like email, Instant Messaging and Web Conferencing have been.  IBM has the first and only legitimate offering in this new market.  IBM recognizes their leadership in this market and is making it a point to let the world know:
– What is Social Business
– How businesses are using social technologies to drive business value: reduce costs, accelerate communications, increase collaboration inside and outside the organization
– A path for integrating Social Business into your existing systems, regardless of what brand it is and regardless of the size of your company.

Did I mention IBM is doing this in only 3 locations in the United States and one of those places is Seattle, Washington?
If you work with a team or company of more than about 5 people, it is worth your time to see what they are doing.
Read more about what will be presented.
This will also be an opportunity to network with peers and discuss with others how Social Business has transformed their companies.  The ROI comes quickly and the metrics are compelling.  If you can’t attend in person you will miss out on the networking with everyone else, but they also have a session available online.  Be sure to register.

SmartCloud leads IBM to dethrone Microsoft on CNN’s “Four Horsemen of Tech” list


The times, they are a’changin’!  In the shifting sands of technology, IBM is proving to be the Rock of Gibraltar.

CNN Money just conducted their annual survey of technology and investment experts to determine which 4 technology companies are the best investments in the industry.  Apple, Amazon, Google, and IBM are what they describe as “The Four Horsemen of Tech”.

Microsoft and Dell are no longer on that list.  And as recently as 2 years ago Research in Motion might have been expected on that list.  The CNN article describes the changing of the guard is due to the shift from PCs to mobile and cloud solutions.  I think it goes deeper than that.

Apple, Amazon, and Google are all following the same track that led Microsoft to its fame and glory days by riding the fast-but-fickle success opportunities provided by the consumer market.  They are simply the latest fashion trends.    In this list of top performers, IBM is the dark horse, being the only one not involved in consumer products whatsoever.  They also just celebrated their 101st birthday this year.  Coincidence?  I don’t think so.

Rides on the consumer wave are relatively short.  Google is 16 years old, Amazon is 18 and Apple is 36, though Apple’s great surge came in the last 6 years starting with the introduction of iOS.  For reference, RIM and Dell are 28 years old  and Microsoft is 37 and they are already declining.  They too, based their success heavily on consumer products and are now feeling the consequences.  Yes, RIM’s BlackBerry is intended to be a business tool, but it is a consumer device first and foremost.  It is considered even more personal than a personal computer (PC).  One might argue that Microsoft also makes software for business, but their primary focus has always been on consumers and their foray into the business product market has depended on consumer-driven brand recognition.  Also, because many of their products service both business and consumer needs, they are driven by consumer markets.  (See RIM.)

Similarly, the focus that led 3 of the current Four Horsemen to their place in the lineup has a consumer emphasis: mobile devices and advertising.  Apple’s iPhone and iPad redefined mobile.  Google has Android devices and search (advertising).  Amazon is into selling (and advertising) along with the Kindle for a mobile presence.  All of them are also dabbling in cloud services for businesses.  Then there is IBM, the seasoned veteran of business solutions.  What makes them part of this leadership crowd?  I isn’t just for their SmartCloud solution,    I think it is the fact that they have stayed true to their earliest beginnings.  Unlike all of the other players, IBM has focused their attention, with laser beam precision, on the proven stable base of the business market.: They provide business solutions for businesses.  IBM has resisted the temptation to cross the line into the consumer market, even at the urging of experts and loyal customers who pushed to have Lotus Notes repackaged for consumers.  Doing so in the short term would certainly win consumer approval and thus fend off the consumer-led push for the Microsoft Outlook mail client to be used at both work and home.  But that would have forced IBM to chase the whim and fads of consumers rather than staying focused on long-term needs of businesses.

When it comes to technology, IBM is all business.

I predict we will see a rise and fall of all 3 of the consumer-driven horsemen in CNN’s list, replaced with 3 new ones as the what’s-hot list changes.  I also predict that IBM, with it’s exclusive commitment to serving up business solutions, will continue to stand at or near the top as it has for decades.  For consumer products, you shouldn’t care.  But for your business, it matters.

Adapt or fail: Some Great Donated (free) Online Education for Professional Development


Education has never been more accessible to the world as it is now, thanks to the Internet.  In just the past 6 months I have encountered numerous FREE resources, even instructor-led classes from sources like Stanford University.  Part of this is definitely a response of society to help people adapt and retool their job skills in an effort to get them back to productive work.  I think part of it is also a result of changing attitudes.  Parents are becoming more actively involved in their children’s education to help them thrive in the world.  Whatever the case, I am one with an insatiable appetite for learning new things and I am lovin’ it.  I also enjoy sharing knowledge.  With that in mind, I want to share some of the resources I have found.

1.  Coursera:  Major universities collaborating to offer instructor-led credit classes online for free
At https://www.coursera.org  you can find courses on topics ranging from Cryptography to Quantum Mechanics.  This is a collaborative effort with 16 different Universities including such pedagogic giants as Stanford, Duke, Princeton, University of Toronto, Georgia Tech, and The University of Edinburgh.  These classes are not for the faint of heart.  This is not community college material.  You will definitely be challenged.  Great stuff to compliment your knowledge within your core area of expertise.

2.  Venture Lab:  More college-level content for free
Visit http://venture-lab.org/ for more college classes from Stanford University.  You can also find previous lessons for these classes on youtube, just search for venture lab.

3.  Khan Academy: Unique and excellent education programs for all levels whether you want to learn 1+1=2 or details on venture capitalism
At http://www.khanacademy.org/ you can find one of the best online learning resources for your children, paid or free.  It uses novel interactive learning techniques to really learn the material well.  This was created as a non-profit by one man disappointed in the education his child was getting.  For millions of registered members, it is a great learning aid. Many public school teachers are adopting it as complimentary materials to their curriculum.  Beware to use the correct spelling to get to this website.  There is a copycat website with a spelling close to this one.

4.  IBM developerWorks
Check out http://www.ibm.com/developerworks/training/knowledgepath/index.html?cmp=dw&cpb=dw&ct=dwnew&cr=dwnen&ccy=zz&csr=081712
to see IBM’s free education covering various topics for IT professionals including XML, Java, Linux, open source, cloud computing, and business analytics,  It’s not just about IBM software.

5.  w3schools.com for web development language tutorials
See http://www.w3schools.com/ for great tutorials to learn web development tools including HTML5, HTML, XML, CSS, PHP, Javascript, SQL and much more.  Surprising (and thankful) this source is free.  It has been around for a long time.  As a footnote, they have been tracking and publishing browser usage that hits their website.  Check it out.  http://www.w3schools.com/browsers/browsers_stats.asp  The results might surprise you!

6. State of Washington WorkSource
If you are on unemployment and live in the state of Washington, visit  http://www.wa.gov/esd/e-learning/default.htm
The state of Washington has a contract with Microsoft to provide free online tutorials for all of Microsoft’s software to anyone in the state of Washington that is collecting unemployment.  A narrow audience, perhaps, but a great value if you qualify and are looking for work using Microsoft software.  This program gives access to productivity tools in Office as well as a few hundred hours of training materials for IT professionals and it includes their entire e-learning library covering several versions of software.  Of course the one caveat noted on the website is “Microsoft e-learning does not work well on Macintosh computers.  If you wish to enroll in Microsoft e-learning, see if you can get access to a PC.”  That excludes iPads and most other tablets as well.

This is just a sample of what is available.  There are many other free learning resources out there of varying degrees of value.  If you know of others that you like, please post them in the comments for all to benefit.

Remember: knowledge and information at rest have no value.  Their value only comes when put in motion through sharing or use.  If you hoard knowledge or information, it will not make you more powerful or protect your job.  In fact, just the opposite.  People will seek out a way to get by without you.  But if you share knowledge, they will value your input and recognize your contributions.  So spread the word!

Microsoft Office annual certification test competition draws 300,000 students?


Impressive marketing:  Not only can Microsoft get 750 million people around the world to pay for Microsoft Office, but they can get 300,000 students to proudly compete to show off their word processing skills at a worldwide certification test competition.

Meanwhile, it’s considered a big deal that 1 million people have downloaded Symphony,  a free alternative.  That is only 0.1% of the Windows PC market (I can’t speak for the other operating systems).  P.T. Barnum clearly underestimated the birth rate of suckers.  (or whoever said it)

If you are a Lotus professional, you could do a better job advising your management of their options.  Save your company a few hundred thousand dollars and you’ll be a hero.  Some companies have a cost reduction incentive program where you can get 10% of the first year’s savings.  Unless you work at Microsoft, that’s a big chunk of change to leave on the table.

Some news is worth revisiting…

Microsoft Office Alternatives: Productivity Software Showdown

I am very curious to know how many of you have tried Symphony or Apache Open Office?  If your company uses MS Office, do you know how much your company is spending on it?  Have you presented the alternatives to your management?  What was their response?

Microsoft hires Lotus Professionals for Cloud Computing at Office 365


That’s right.  You read the headline correctly.  I’m not the only Lotus professional working on the Office 365 project.  My friend, a fellow Lotus professional just joined the team.  Surprisingly, I didn’t know anything about it until a week before he started.  Now you might be asking yourself:  “What would Microsoft need Lotus professionals for?”  No, it has nothing to do with things like mail migrations.  It’s all about BlackBerry Enterprise Servers and messaging.  I think this illustrates more than ever that if you have universal skills, like understanding the concepts of messaging or troubleshooting, you are highly marketable, regardless of the details of what product those skills are used on.  It’s not about being a professional of a particular brand.  It’s about being an expert of a process.  Conceptual understanding transcends the syntactic details.  Demonstrate that and you will display higher value (DHV).

Now for some quotes you might hear among us Lotus experts  at the Microsoft:

“What do you mean, I can’t paste a screen shot in a Lync IM chat?”
“Where is the ‘Send and File’ feature?”
“You mean if I want to file a message into multiple folders, I have to make copies of it?”
“Why does everybody CC everyone on the team for every email?  Don’t they have discussion Dbs for that?”
“What do you mean, we don’t have a knowledge base?  How do we collaborate?  Oh, CC everybody.”
“I’ll just Google that, uh, I mean Bing it.”
“I could do this so easy in a Notes app!”
“How do I create a reminder on my calendar?”
“Notepad++ ?  Don’t let anyone see you using that.”
“Where is the workflow in this app?”

Yes, my friend, welcome to the team.

My Project Working at Microsoft is Complete: An update to the Lotus community


In my May 30, 2011 post I explained that I had started a project at Microsoft where I would be working with the BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES) team in Office365 to improve the process for building the BES servers, streamlining the process, reducing the bugs, and clarifying the instructions for the build team.  Well that project has come to completion and the results were fantastic.  We accomplished everything we set out to do and I made some great new friends in the process.

It is rewarding to know my skills can easily port to a different platform and that I could be so successful regardless of the brand of software.  (Let that be a lesson to all techies.)  Technical writing, process improvement, troubleshooting, teamwork were all more important than a detailed knowledge of the software.

I was looking forward to the opportunity to see Microsoft software deployed and used the way its developers intended, using all the best practices and perhaps have my opinion changed by the experience.  To that end, I was both impressed and disappointed.  The infrastructure is very sophisticated and well managed.  Everything you would expect.  Yet I was surprised at how some technology was used.     I often asked myself things like “Why are we having this big reply-to-all email conversation instead of just using a discussion forum or Teamroom?” or “Why are we creating online instructions in Word documents?”  Well at least now I understand the reasoning behind why certain Microsoft software features work the way they do.

I may find myself back there working on another project, perhaps on another team and get a totally different experience.  Actually, I hope so.  It’s a big, diverse company and I expect, like most large companies, different teams work in different ways.  Meanwhile, I am back in the world of IBM and social business and  I will continue to share the knowledge of collaboration and social business here in a region where it is needed most, only now with a deeper understanding of both brands.

IBM and ESPN 3: Using social media to tell the world what they mean by “Let’s build a smarter planet.”


You’ve heard me ask “What does IBM sell?”  Sure, *I* know what they sell.  But my point is: what do they do to make sure the average consumer knows?
Well, on this idle Saturday afternoon, while watching my Gators on ESPN 3 crush UAB, *BAM*, there it was – A smarter planet ad on ESPN 3 with a twist: it ended with a URL: http://www.youtube.com/ibm
What’s the big deal?  First, IBM is talking to consumers.  That’s right, beer-drinking, college football-watching average America.  Second, this is ESPN 3.  In other words, the webcast version of ESPN.  So anyone watching that ad is already sitting at their computer.  I don’t know about smarter planet, but certainly smarter advertising.  So I went to check it out.  On my other monitor, of course.

What did I find there?  The first video was their 30-minute story: “IBM Centennial Film: They Were There – People who changed the way the world works”.  On the new youtube, you can have longer videos than the old 10-minute limit.  Of course, that doesn’t change the fact the the average attention span is somewhere between 10 and 20 minutes and the average time spent on a web page is 1 minute.  That was one of the driving reasons for the 10 minute limit in the first place.  The cool thing about youtube is that everyone can see the results.  It shows how many viewings each video gets.  So we will get to see just how successful the videos are.

The good news:  This video includes IBM founder Tom Watson’s answer to my question.  Retired IBMer Fred Brooks tells the story of how Thomas Watson Sr. used to go into the lab and ask some young engineer: “What do we sell?”
And the young man would say “punch cards sir.”
“NO, NO!” Watson replied.  “We sell a service that satisfies.”

Now the bad news:  This answer comes at 28:52 minutes into a 30:41 minute video.

But this video isn’t about what IBM sells anyway.  It’s about their past.  A good production, but wouldn’t it be more effective to lead with a short ad that builds on the *BAM* that the original ad made on ESPN 3?  Something that teases with a bit more details on what IBM has to offer today and how they will take MY company into the future and give ME an advantage over my competition?  To make ME a leader in a smarter planet?  End it with the viewer wanting to know more.  Make it a two minute video to fill those dead zone commercial breaks that don’t show anything for web viewers.  Just say:

Visit http://www.youtube.com/ibm the next time you see this:

ESPN 3

My compliments to IBM digital marketing.  (Maria, is this your doing?)  Now take it to the next level.

The video ends with the words of another IBMer: “You’ve got to stay alert and you’ve got to be nimble on your feet.  You’ve got to recognize that what was true yesterday will not be true tomorrow in terms of technology.”

Website Design Case Study: IBM Passport Advantage Website


Every year at Lotusphere in the Ask the Developers session someone will ask IBM “When are you going to make the Passport Advantage website user-friendly?!”  And every year the response from IBM is “What are you talking about?  It’s fine!”  Apparently usability studies are unnecessary.  After all, this is IBM.  How could the world’s second or third largest software company NOT know how to build a website?  Who are we to give them advice, right?  We’re just customers, not experts on web development, right?  We are mere ersatz of IBM’s erudite web developers.

Well recently I have been refreshing my web development skills in a degree program at Bellevue College and I would like to think I have become more than just a dilettante of web design.  As part of my studies, I am using the Passport Advantage website as a case study in best (and worst) practices in web design.  I would like to bring you along for the lesson.  Please join me in this discussion of what does and doesn’t work in web design, particularly as it relates to the success of the IBM Passport Advantage website in achieving its goal.  Hopefully by this vetting, all of us can learn something from this world class international website representing the third most valuable brand in the world.

My classmates don’t have access to log into this website.  So I will include some screen shots.  Hopefully this does not infringe on any copyrights.  This is intended for review by my classmates in the web design class and web authoring program for educational purposes only.

First, let’s find the URL.  If I were to guess at it so I could go directly to it, I would expect something like http://www.ibm.com/passportadvantage .  But that doesn’t work.  So let’s go to the IBM home page, http://www.ibm.com and look for a link.  You can find it on IBM’s home page, though with some effort.  You won’t find it in any of the menus at the top of the page, but if you scroll down, you can find it “below the fold” under the Popular Links list.  For that reason, I expect most people just use a search engine to find the site.  I searched for “Passport Advantage” on Google.com and it came up as the first link.  It was the second link listed on both yahoo.com and bing.com. It was also the first link in the results list when searched directly on the IBM website.  Here is the landing page for all of these.  The URL is http://www-01.ibm.com/software/howtobuy/passportadvantage/
<01_landingpage>
IBM Passport Advantage initial page

(click image to enlarge)

Not exactly an intuitive URL.  Note in the screen shot that it already knows who I am.  Am I logged in?  Well, no.  I need to click on the Customer sign in link in the box on the right labeled “Fast Access”.
Note that it instructs to use my email address for the user name.  Not exactly.  Some accounts (like mine) require the username that was created, NOT the email address.
<02_loginpage>

IBM Passport Advantage Login screen

(click image to enlarge)

By the way, if I click on the link that says “Not you?”  beside my name in the top right, I get this error page with no way back but to close the browser and start over:
<03_switchusererror>

IBM Passport Advantage error message switching users

(click image to enlarge)

After logging in, you get to what I will call the “homepage” of Passport Advantage.  Actually there is no home page for Passport Advantage and there is never an obvious path back to this page.  I could find no links that lead back to this page except by logging in.  The Home link on this page goes to the home page of ibm.com and once you go there, good luck trying to get back to Passport Advantage.  Assuming you know about the link at the bottom of the page, you’ll get back fairly easily.  But most people just google it again.  (even if you call customer support, they will direct you to find it this way!)
<04_homepage>

IBM Passport Advantage homepage

(click image to enlarge)

Great now you’re on the “homepage”.  There are primarily 2 reasons most Lotus professionals visit this site: 1.  To open a PMR with technical support or 2. To download software.  Let’s start with getting technical support.  Look closely.  There are no less than 7 links to get some kind of help, not counting the phone number listed in the bottom right corner, which by the way, is NOT the number to call to reach technical support.  Each of these 7 links go to different pages.  The one to open a ticket with technical support (called a PMR) happens to be the last one in the left pane, labeled “Online technical support”.  This would seem obvious but for the 6 other links to support on the page.  By the way, if you visit a page and then hit the Back button, you will occasionally get an error instead and it will prompt you to log in again.
<05_supportLinks>

IBM Passport Advantage Support links on homepage

(click image to enlarge)

Once you get to the place to enter a PMR with technical support, you may want to get back to the “homepage”.  Which link on this page do you think you should select?
<06_whereishome>

IBM Passport Advantage missing link to homepage

(click image to enlarge)

If you chose Home you would be wrong and once there you would not be able to use the back button to return here.
If you chose Return to the IBM Support Portal you would also be wrong. (See the next screen shot.)
The correct link is actually under related links.  Go figure.

No link back to homepage

(click image to enlarge)

Now let’s look at the second common reason to visit this site: downloading software.  For this function you “only” have 5 choices.  Again, they all go to different places.  Choose carefully.  You may navigate through several lengthy steps before realizing you’re in the wrong place to find what you’re looking for.
<07_downloadLinks>

IBM Passport Advantage links to download software

(click image to enlarge)

The downloads process continues through several confusing steps including prompting TWICE that you accept the software agreement, before actually getting to download the software.  And you had better know exactly what you are looking for.  There are no useful descriptions of the purpose of each software and many have very similar names.

In our classroom discussion the class agreed when it comes to usability, this site fails miserably,  It is laden with many confusing links that are not organized in any obvious, meaningful grouping.  There are way too many links without any form of structure or organization to the navigation. One of the class exercises is to create a site map identifying the navigation, but this website proved too complex to create a site map at all.  The arrangement of the navigation did not help to identify the relevance of the links either.  And why does it have 2 places to select a language? (one at the extreme top of the page, the other in the right column beside the banner image)

Well, there you have it.  So far we have examined the pages leading up to the main page of the Passport Advantage site and the main page itself.  What do you think?  Is this analysis off the mark?  If you regularly navigate this site, what has your experience been with it?

Up next if I have the time and patience:  Stepping through the website  to download software – no trivial task.

Before you pass final judgement on this website, check out what truly BAD websites look like at WebPagesThatSuck

Footnote: After writing this article, I noticed there is now a tutorial for Passport advantage on the landing page (you do not need to log in to view it.)
http://download.boulder.ibm.com/ibmdl/pub/software/passportadvantage/demos/English_Tutorial/english_pa.html

After a few minutes of frustration I had to quit viewing it.  The wizard was     tiny.   The navigators to advance the slides are so small I had trouble getting my mouse in just the right spot to click it.  There are pages and pages of blah, blah, blah.  It isn’t a tutorial about USING the website.  It’s about 45 minutes of reading all about WHY you should BUY it.

A sneak peek into the upcoming announcement about the Lotus brand and IBM’s 100-year philosophy


Is Lotus Notes the next Selectric Typewriter?  This USAToday article about IBM turning 100  reveals some clues into the motivations that drive IBM which might tell us about their plans for the future.

“Don’t make the mistake of thinking IBM is a corporate old-timer that just watched technology evolve. It has remained at the forefront through the decades and tops several of its whippersnapper rivals in some regards. “

Of course we’re talking about the same company that totally missed some opportunities like the operating system for their personal computers that has gone on to become their nemesis.  We’re talking about a company that has taken the once-famous brand of Lotus and made it disappear from the public eye better than a Harry Houdini magic act.

“This isn’t like the auto industry, where the combustible engine still exists, or oil, where many parts of the business are the same,” Iwata says. “We have to let go of what we have invented. We stopped making typewriters, punch-card machines, PCs. We had to move on.”

Hmm.  Is this foreshadowing?  When I was 8 years old I saw the movie “Old Yeller”.  In spite of all the clues, I did not did not see that coming.  I thought that dog would live forever.  Have I gotten any better at reading the clues?  Probably not.  But here’s another one:

“•Ability to move into new businesses without abandoning core tenets. IBM is a classic example of a company that had to get into entirely new businesses, without turning its back on what got it to where it is, Collins says. If you consider what IBM’s mission is, it’s not about computers or technology. It’s about allowing its individual employees to create ways for its customers to solve operational problems, Collins says. Whether that’s a task best done with scales, typewriters or computers doesn’t matter; what matters is that customers’ needs are answered, Collins says. “

I don’t know how this movie will end.  Maybe we’ll learn more on the Greenhouse webcast about the future of the Lotus brand June 28 at 10:00AM ET.

Meeanwhile, let’s get some popcorn and watch a few movie trailers.


IBM’s Watson makes person of the year


This should be a great boost to the IBM brand recognition:

(excerpt from Webby Awards )

The Webby Awards would like to honor Watson as the Webby Person of the Year in celebration of his groundbreaking scientific and technological achievements as the most comprehensive question-answering computer system. As the first computing system with an unparalleled handle and understanding of the natural language, Watson captivated millions as he competed on the game show, Jeopardy!, ultimately becoming the first non-human champion. It is undeniable that Watson has open the floodgates for advancement in all future computing systems, which is undoubtedly deserving of recognition and praise.

IBM is doing some great things in research these days.  Check it out at the IBM research website.

 

WOW! An IBM Sametime ad via Google Ad seen while viewing a youtube.com video!


Sametime ad in youtube.com video

Check out the banner ad in this screenshot of a youtube video. It was served up to me by Google while I was watching a whitewater video on youtube.com.
Could this be part of a REAL advertising campaign showing a REAL product?! It isn’t exactly obvious what in the ad what the product is or does, but it’s getting the Lotus brand in front of people. Hopefully the ad selector doesn’t just show it to people who already know Lotus.

Don’t get too excited about one ad, It’s like one raindrop. But as we whitewater kayakers know, with enough raindrops, a little creek can be turned into a fun, raging river.
Kudos to those responsible.

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