Saturday, 30 March 2013

Goodreads and Amazon, or where do I keep my book info without having it stolen by market monopolisers?

By now every Goodreads user knows it has been bought by Amazon. This has started a typical online fiery reaction, with a lot of people yelling (or capslocking) that they are going to leave the site for good and move to an alternative. When I started sharing my thoughts on that on twitter my friends commanded me to organize my info and post it. Some even ordered me to write in English, so they could share it. This all seems a bit foolish and not at all typical of me (I rarely follow orders like this) so I did it. (I don't get it either - perhaps my work was rather bothersome today and I needed a break).

So I'll start by saying what it is I think is troubling with having Amazon owning Goodreads. Well, everything. Amazon is not only a monopoliser, which by itself is already bad enough, but it's a very aggressive one at that. Everyone that reads and deals with them must have already heard about the way it treats authors, small publishers or stores and worst of all, how it allows the subcontracted warehouses to explore its workers. If you haven't, please search it, the internet is packed with those stories so there's no point in me aggregating them here. But my problems don't end with Amazon's lack of ethical concerns. There is one other thing that is perhaps most unnerving and that is the independence claim. Goodreads was always supposed to be a community made for and by its people. When Amazon last tried to get a grip on it all the librarians helped to save the database. I was one of them. I've been a librarian ever since I found that I could be, and have helped with adding books, correcting information, aggregating doubled insertions or different editions for years now. I have, as most that were there almost from the beginning, helped build not only the database but also the community, calling my friends there and sharing my reading status through other social networks. So when it comes to this, I feel somewhat robbed of a thing that was not only useful and full of my info, but also a thing that was, in a way, partially mine.
Therefore, we have a giant company very interested in controlling the book market buying its third (that I know of) social network for readers, and this time one that was picked precisely for being independent from stores and publishers and allowing both positive and negative reviews and ratings without any kind censorship.
Finally, I've just heard from a friend that there are already rumours of comments being deleted on the post that talks about the transaction.

And now, to speak about the possible alternatives, for those who are already considering to leave, though I haven't really tried most of them (I've been looking for info on their respective sites, trying the logged off experience and searching the web to produce these comments):


Anobii - Seems like a nice, graphically appealing alternative to Goodreads. The one thing I don't know if it has is author pages, give-aways and other author-reader interaction experiences. It includes on its list of backers / investors, companies like HMV Group, HarperCollins, The Random House and Penguin. So, might not be as bad as having your info on Amazon's hands in your opinion, but it's by no means an independent venture. The privacy policy does state that you can decide if you give your info to their fellow companies or not, so its some kind of protection. Another good thing for some people is that Anobii also has an app that scans barcodes, something I've found really useful when building lists of things to check or buy later while exploring bookshops.

Bookish - Though it is affirmed that the site is editorially independent, the platform was jointly founded by Hachette Book Group, Penguin Group USA and Simon & Schuster. So if one wants to avoid giving information to big publishers or sellers, this is not the place. I also seem to recall a problem with the site's terms of use or privacy statement, though I don't know if that situation has ever changed.

Booklamp - This is not a social network or a collection organizer, so it isn't an alternative to Goodreads. All that aside, it seems an interesting project of its own, trying to describe books in terms of their DNA, in other words, the features and themes that are part of the book. And they do this with computational tools, trying as much as they can to differ from social networks' book recommendation system.

BookLikes - A social network for readers and bloggers, this platform appears to be a good alternative to Goodreads. It allows for bookshelfs, reviews, comments, recommendations and on top of that lets you have your own sort of customizable blog and timeline with your thoughts and favourite quotes. I don't think they have author pages or give-aways integrated, but that isn't why I use these platforms anyway (I might miss some authors' thoughts on books). It is a Polish start-up, but I have no info on its current status as independent. I do know they have a direct link to Amazon.com on the book pages, but so did Goodreads once upon a time. I've also read it used to have an integrated bookstore but I see no further evidence of this.

BookRabbit - This is not an independent site, it belongs to Redberry Digital. a multi-disciplined creative agency that works with multiple companies, such as Sony or Waterstones, but at least it isn't part of a massive online bookstore. The network itself has a purpose quite like Goodreads, with bookshelves, reviews and ratings, but I saw no evidence of author pages, give-aways or groups. A thing that worries me is that there are no links to alternative editions. Each edition stands on its own, as if they were all different books. Another problem I have with it is that it shows a list of people who own each book. Not just a list of reviews or ratings to the book, but a direct list of owners, an information that seems directed at companies such as Amazon and not at all useful for the site's users. A final note that is definitive in my opinion is that it allows no other language but English, prohibits so-called foul language and may revoke posting rights if you answer too many times with "wtf" or "lol".

BookShout! - This is a mix of a store and a review sharing site, so I don't think it's what I'm looking for here.

Bookwormr - This one seems like an alternative, but as happens with others, it doesn't seem to have author pages, collection management / shelves, groups or give-aways. So it's another review / rating sharing page and it doesn't look very active. On the other hand, the site has a new version, introduced in February 2013, so it deserves a better look.

LibraryThing - Owned partially by Amazon so this isn't an alternative to anything. It doesn't make for a very good user experience comparing with Goodreads, at least it didn't when I tried it a few years ago. It is more independent from Amazon than Shelfari or Goodreads because, according to Tim Spalding, he remains the owner of the majority of the company. But one is still working in Amazon's interest here so I'd rather keep on Goodreads or else move to a totally independent site.

Readernaut - Another social network for readers, though I couldn't see how it worked without registering. On the other hand, I do know that only Amazon books can be added so this is far from the freedom Goodreads allows. I don't know if it sports a recommendation system, if it allows for book reviews or to follow authors.

Reader2 - This place looks quite abandoned and the interface is barely developed. Anyway, it would be a place to do lists and look for recommendations based on keywords and similar books, but not to manage collections, shelves or read and share reviews. An alternative if all you want is a place to list your books and a basic recommendation service. I don't know if the reader is able to contribute to the recommendation system as it is on Goodreads. Also don't believe you can have the experience of following or interacting with authors.

Revish - This one has been around for a while and seems to offer a similar experience to Goodreads, but actually doesn't. This isn't a collection manager, it's a review manager, where you are encouraged to follow some guidelines and produce well-thought and developed comments on the books you've read. The terms of use are quite typical of these platforms, though they prohibit swearing and can at any time moderate or eliminate user generated content without prior warning or explanation, which is something I really don't like. This is, sadly, the general practice of these websites. It appears to be quite independent from monopolisers. It's something to try if all you're interested is in reading people's book comments.

Riffle - This site doesn't allow any kind of unregistered exploration. So I went around the internet to try to find out something about it. It seems to work through Facebook and it's basically a pin-board (Pinterest like) for books, with some direct connection to the publishing houses. Check it if you are interested, but this isn't an alternative to Goodreads nor is it particularly good for those with information sharing concerns, considering the association with Facebook.

Shelfari - Also owned by Amazon so no alternative here either.

SocialBooks - This is a place to share thoughts and discuss books. Without registering I couldn't see how it works, but the announcement on the home page is for the first read in November so either it's from last year and has been abandoned or it's this year and it's not yet working. There's also no place to read the terms of use. So this isn't an alternative to Goodreads but it might be interesting on it's own.

TheReadingRoom - This seems like an overall good social network for readers, which also includes advanced copy request, free chapters and its very own eReader app for Apple or Android tablets and phones. The site includes recommendations, bookclubs and reviews, so most of the experience we get from Goodreads. The one thing I failed to find is if they have some kind of librarian participation, one which allows the user to add books and edit information.

Wattpad - It's not really the same kind of platform. This one allows you to publish your work and ask readers for feedback or, as a reader, to be a spotter of new talent or new works from already established authors who choose to start by showing a part of their next book there. Wikipedia describes it, and rightly so, as a "Youtube for electronic text stories".

weRead - I've heard this one wasn't working any more, but that doesn't seem to be the case because the website is online. It started as a Facebook application but had expanded into a privately owned website of its own with connections with multiple social networks and offering an experience very similar to Goodreads, with lists, reviews, comments, and author pages. It was bought by Lulu and then by Flipkart, an online store like Amazon, in 2010. The community doesn't seem to be very active currently, considering all the books with no reviews or comments. It also doesn't seem to include book ratings but we all know that those pesky stars are both good and bad.

YourNextRead - This is a recommendation system, based on some algorithm and people's input. No platform to keep a collection or share reviews, but a different way to look for books worth trying.

What did I take from all this? I'll probably keep using Goodreads for now, but I'm growing favourable to the possibility of leaving or at least diminishing the information I share there. There's really no complete alternative and most of those who get close to do it, like Anobii, Bookwormr or weRead aren't exactly independent ventures, currently don't have organized communities contributing with their opinions and ratings or don't allow for collection management. Some have such terms of use that wouldn't even consider them (see BookRabbit above). If I was to change, or if I eventually decide to do so as a consequence of this process or of any changes to Goodreads experience or privacy policy (if they change the "all is allowed in reviews" policy I'll leave immediately), I'd probably try TheReadingRoom or BookLikes first, or ask my friends if they are already using any of these and how good they actually are. One of the most important things in this transition would be to keep at least a good part of the people that I share reading with in Goodreads and get them to the new platform. In spite of this, if I can't do it, it won't stop me from leaving the previous community.

Last, but not least, I am even more determined to reduce my purchases from Amazon and its owned stores. There are things that I can't afford if not from there, but there are others that I can or will make an effort to. There is no point in complaining about what Amazon does to people and small companies and then remain a client. So I'd also be glad if people can tell me not only alternatives to Goodreads, which I'll keep adding here, but also alternatives to Amazon in terms of books written in or translated to English.

Edit #1

I've heard of some more options but haven't listed or spoken of them yet because none offered to be on par with the best choices above. Anyway, here are some names people have told me:

WhichBooks - essentially a tool to look for a specific kind of book based on factors such as funny vs serious, gentle vs violent, optimistic vs bleak. Not really my kind of recommendation system, but it might be cool on some instances. No Goodreads alternative though.

ThirdScribe - this in still under construction but people have been promising it might be a cool platform for those who liked Goodreads, though I still don't know what it is going to offer exactly.

Storyverse - this is, again, not really a social platform for readers or a collection manager. It's a tool to find what was referenced inside a book. If you look up American Gods, for example, it will show you what mythological figures, songs, books, authors and other stuff Neil Gaiman decided to mention or draw from in the book. Do check it out. (heard about it here, through WhiteLady3's comment below).

Skoob - This one is a real alternative but for one limitation: it's in Portuguese and directed towards Brazilian readers. I didn't reference it initially because I think one of the very best things about Goodreads was how multicultural the community was and I wouldn't want to narrow my scope now.

Bookworms - on the same note as the previous one, this one is directed to Portuguese people and written in Portuguese and was referenced by Telma in a comment below. I've also heard it hasn't been updated in a while or is no longer worked on, but can't really be sure right now.

Edit #2

Libib - This is a collection manager, not only for your books, but also for movies and video games. You can also publish reviews to the items you have collected. It seems much less of a social network and much more of a catalogue, and I like the idea. I'm considering registering and using it as a general backup of the items I actually own even if I also start using a new book social network to speak about books, review them, check other people's opinions and look for recommendations. Thanks Sofia for reminding me of this one.

BookGlutton - I found that I initially also left out this one because it's not really an alternative to all that Goodreads was good for, but seeing as I am already speaking about most of them, here it is. BookGlutton is a social reading platform, focused on public domain and small press books, allowing people to read a book together, comment on specific paragraphs, sections or the overall work and chat with your group while you read each chapter. The creators are also preparing ReadUps, which appears to be a platform to further enhance the social reading and include the possibility of feedback on writing. This is supposed to launch this Spring so if you are interested visit the site or and sign up. I think this would be great for book communities as a preparation for book discussions, meetups or hangouts. Let's see how the new platform comes into being.

Edit #3

my-bookclub - Though more focused on creating book clubs, this platform allows for some collection management (if only 4 shelves), review sharing, and book recommendation. My problem with it is the acceptable use policy. It has far too many rules and limitations to what one can actually write, such as no unjustified caps lock use, no content that is obscene, blasphemous, untrue, misleading, inaccurate or that causes annoyance, all should be civil and tasteful, etc.. my-bookclub looks like a place so tight that I feel incoming social claustrophobia, which is odd for a site that pretends to host clubs. I won't be trying this one out.

I'll me posting mine and other people's experiences with new book sites on the next post.

17 comments:

  1. Booklikes is in closed beta status, so a lot may change and it's still incomplete. I like those kind of places because I feel the beta-testers can help build it, with requests and other type of feedback. I'm growing more fond of it everyday (not only because of the staff but also due to the site itself) however it still has bugs (that's what beta means anyway) so if anyone doesn't have the patience for that sort of stuff I'd advise to keep out.

    P.S.: That was a request disguised as an order. Come on, dude! :P

    P.P.S.: Thank you! :D

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    1. I'm all for beta-testing, and considering I helped build Goodreads in the past, I can very well help build another platform now.
      WHEN you write a post about BookLikes I'll share it here too.

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  2. Há o português Bookworms do Sapo (http://bookworms.sapo.pt/) que acho que já tive conta naquilo quando abriu e depois desisti. Não sei como evoluiu desde então mas sempre é mais uma alternativa.

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    1. É verdade, e também o Skoob do Brasil, mas não falei nesses porque me parece que para quem usou o GR a limitação da communidade a uma nacionalidade ou língua seria algo triste. Uma comunidade em que só tens opiniões de portugueses sobre Os Maias, por exemplo, poderá dizer que não vale nada, dado sermos obrigados a estudá-lo, mas se for uma comunidade internacional, poderemos encontrar visões muito diferentes do mesmo trabalho.

      De qualquer forma, ficam mais duas sugestões para quem não se importar com este tipo de transição. Quanto ao bookworms do sapo, ouvi dizer que já não era actualizado, pelo que poderá não ser uma boa opção. Se alguém tiver informações mais pormenorizadas, partilhe!

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  3. Outras alternativas, ou nem por isso.

    Eu partilho esta opinião e não penso mudar porque adoro o Goodreads e sinceramente dos outros sites que fui vendo ao longo dos anos, já que também uso o GR há bastante tempo, nunca houve nenhum que me conseguisse cativar como ele.

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    1. Eu não concordo com muitos pontos dessa opinião no Bookriot. Primeiro, não é nada "good on them" porque há um ano pediram aos librarians que salvassem toda a metadata do site para evitar que se perdesse quando mandassem a Amazon passear. Achas que nessa altura já não era negócio? Mesmo assim aproveitaram o trabalho voluntário das pessoas, que pensavam estar a contribuir para a independência do site, e ganharam mais dinheiro ainda. E isto é só o final de muitos anos e muitas pessoas que, como eu, ajudaram a construir aquilo que o goodreads é hoje.
      Depois, claro, o ponto quatro é o mais importante. Mas já há sinais de que poderá acontecer uma alteração de políticas (alguns comentários desapareceram e afins). E para mim, ficar sujeito a censura como na Amazon não se pode aceitar.
      Não concordo com o "keep authors away from me". Eu gosto de poder seguir as opiniões, ratings e reviews dos autores que respeito. O GR permite (ou permitia) um bom contacto com alguns autores cujas páginas são devidamente identificadas. E não acho nada que haja tanto spam quanto dizem.
      Por fim, quanto às alternativas, há pelo menos dois sites que parecem ser plausíveis. Se serão bons o suficiente, não sei. Mas que quero experimentar e pensar no assunto, sim. Sem pressas, mas com a certeza de que, se arranjar um sítio bom, mudo-me, porque não quero contribuir de forma alguma para dar poder e dinheiro a uma empresa que maltrata trabalhadores, autores, parceiros e adversários comerciais.

      Quanto às outras alternativas, nenhuma das que estão nesse artigo de facto serve, mas o storyverse até parece uma coisa curiosa para alguns livros, como por exemplo o American Gods que tem tantas referências!

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    2. Sinto que hoje só discuto contigo! xD

      Sim, na altura já era negócio e não sinto que tenham aproveitado o meu trabalho voluntário porque de certa forma também estou a usar o site, gratuitamente, para minha conveniência, para indexar livros de forma toda bonita o que uma folha de excel não me permite ou dá-me mais trabalho. Senti sempre, no GR, que trabalhava sobretudo para mim e depois para os outros, disponibilizando um livro que tinha e outros podiam também ter. Mas aí depende de como cada um vê a sua contribuição e/ou trabalho.

      Sinceramente ainda não me apercebi de comentários terem desaparecido. Falou-se nisso em toda aquela saga dos "authors behaving badly" e dos membros do GR que defendiam autores com unhas e dentes e aí até entendo que "escondam" críticas que nada mais dizem que "não vou ler este livro porque acho que o autor e as suas ideias não prestam porque não estão de acordo com as minhas". Quanto a críticas negativas poderem ser censuradas, aí sim terei um problema e aí sim pondero abandonar.

      Sim, também gosto de estar em contacto com autores, mas acredito que para quem tem blogs reconhecidos, seja seguido por muita gente e até tenha muitos amigos, haja constantemente autores a tentarem contactá-los. Eu sou praticamente desconhecida nesta imensa rede e já fui contactada por 2 ou 3 vezes no GR. O_o Eu fico mesmo "mas como é que me encontram e porque raio querem que eu leia os livros deles?" mas pronto, acredito que dependa da postura de cada um.

      De qualquer maneira fico à espera que contes a tua experiência. De facto a Amazon já me apelou mais e penso se ter o Kindle não me limita em termos de (experiência de) leitura. O que eu gostava mesmo era que as livrarias convencionais também começassem a apostar na venda de e-books, já vi por essa internet fora coisas do género, pois apesar de haver livros que eu quero ler, não é necessário eu possuir todos os títulos na sua forma física (e sim, chamo-me bibliófila apesar de tudo).

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    3. Hoje estamos em lados opostos :)

      Aproveitaram o nosso trabalho porque não só nos mentiram para nós melhorarmos o produto deles como é preciso uma pessoa lembrar-se que eles sempre ganharam dinheiro com os anúncios e por isso é que nunca foi preciso pagar nenhuma subscrição. O motivo pelo qual uma pessoa contribui é, claro, para melhorar a própria experiência e a dos restantes membros. Mas é também por achar que está a contribuir para uma plataforma independente, uma comunidade onde a informação vai ser genuína. E depois informam que afinal o trabalho de todos muito provavelmente serviu principalmente para eles ganharem ainda mais dinheiro do que aquele que lhes ofereceram há um ano atrás.

      Quanto à censura, basta-me dizer o seguinte: eu já tive reviews censuradas no site da Amazon. Aliás, todas as minhas reviews negativas demoravam tempo a aparecer e as positivas apareciam instantaneamente. Porque será? Mas pior foram reviews que escrevi para comics que ainda não tinham nenhuma review anterior, pelo que a minha seria a primeira. Houve uma que submeti três vezes até ela aparecer. Acho que houve algumas que nunca terão aparecido, mas entretanto deixei de me preocupar com as reviews na Amazon. Se estes gajos agora mandam no GR, o que podemos esperar?

      Quanto aos autores percebo perfeitamente a tua posição. Eu não me incomodo muito, mas entendo quem se sinta incomodado e os queira mandar bugiar a todos.

      Quanto ao Kindle, acho que enquanto não vires o dito como única ferramenta para ler e encontrar livros, nunca estarás realmente limitada. Agora sabemos que há gente que se limita dessa forma e acabam, no fundo, por ler aquilo que interessa à Amazon vender.

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    4. Nunca escrevi críticas na Amazon pelo que nunca me tinha dado conta de tal sem ser por relatos de pessoas que passaram por isso, como o teu. No GR sei que houve críticas como as que apontei que deixaram de estar visíveis. Penso que houve outras críticas negativas, sobretudo aquelas que têm muitos gifs e que "batem" muito no autor e no livro, que ficaram sinalizadas (muitas vezes pelas discussões que depois se geram nos comentários) mas não me apercebi que tivessem desaparecido. Isso sim, faz-me pensar duas vezes no que toca à aquisição da Amazon, mas custa-me a acreditar que o tenham feito para agora virem censurar, quando o GR ganhou a fama que tem exactamente por permitir que as pessoas expressassem livremente a sua opinião.

      O Kindle é para ler, mas antes de ler no Kindle procuro em lojas. Na minha opinião o Kindle é sobretudo excelente para ler aqueles títulos que se têm de ler mal sejam publicados. Além disso, é mais seguro, parece-me, que mandar vir o livro de fora. Há casos de que encomendas se perdem ou chegam estragadas, o kindle permite ter a experiência da loja física, ficas com o livro assim que o compras. A não ser que te cancelem a conta sem qualquer explicação. Também já aconteceu...

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    5. Essa cena de poderem cancelar a conta quando lhes apetece também me incomoda. Os livros deviam ser nossos, independentemente de lhes termos comprado a plataforma, mas parece que é só um aluguer.

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    6. Essa questão do "aluguer" parece dar pano para mangas no que a e-books diz respeito. Parece-me que ainda há-de correr muita tinta sobre isso.

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  4. Thank you! Exactly what I was looking for!

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  5. Não tenho nada a acrescentar ao post e aos comentários que, por acaso incluem exactamente o que dissemos em conversa pessoalmente. De qualquer forma, se as outras pessoas não têm problemas com isto do Goodreads, na boa; eu tenho, por isso vou agir em conformidade com o que sinto.

    De todos os websites que andei a ver só fiquei com vontade de experimentar o Anobii e o BookLikes (ainda não me decidi quanto ao The Reading Room). Criei perfis nos dois e estou a ver o que oferecem. Diferentes do GR são, outra coisa não seria de esperar, mas sinceramente não tenho grandes problemas em adaptar-me a um sistema diferente.

    Já agora, algo relacionado mas inteiramente diferente: o Letterboxd é completamente independente (para já, claro) e pago pelos fundadores australianos. Oferecem uma opção de subscrição que é muito barata. Para nós, que não temos Netflix, não é muito útil, mas é uma boa maneira de ajudar o site. Isto tudo para dizer que adoraria que o GR tivesse seguido esta opção em vez de ter vendido 100% das shares à Amazon.

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    1. Quem me dera. Tal como tu, eu não me importava nada de pagar uma subscrição do Goodreads em vez de ver isto a acontecer.
      Quanto a preferências, esses três também foram os que me pareceram melhor, o meu único problema com o Anobii é que neste momento preferia algo completamente independente das editoras e das lojas. De resto o site pareceu-me bom e até tem a app que me dá tanto jeito. Ainda não me pus a experimentar nenhum porque quero começar com tempo e estive demasiado ocupado este fim-de-semana.
      Também vou ver o que tu e o resto das pessoas vão fazer, porque tenho interesse em manter a "comunidade" activa toda junta, era chato para além do site perdermos também a interacção.

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    2. Para já posso dizer-te que o Anobii está a ser uma desilusão. É uma caixinha de bugs - praticamente nada do que tentei fazer resultou, acabo sempre numa página de erro. Não tem uma função de import do Goodreads, e quando tentei pelos ISBNs, deu erro. Nem a profile pic consigo pôr. O BookLikes está em beta e tem muitos menos bugs, e os developers têm andado a responder às pessoas que falam com eles... Por isso devo apostar mais nesse.

      P.S. Dei um erro no meu primeiro comentário: os fundadores do Letterboxd são neo-zelandeses, não australianos. É o que dá andar a escrever às tantas da manhã!

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    3. Regressamos portanto à questão inicial, The Reading Room (acho que ainda nenhum de nós experimentou) ou BookLikes.

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