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Old 06-06-2005   #1
Genie
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DMOZ Treatment of "Affiliate" sites

***Moderator note: This thread was split from another thread regarding alleged DMOZ corruption. This seems to be a good topic: The DMOZ policy on affiliates/duplicate content.



I see nothing wrong with your editing record Peter. But I think there is a massive misunderstanding here somewhere. We do not list affiliate sites i.e. those that provide no unique content. But the presence of a single affiliate banner/link is no bar to listing in itself and never has been.

Let's picture a site that has 100 hundred pages of fascinating, useful, authoritative, unique content. On one page is a bibliography with affiliate links to Amazon. Do you honestly believe that site won't be listed in the ODP? I could point to examples that are. On the other hand a site whose sole purpose is to make money from affiliates, where the content is either stolen from another site, or poor-quality stuff churned out to fill the page, may not be listed. Editors use their judgement.

Here's where it gets tricky. Suppose that you came across a case where you disagreed with the judgement of another editor. (We all do from time to time.) We shouldn't discuss that externally in a way that points to the editor concerned. We shouldn't reveal editor notes. Guidelines are very strict about privacy, for the protection of all editors.

I stress that I don't know what happened in this case. I am not a meta editor. But people can be removed for any breach of Guidelines, which includes communications with other editors as well as the privacy policy, not just for abusive editing. So I don't think that public aspersions should be cast on you. Neither should aspersions be cast on KCTipton. No editor can be removed on the whim of one meta.

[Editing typo - Genie]

Last edited by Genie : 06-06-2005 at 01:47 PM. Reason: add moderator note
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Old 06-06-2005   #2
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No, I wasn't advocating the inclusion of AWS sites into DMOZ, not even nearly. Just that I think there are/were many editors that take the no-affiliate site policy too far. Same as I said before, if a website would be included if it didn't have the affiliate links, why wouldn't it get in with them? That's what I got thrown out for, because I posted these sentiments on Sitepoint. Nothing more, nothing less.
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Old 06-06-2005   #3
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This thread has already gone off-topic, so it's not my fault

I have a site that was listed in DMOZ. At the time it was listed it contained many thousands of pages for people to find contact details of about 11,000 UK accommodations - it's an accommodation directory. Then I added about 3,000 affiliate hotels which people could book online, and I requested a change to the DMOZ description to reflect the online booking facility, but the site was promptly removed. In other words, the site was fine without the affiliate stuff, but was dropped when I added the affiliate stuff, even though the non-affiliate stuff massively outweighed the affiliate stuff (a lot of "stuff", huh).

But I agree that the site should have been dropped. The objective of the site had clearly changed. Previously it had taken ads from individual accommodations, but it changed into making money from affiliate stuff. So your suggestion that a listable site without affiliate content should still be listed with it doesn't really hold up, Peter. It depends on the nature of the site and the affiliate content.
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Old 06-06-2005   #4
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The ODP Guidelines on affiliate content are here:
http://dmoz.org/guidelines/include.html#affiliate

Last edited by Genie : 06-06-2005 at 10:33 AM.
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Old 06-06-2005   #5
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Genie, that url is only available to current editors with valid logins, do you have one the general public could view?

Phil and Dusty, I was removed for my statement about the affiliate policy as I stated numerous times. It doesn't really matter whether any specific site should or should not be listed, and it doesn't matter whether the specific post I made is there anymore or not. I wasn't removed for anything I did that violated the policy of DMOZ, it was for what I said about the policy.
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Old 06-06-2005   #6
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Same as I said before, if a website would be included if it didn't have the affiliate links, why wouldn't it get in with them?
Think about the nature of a website.

If the site is an informational site, then in order for it to be considered objective, it should be able to demonstrate independence from sites/products that it is reviewing.

If a site is reviewing a specific type of products, and included are recommendations to buy products that it has a specific affiliate relationship with - how much can you, as a consumer, rely on that information?

Adding specific affiliate links to a site giving any kind of consumer information or recommendations, immediately casts doubt on the objectivity, and therefore usefulness of that site.

If the affiliate links were unrelated, or not specifically chosen (e.g. adsense/doubleclick assigned) - the situation may be different. Because whilst the webmaster will still be making clickthrough income - his product/site reviews and recommendations are not linked to / directly influencing that clickthrough income.

Ultimately dmoz editors have to use their judgement on a case by case basis, based on the information available from reviewing a website, as to whether it is a useful, unbiased information resource - or a keyword stuffed, plagiarised pile of spider food whose primary purpose is to drive traffic to pay per click links.

If the editors occasionally get it wrong and don't list a site that was actually unbiased - then that's unfortunate. Webmasters can certainly minimise the risk of this happening though, by carefully thinking through the nature of any affiliate relationships, and avoiding implementing ones that would cause their site to look biased.
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Old 06-06-2005   #7
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Originally Posted by PhilC
But I agree that the site should have been dropped. The objective of the site had clearly changed. Previously it had taken ads from individual accommodations, but it changed into making money from affiliate stuff. So your suggestion that a listable site without affiliate content should still be listed with it doesn't really hold up, Peter. It depends on the nature of the site and the affiliate content.
If I remember correctly, the reasoning for them objecting to what I said about the policy was something similar to this. I do see your point Phil, but the point I'm making is that there's something wrong with an organization that cannot accept open discussion on policy such as this. Banning someone, like they did to me, for a discussion on a fairly minor point of policy isn't a good thing, in my opinion. There's a big difference between your response "it doesn't really hold up, Peter" and the official ODP response "NO SOUP FOR YOU" to borrow from another's analogy.

Last edited by petertdavis : 06-06-2005 at 01:48 PM.
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Old 06-06-2005   #8
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Aha! We now have an on-topic thread aboiut DMOZ and affiliate stuff in sites, so we can expound away

I suppose, in a way, I could argue that the directory site with over 11,000 non-profit contact details was valid for DMOZ even after the 3,000 affiliate hotels had been added, because it still contained that information for 11,000+ accommodations of all types. But to be fair to DMOZ, the main thrust of the site did change, and the affiliate hotels are displayed as the default selection along with all other non-profit listings - and they are displayed at the top, whereas the other stuff is displayed below them. As a DMOZ editor, I would not have listed the site.

Just out of interest, the site went on to make lots of money, and it is still doing so
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Old 06-06-2005   #9
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Quick question...what unique content does froogle offer? After all, they do appear in the price comparison category and so do several other price comparisons that offer no unique content whatsoever.
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Old 06-07-2005   #10
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Price comparisons are an interesting area, and indeed one that gets a lot of affiliate spam. I think the best way to think about whether a site is listable, is to consider whether you (as a consumer looking to buy something) would actually use that site in preference to others available.

For a start Froogle isn't affiliate, its currently free - any shopping site can upload product data to it in the specified format. That is a unique service not offered elsewhere as far as I can tell. It also extracts prices from searchs in addition to uploaded listings - again a clever service.

Listed services such as Kelkoo which do have affiliate links have unique content in terms of the quality of their algorithms (they compare total prices including shipping costs and allow you to sort on them) and the breadth of their coverage.

The charter for the UK price comparisons category is a useful read to get a feel for what may be listable:
http://dmoz.org/Regional/Europe/Unit...sons/desc.html

Bear in mind that the bar for entry into these kinds of categories is getting pretty high, as they receive large amounts of spam. Sites listed years ago may not be accepted now if they were re-reviewed.

In addition to uniqueness of service offering and breadth of coverage (both in number of product areas, and number of vendors searched), objectivity is a very important factor, a site shouldn't try to hide the fact its links are affiliate (by cloaking or weird redirects) and nor should it try to rank sites based on the level of commission.

User friendliness is also a factor in an area where the sites are the same. Piles of popup/floatover type adverts and excessively intrusive affiliate links are not user friendly.

If a price comparison site covers a 'niche' area, it would need to be better (more comprehensive) than the big general price comparison sites in its focus area. Conversely if a site is general in nature it would need to stand up well against the most comprehensive sites out there.

As always whether a site is listed will come down to editorial judgement, but the aforementioned factors will all influence that judgement. I hope this helps clarify listability somewhat,

Kind Regards,

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Old 06-07-2005   #11
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My perspective:-

Price comparison sites offer a valuable service to people, even though they are affiliate sites. But there are a stack of sites that claim to be price comparison sites, but they are just lists of affiliate links with descriptions and pics. I don't see them as offering genuine value to people. But even if they do offer some genuine value, the real price comparison sites are better.

A lot is said about a site needing to have unique content, but I know that that it isn't an absolute essential for it to be listed in DMOZ. It would be a very bad directory if that were a hard and fast rule, because it would leave many categories with only one listing - e.g. price comparison cats. Any decent category needs to have a selection of useful sites, even if the content in them isn't unique.
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Old 06-07-2005   #12
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philc said:
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There are a stack of sites that claim to be price comparison sites, but they are just lists of affiliate links with descriptions and pics. I don't see them as offering genuine value to people. But even if they do offer some genuine value, the real price comparison sites are better.
A lot of the submissions to the ODP price comparisons categories (I'd go so far as to say the majority) are exactly what you describe. Just directories of affiliate links - they don't compare prices for a product - they list one affiliate link to one supplier for a product.

A number of others just use dealtime or kelkoo to do the comparison for them.

Quote:
A lot is said about a site needing to have unique content, but I know that that it isn't an absolute essential for it to be listed in DMOZ.
Unique content is still essential IMHO. Its just that uniqueness of content doesn't always have to be the products listed. Price comparison sites may have unique comparison methods or unique baskets of suppliers that are not available on sites listed already.
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Old 06-07-2005   #13
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So if there were another site equally as big and well known as Kelkoo, and they each offered the same services in the same way, only one of them would be listed. I have a hard time believeing that. Apart from the sheer well-knownness (new word) of both sites, if one were left out, the directory and its users would be the poorer for it. I just don't think that one of them would be left out.
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Old 06-07-2005   #14
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I think there is a fundamental assumption here that is...ummm.. maybe not so well thought out.

The assumption is that profiting from something creates a bias, which in turn creates bad data and content.

I have problems with both halves of that assumption, particularly the second one.

It seems reasonable to assume that someone who goes out and finds some affiliate links, then starts promoting the product, is not exactly unbiased. Fine.

BUT, for example, I have a tools page on my website that contains links to tools that I use on the road whan I don't have ready access to my own computer. The tools are mostly links to SEO related websites. Wordtracker is an example.

Now, I was linking to Wordtracker for quite some time before I noticed that they had an affiliate program. Then I figured that since I'm linking to them anyway, I might as well switch the link to an affiliate link. At that instant, did that link stop being a vote of confidence and now a biased commercial plot to rip off my visitors? Of course not!

The assumption of affiliate=bias is missing a critical step: it doesn't count the possibility that the purpose of the link is a vote of confidence or a genuine desire to help visitors.

If the link was there to help visitors anyway and the aff link was added in a "I'm linking anyway, might as well make some $$ off it" manner, then this should be a perfectly acceptable site. No matter how many links there are.

If it's clear that the site was designed around the affiliate links, then sure, dump them, unless the content is genuinely useful.

This needs addressing.

I remember on the High Rankings forum a company coming in and complaining that they had an affiliate that was ranking better than they were, and how do they "fix it"?

We looked at the sites, and it was clear that the main site was crap - their products may have been good, but it was essentially just a cheesy catalogue with no real information other than prices and shipping info.

The affiliate, however, had a beautiful site, with updated pictures of the product that actually allowed you to see what you were getting, and tons of installation guides, help files, and other really, really good information. Looking at the two sites, it was pretty clear that the one that should not be in DMOZ was the original site!

Yet this was a site started from the ground up as an affiliate. Biased? Sure. Useless? NO.

Bias does not equal bad content, which is my problem with the second half of this. Sometimes bias creates the best content available. By definition, the manufacturers of a product are pretty much the most biased websites you'll find. Yet they also (usually) have the best information. Making money off of a product allows you to invest time and money into providing support and information about the product.

It's the affiliates that are NOT making money off of the product, who are looking to get rich quick, who are actually NOT biased who have the worst sites. They are not biased because they don't give a damn about the product - they will dump it in a second if it's not making them money.

So biased in favour of a product or service (regardless of commercial reasons)generally makes good websites, and bias in favor of making money off of affiliate links generally makes bad websites. This is a critical difference.

A comparision site that simply takes affiliate links and then deliberately compares them in a manner that is misleading in order to get people to click on the aff link is bad. One that genuinely compares multiple sites and that happens to have affiliate links on some/all can be genuinely good.

Whether or not something has affiliate links on it should be irrelevant (other as a possible "red flag" for potential dupes and stolen content).

It's not the bias. It's not the commercialism. It's the content. It always has been and always well be. There should not be special rules for affiliates, just clear rules for unique and useful content regardless of what types of links are on the site.

I realize that DMOZ states that a few affiliate links don't override content for inclusion. My point is that the type of links should not even come up in the first place. It doesn't matter if they are "clean", affiliate, redirects or a whetever. There are now affiliate link systems that are "clean" but still allow tracking and payment. And what's the difference between an affiliate link and a question on a form asking who referred you?

By having a rule about affiliate links, you change the focus of editors (particularly the less experienced majority) from content to links.

It's not the links, it's the content. Losing focus on that is a mistake, IMO.

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Last edited by mcanerin : 06-07-2005 at 12:30 PM.
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Old 06-07-2005   #15
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I reviewed a site the other day where everything above the fold was affiliate links...

...and the next screenful.

There was some token unique content below the second fold [1].

It was declined, not because it had aff links, but because they obscured the real message (if that's what it was).

[1] I run full screen at 1280x1024. Lord knows what it would have been like at 800x600.
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Old 06-07-2005   #16
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Maybe it was designed for the Australian market where everything displays upside down. You really shouldn't jump to such quick conclusions, Jim
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Old 06-07-2005   #17
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It seems clear that the purpose of that site was to present the affiliate links, not the content.

Quote:
It was declined, not because it had aff links, but because they obscured the real message (if that's what it was).
Exactly as it should be! But if those links had not been aff links, it should have been treated the same, is the point I'm trying to make (in my unique, long-winded manner...)

Ian

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Old 06-07-2005   #18
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So if there were another site equally as big and well known as Kelkoo, and they each offered the same services in the same way, only one of them would be listed. I have a hard time believeing that. Apart from the sheer well-knownness (new word) of both sites, if one were left out, the directory and its users would be the poorer for it. I just don't think that one of them would be left out.
If they were exactly the same (unlikely) - e.g. if another appeared with exactly the same supplier list, categories and ranking as Kelkoo - I suspect they'd have Kelkoo's lawyers all over them :-)

So ignoring the exactness thing, if another site were equally big and comprehensive as Kelkoo - yes it would be listable.

But more generally if a new site appears that is exactly the same as an old site. Then we wouldn't list it because it offers nothing new to the category. It isn't serving unique content. And content is king.

mcanerin:
What you say is generally correct - affiliate links don't necessarily mean bias. They don't however constitute unique content in and of themselves.

Which is why we always say to editors 'block out the affiliate links and look at what is left' - if what is left is unique and original and user friendly (e.g. not obscured by ads/affiliate links to the extent it can't be found) then it will be listable.

All to often what is left is nothing - especially if one is considering submissions of sites with no price comparison mechanism to price comparison categories! ;-)

Quote:
BUT, for example, I have a tools page on my website that contains links to tools that I use on the road whan I don't have ready access to my own computer. The tools are mostly links to SEO related websites. Wordtracker is an example.

Now, I was linking to Wordtracker for quite some time before I noticed that they had an affiliate program. Then I figured that since I'm linking to them anyway, I might as well switch the link to an affiliate link. At that instant, did that link stop being a vote of confidence and now a biased commercial plot to rip off my visitors? Of course not!
Taking your example - when would that affiliate relationship indicate bias?

If your site is not a consumer information site, but rather a site with some SEO tips on it - then the affiliate link is irrelevant. (and clearly not an indicator of bias).

Now take another example.
Lets say you are site which reviews SEO tools (I have no clue what Wordtracker is but bear with me :-)

If you list say 40 similar tools, each with a review and your rating of it. And right at the top, ranked #1, is your Wordtracker affiliate one, followed by more products with affiliate links, with non-affiliate ones stuffed further down. That is going to look biased. Okay there is a slim chance that you managed to find affiliate programs for the best tools, but all the worst ones didn't have them. But realistically is that likely to be the case?

Now consider the possibility than an editor might actually know something about the area he edits in and he sees you've given really bad ratings to some great products that you don't have affiliate relationships with. That would probably be near definite proof of bias.

Now consider another option - where you had reviewed them all fairly, ranked them in some genuine fashion (with details of your review approach taken), and clearly labelled which links made you money and which didn't - then the affiliate links would be blanked out - and the site taken as legitimate.

But as I said earlier:
Quote:
Webmasters can certainly minimise the risk of this happening though, by carefully thinking through the nature of any affiliate relationships, and avoiding implementing ones that would cause their site to look biased.
It is all about trust. What makes a consumer information site trustworthy?
- Proper privacy policies?
- Registered company name and address?
- Lack of user unfriendly advertising
- Self written content
- The absence of a pile of crosslinked vanity domains at the bottom of each page all linking to other affiliate link farms that the owner has set up.

But if you want to guarantee that your site is considered objectives - then nothing beats:
- The absence of direct commercial relationships with the companies whose products you are reviewing.

Consumer information is a special case - it is hard for editors to determine how objective a site is. So by necessity the standards are higher.
The approach taken by many of the trustworthy sites is illustrated here:
http://www.moneysavingexpert.com/
Where they offer you the option of going to non-affiliate links as well.

Quote:
Bias does not equal bad content, which is my problem with the second half of this. Sometimes bias creates the best content available. By definition, the manufacturers of a product are pretty much the most biased websites you'll find. Yet they also (usually) have the best information. Making money off of a product allows you to invest time and money into providing support and information about the product.
It may not equal bad content for certain types of category. But it equals terrible content for a category like Home/Consumer_Information where objectivity is absolutely critical.
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Old 06-07-2005   #19
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You were addressing price comparison sites, Andy, but some of the things you said applied to sites in general. This for instance:-

Quote:
Which is why we always say to editors 'block out the affiliate links and look at what is left' - if what is left is unique and original and user friendly (e.g. not obscured by ads/affiliate links to the extent it can't be found) then it will be listable.
Take this site as an example - www.holidays.org.uk. I mentioned it earlier in the thread, or in the thread where this one was split from. It's a directory of UK holiday accommodations - like a phone book, and was (still is, I think) unique in that it simply presents locations, accommodation names, and phone numbers. There are a number of location/type-specific paid-for ads that appear above the phone number listings.

Before I added the affiliate hotels, the site was rightly listed in DMOZ, but since the DMOZ description read ".... only the phone numbers are given", I asked for it to be changed due to the fact that online booking had become available. It was promptly dropped because of the affiliate hotels. (I later became an editor and read the site's history).

The site has 11,000+ ordinary listings and 3000+ affiliate hotels, so the ordinary listings far outweigh the aff. hotels. The database is searchable on various types of accommodation (hotels, guesthouses, B&B, self-catering, farms, camping, caravanning, holiday parks, hostels, and boating). The default search is All Accomodation types. The aff. hotels are only listed for "hotels" and "All accommodations", but they are not listed for any other searches/types.

The general useage of the site means that most people do not see the aff. hotels at all unless they search on the default "All accommodations". The site clearly targets all accommodation types, and not just hotels. The site is clearly a useful database for all types of holiday accommodations in the UK, and not just a searchable database of UK hotels.

To get back to your statement (quoted). If you take away the affiliate links (those hotels), you are left with the same unique and useful content that it had when it was listed in DMOZ - a searchable database of 11,000+ UK holiday accommodations of many different types. Also, by far the largest amount of content in the site are those non-affiliate listings, and most visitors never see the affiliate hotels. The site is not a typical hotels affiliate site.

How does dropping that site equate with your statement?

Last edited by PhilC : 06-07-2005 at 05:43 PM.
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Old 06-07-2005   #20
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In line with the policies followed at resource-zone I won't review a site (at least not formally) on the basis of a forum thread. Nice try though :-)

However please feel free to resubmit to: Regional/Europe/United_Kingdom/Travel_and_Tourism/Accommodation/Guides_and_Directories if you feel your site meets our criteria for listing.

Have you checked it works properly in browsers other than IE though? Many editors use Firefox/Opera/Safari/Konqueror rather than IE to browse websites. Whilst I have IE as a backup, not all will have.

I did notice in a brief look that something about the link code you are using in your 'click for full details, availability check and online reservation' links under each hotel listing isn't working for me in Firefox at all. I am guessing you are using some kind of attribute that is non standard and maybe only works in IE.

You might want to ask in a HTML forum somewhere for advice on what exactly the problem is though, as its not really my field (and is almost certainly beyond the scope of this thread.)

Cheers,

Andy

/ADDED - FYI - The same links don't work in Opera either.

Last edited by andysands : 06-07-2005 at 08:45 PM. Reason: add - Opera bit
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