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  1. #1
    Word Painter silver trophy Shyflower's Avatar
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    What makes a good interview?

    The question came up in this thread.

    Interviewing is one area that's a real problem for me. I'm never sure how to contact the person I need to contact and not sure what to ask them once I have their consent to be interviewed!

    Who can help? Are you a good interviewer and how do you do what you do?
    Linda Jenkinson
    "Say what you mean. Mean what you say. But don't say it mean." ~Unknown

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    SitePoint Wizard chris_fuel's Avatar
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    Well, the specifics on the interview process will depend on what type of job you're dealing with. However, there are a few things to keep in mind:

    1) Does this person know anything about the company?

    Did you give them a web page or something to look at to describe your company? If so, figure out how much they've learned. Not much of a response? Might be a flag of a "safety interview" in case another job offer goes sour.

    2) Do you feel like punching them in the face?

    Humor aside, a somewhat overly tight person with little regards to humor might create a somewhat agitated work environment. Do they smile at all during the interview? Laugh at jokes? If you've got someone on your time that's kind of agitated all the time, other workers could potentially be spending more time thinking about how much they hate him than the next project's requirements.

    3) Working independently

    Yes, it's going to be most likely a team environment. However, strong independent thinking is also a plus. Someone who constantly has to tap into the knowledge of others loses time for the project, as well as the other person's time. If it's something that needs a lot of constant attention, well you've got meetings to get as much as possible out of the way.

    4) Don't take quitting/2 weeks or fired as an instant throwaway flag

    Someone quitting gives an obvious sense of lack of motivation for a job, but first figure out why it occurred. It may be something completely out of their control. If you throw someone perfectly suited for the job out based on this, you could have lost a key player to your team.

    5) Do research yourself on the position

    Look around at what people are expecting known for the job position. Even look around like you were applying for it yourself. In tech areas, look for standards that they should adhere to and see if they know said standards.

    6) Look for buzzwords

    As part of 5, figure out what the common acronyms and buzzwords are and how they relate to the position. If someone pulls like HTML, CSS, XML, SOAP, REST, etc. make sure they can actually expand them out and aren't just putting them up for kicks and giggles. Same goes with management or any other type of position.

    If you want to throw out what type of position it is, I can look and see if there's anything else I can add.

  3. #3
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    Fear of the unknown can cost you alot of money, but the unknown can be
    something to embrace as well Shy.

    When you start your research on your topic you will learn the keywords your
    prospective clients are asking the search engines, start there. When you are
    doing your interview make sure your subject understands you aren't a
    seasoned interviewer and you don't want to miss anything important, let
    them know its ok to volunteer anything they think needs to be shared on the
    topic you are discussing.

    When your subject understands that you are not alltogether comfortable with
    what you are doing, it is very disarming to the subject and they will want to
    help make sure that you have covered all your basis.

    As far as asking an expert for an interview, understand that your perception
    is your reality. Just because you view someone as an expert doesn't mean
    that they will bash you for asking for an interview. It's more likely that
    that person will be flattered and more than willing to let you interview them
    (after all, people love talking about themselves or what they are passionate
    about)

    Nothing ventured nothing gained, trust me the first one you do will be so
    much fun and profitable it wont be long before you are searching for others
    to interview on any number of subjects.

    That's what I would do.
    Aaron
    Get Unlimited Traffic To Your Content Site
    <<Content Revolution>>

  4. #4
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    1) Offer a sidebar/plug for their website. Especially effective if you have good traffic.

    2) Ask interesting questions, pick interesting topics or story angles. Most interviews are trite, asked-a-thousand-times junk.

    3) Offer advanced review of questions and to rework them if needed. You don't want a puff piece, but offering to rework questions for a better article can get an interview subject off the fence. Ask them, for instance, what questions they wished they were being asked -- what misconceptions there are, etc.

    If the interview is well written, your subject may link to you and send traffic your way. The only way to do this is to research the topic and whoever you interview to find out the questions to bring out new angles.

    Poor: How to you work with clients?

    Better: What are three things web design clients would be shocked if they knew you could do for them?

    You must word the question to provoke an informative answer while structuring it to produce an answer compelling to readers. Straddling these two perspectives is no easy task. Poor questions are boring to read, and more boring to answer.

    A note about buzzwords: Make sure they're words customers search for. One SEO describes keyword research as the "cold shower moment." Where, for instance, web designers search for the buzzword -- not the web design clients you need to sell. Often the buzzwords a company swears by aren't what best customers search with.

    When you use buzzwords, make sure you aren't using the interview as an excuse for keyword stuffing. Explain the "hidden secret 'they' don't want you to know about [insert buzzword here]. Give a brief definition or otherwise explain what the word means.

    Too often people use the words but don't understand them. I was interviewed -- the employment kind of interview -- by a web design company. I answered the several dozen questions they asked, but they couldn't answer mine:

    ....What's a tactic, what's a strategy? -- how are they different and give an example.

    ....Describe how you develop a content driven website?

    ....What's information and how is it different from data?

    ...What's content, and how do you "manage content?"

    If you want to get an awkward silence, trying interviewing web design agencies about anything other than buzzword compliance. Try asking what the buzzwords mean.

  5. #5
    SitePoint Zealot jvr's Avatar
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    Just by reading this thread, I got inform about interview and how to deal with it...

  6. #6
    Word Painter silver trophy Shyflower's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by chris_fuel View Post
    Well, the specifics on the interview process will depend on what type of job you're dealing with. However, there are a few things to keep in mind:

    1) Does this person know anything about the company?

    Did you give them a web page or something to look at to describe your company? If so, figure out how much they've learned. Not much of a response? Might be a flag of a "safety interview" in case another job offer goes sour.

    2) Do you feel like punching them in the face?

    Humor aside, a somewhat overly tight person with little regards to humor might create a somewhat agitated work environment. Do they smile at all during the interview? Laugh at jokes? If you've got someone on your time that's kind of agitated all the time, other workers could potentially be spending more time thinking about how much they hate him than the next project's requirements.

    3) Working independently

    Yes, it's going to be most likely a team environment. However, strong independent thinking is also a plus. Someone who constantly has to tap into the knowledge of others loses time for the project, as well as the other person's time. If it's something that needs a lot of constant attention, well you've got meetings to get as much as possible out of the way.

    4) Don't take quitting/2 weeks or fired as an instant throwaway flag

    Someone quitting gives an obvious sense of lack of motivation for a job, but first figure out why it occurred. It may be something completely out of their control. If you throw someone perfectly suited for the job out based on this, you could have lost a key player to your team.

    5) Do research yourself on the position

    Look around at what people are expecting known for the job position. Even look around like you were applying for it yourself. In tech areas, look for standards that they should adhere to and see if they know said standards.

    6) Look for buzzwords

    As part of 5, figure out what the common acronyms and buzzwords are and how they relate to the position. If someone pulls like HTML, CSS, XML, SOAP, REST, etc. make sure they can actually expand them out and aren't just putting them up for kicks and giggles. Same goes with management or any other type of position.

    If you want to throw out what type of position it is, I can look and see if there's anything else I can add.
    I think you misunderstood. This is the content forum. My question was how to do an interview for an article, not for a job.
    Linda Jenkinson
    "Say what you mean. Mean what you say. But don't say it mean." ~Unknown

  7. #7
    Word Painter silver trophy Shyflower's Avatar
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    Thanks DCrux and Aaron. Great input from you both. I'm gonna save it for a reference just in case I need to do an interview!
    Linda Jenkinson
    "Say what you mean. Mean what you say. But don't say it mean." ~Unknown

  8. #8
    SitePoint Wizard chris_fuel's Avatar
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    think you misunderstood. This is the content forum. My question was how to do an interview for an article, not for a job.
    My Post:

    Today, 07:31AM


    Medic! Coffee!

    I'll be back in a few hours, going to hit up the dark corner to sulk for a bit

  9. #9
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    I'm an entertainment reporter and I interview celebs and other industry people all of the time. I've been told that people enjoy being interviewed by me because I don't ask the same old questions and - most importantly, I listen!

    Listening is really tough when you're new at it because you're worried about your next question and is your tape recorder running and are you running out of time. And worse - nerves often make you talk too much.

    My first interviews, when I listen to the tapes, oh my! I talk more than my subject. Bad move. Don't be afraid of silence. Ask your question then shut up. Let them have time to answer.

    Listen to the answer and follow up. They say, I almost went to medical school. You follow, really? Why did you change your mind.

    Questions -- Don't ask anything you could have (or should have) looked up before the interview. I've heard many reporters ask well known actors "what other movies have you been in?". Do your homework. Know who you're talking to and if you can find a line on a hobby - you're in like Flynn.

    One of the most fascinating interviews I've ever done was with A-Team's Dwight Schultz. Seriously. He's a conspiracy buff, UFO's and Los Alamos and all that. I asked him about those subjects and he went on and on and I learned so much more about him and his personality than if I'd asked just about his time on A-Team.

    I also like to ask random questions. You learn so much from those. My new favorite. What was your favorite food as a kid and what have you kept from childhood - have both elicited some wonderful responses and twice my subject ended up having a "warm and fuzzy wow" moment. One went to call his mom the minute we were done. The other went to his basement to find a cherished item he'd forgotten about.

    Obviously, this is a subject I could go on and on about forever! Hope there are some nuggets there that help.

  10. #10
    SitePoint Evangelist old_expat's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Cynthiab View Post
    Obviously, this is a subject I could go on and on about forever! Hope there are some nuggets there that help.
    Please do!

    One thing I would like to know from you is about how to do email interviewing .. for those of us who are geographically challenged .. and have never had contact with the person we would like to interview.

    Because I'm an expat, and have an expat site, I have had a couple of reporters ask me some questions by email .. but I really didn't like their approach. One of the first things they told me was that my website might be mentioned in the article. Oh wowie!

  11. #11
    SitePoint Evangelist old_expat's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by DCrux View Post
    1) Offer a sidebar/plug for their website. Especially effective if you have good traffic.

    2) Ask interesting questions, pick interesting topics or story angles. Most interviews are trite, asked-a-thousand-times junk.

    3) Offer advanced review of questions and to rework them if needed. You don't want a puff piece, but offering to rework questions for a better article can get an interview subject off the fence. Ask them, for instance, what questions they wished they were being asked -- what misconceptions there are, etc.

    If the interview is well written, your subject may link to you and send traffic your way. The only way to do this is to research the topic and whoever you interview to find out the questions to bring out new angles.

    Poor: How to you work with clients?

    Better: What are three things web design clients would be shocked if they knew you could do for them?

    You must word the question to provoke an informative answer while structuring it to produce an answer compelling to readers. Straddling these two perspectives is no easy task. Poor questions are boring to read, and more boring to answer.

    A note about buzzwords: Make sure they're words customers search for. One SEO describes keyword research as the "cold shower moment." Where, for instance, web designers search for the buzzword -- not the web design clients you need to sell. Often the buzzwords a company swears by aren't what best customers search with.

    When you use buzzwords, make sure you aren't using the interview as an excuse for keyword stuffing. Explain the "hidden secret 'they' don't want you to know about [insert buzzword here]. Give a brief definition or otherwise explain what the word means.

    Too often people use the words but don't understand them. I was interviewed -- the employment kind of interview -- by a web design company. I answered the several dozen questions they asked, but they couldn't answer mine:

    ....What's a tactic, what's a strategy? -- how are they different and give an example.

    ....Describe how you develop a content driven website?

    ....What's information and how is it different from data?

    ...What's content, and how do you "manage content?"

    If you want to get an awkward silence, trying interviewing web design agencies about anything other than buzzword compliance. Try asking what the buzzwords mean.
    Thanks, DCrux .. always a pleasure reading your posts.

  12. #12
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    Quote Originally Posted by old_expat View Post
    Please do!

    One thing I would like to know from you is about how to do email interviewing .. for those of us who are geographically challenged .. and have never had contact with the person we would like to interview.

    Because I'm an expat, and have an expat site, I have had a couple of reporters ask me some questions by email .. but I really didn't like their approach. One of the first things they told me was that my website might be mentioned in the article. Oh wowie!
    An email interview is at the very bottom of my list for the simple reason that it's difficult to follow up on an answer or a thought. Always try for at least a phone interview. With Skype, you can talk country to country for cheap or free if they're on Skype. It makes all the difference.

    If you must do it by email, start by saying that you appreciate them taking the time and that they should feel free to elaborate where needed. I say this because many people answer short out of habit, or they don't want to type.

    Q: How did you get started in the business?
    A: A friend hired me.

    What can you make of that? Nothing. On the phone you could easily follow up, but here you're stuck sending another email for clarification.

    Don't ask yes or no questions - same reason as above.

    At the end ask: Is there anything you'd like my readers to know that I have forgotten to ask?

    Also, I suggest reminding the subject that they don't have to answer all of the questions or all at one time. You don't want someone so overwhelmed that they blow you off.

    Ironically, just after you responded to this post with your question, someone sent ME an email interview request. It was a simple question - whether or not I would allow my teen to buy a controversial album.

    The young woman was polite. Her email was direct. Her questions were clear and she wrote as if she assumed I would answer her questions and she thanked me for taking the time.

    I answered her right then and there.

    Cyn

  13. #13
    SitePoint Evangelist old_expat's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Cynthiab View Post
    An email interview is at the very bottom of my list for the simple reason that it's difficult to follow up on an answer or a thought. Always try for at least a phone interview. With Skype, you can talk country to country for cheap or free if they're on Skype. It makes all the difference.
    Thanks, Cynthiab.

    I'm in the process of trying to do some interviews by PM on an expat forum. If successful, the interviews will make up a dozen or more pages of a small section I'm doing about why expats repatriate or switch countries. I use pseudonyms so that flamers cannot connect the dots if they see my website. I also use their words, bad grammar and all, as I feel that adds credibility.

    It's a bit awkward since folks don't always volunteer their names and telephone numbers. My first one went fine because the guy really wanted to tell his story.

    Re: Phone interviews on Skype. How do you record the interview? Do you have recording software .. or an interface for a recording device?

  14. #14
    SitePoint Wizard chris_fuel's Avatar
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    Hmm, I suppose you could record with skype using something like audacity. You'd probably need two instances running, one to capture the audio out (The person being interviewed) and another to capture audio in (the headset). Then from there it would be a matter of merging the two together into one whole file.

    ... and right as I finish writing all this, what do you know.. a call recording plugin for skype :P . Oh well, it sounded pretty cool and technical to me

  15. #15
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    Quote Originally Posted by chris_fuel View Post
    Well, the specifics on the interview process will depend on what type of job you're dealing with. However, there are a few things to keep in mind:

    1) Does this person know anything about the company?

    Did you give them a web page or something to look at to describe your company? If so, figure out how much they've learned. Not much of a response? Might be a flag of a "safety interview" in case another job offer goes sour.

    2) Do you feel like punching them in the face?

    Humor aside, a somewhat overly tight person with little regards to humor might create a somewhat agitated work environment. Do they smile at all during the interview? Laugh at jokes? If you've got someone on your time that's kind of agitated all the time, other workers could potentially be spending more time thinking about how much they hate him than the next project's requirements.

    3) Working independently

    Yes, it's going to be most likely a team environment. However, strong independent thinking is also a plus. Someone who constantly has to tap into the knowledge of others loses time for the project, as well as the other person's time. If it's something that needs a lot of constant attention, well you've got meetings to get as much as possible out of the way.

    4) Don't take quitting/2 weeks or fired as an instant throwaway flag

    Someone quitting gives an obvious sense of lack of motivation for a job, but first figure out why it occurred. It may be something completely out of their control. If you throw someone perfectly suited for the job out based on this, you could have lost a key player to your team.

    5) Do research yourself on the position

    Look around at what people are expecting known for the job position. Even look around like you were applying for it yourself. In tech areas, look for standards that they should adhere to and see if they know said standards.

    6) Look for buzzwords

    As part of 5, figure out what the common acronyms and buzzwords are and how they relate to the position. If someone pulls like HTML, CSS, XML, SOAP, REST, etc. make sure they can actually expand them out and aren't just putting them up for kicks and giggles. Same goes with management or any other type of position.

    If you want to throw out what type of position it is, I can look and see if there's anything else I can add.

    Exactly.........and you may start from introduction to know more and more about the background, education, experience of the person and if necessary you can also make cross questions.......

  16. #16
    SitePoint Evangelist old_expat's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by chris_fuel View Post
    Hmm, I suppose you could record with skype using something like audacity. You'd probably need two instances running, one to capture the audio out (The person being interviewed) and another to capture audio in (the headset). Then from there it would be a matter of merging the two together into one whole file.

    ... and right as I finish writing all this, what do you know.. a call recording plugin for skype :P . Oh well, it sounded pretty cool and technical to me
    Ooooh .. nice! Thanks chris_fuel. Even the best version is affordable.

  17. #17
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    I know what you're talking about re: early versions of interviews. However, in my zeal I went the other way from being under prepared.

    My original idea for my site was (going to be) much more about interviews. I vividly remember my first few, like a car crash, they're burned into my mind.

    I was asking a guy -- twin PhD degrees -- who wrote a (then) popular book. This was about business so, silly me, I asked what I though were good business questions.

    Q: Your book is about some fairly complex ideas for business. If a startup was developing a business plan, what are three or five differences would there be applying your ideas versus a traditional business plan?

    A: "You know, that's a good question. I am working on a startup right now and hadn't considered applying the ideas from the book it in that way. ..."

    That's how the interview started. The last thing I remember was, after numerous questions he had no good answer for, he said "I think I want to stop talking now."

    Keep in mind I wasn't trying to stump anybody, or grill anybody. At the end I was desperately grasping for any question (beyond name and birth date) they interviewee could answer.

    After about three or four truly disastrous phone interviews I stopped doing them. Didn't matter if the person was a popular book author or well versed in business, they couldn't answer most of the questions I though were "soft pitches." Forget anything designed to draw out some information.

    Moral of the story: Send the questions in advance. I've taken up the interviews since, and had some good success -- but only with email. I'm too dangerous face-to-face as I have a tendency to be like the kid pointing to the emperor's new non-clothes. And I mean it's actually blackly comedic what obvious, simple things people don't think about or never consider.

    ...A web design firm that doesn't know the difference between the words "tactic" and "strategy" or the words "logo" and "brand" or "message-to-market match."

    ...A national chain of IT training centers whose CEO has never had a single meeting (in a dozen years) on what information is, or how you teach people to obtain information and not data from computers.

    ...Programmers who don't know what a user benefit is. ....Web designers who don't have a clear idea of the user they're building a site for.

  18. #18
    Word Painter silver trophy Shyflower's Avatar
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    I think your suggestion to send the questions ahead of time is an excellent one. You might also, at that time, ask your interviewee to jot down anything he/she would like to talk about that you didn't ask.
    Linda Jenkinson
    "Say what you mean. Mean what you say. But don't say it mean." ~Unknown

  19. #19
    SitePoint Wizard chris_fuel's Avatar
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    Another one for the discussion too, try and read up on the person's culture as well. I know it may sound bizzare, but there may be things that you think are okay to say, but might be offensive in their culture. Can't give any concrete examples off the top of my head, but awkward moments make for the worst interviews...

  20. #20
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    Quote Originally Posted by old_expat View Post

    Re: Phone interviews on Skype. How do you record the interview? Do you have recording software .. or an interface for a recording device?
    Yes, I use the Pamela software. I had issues setting it up but it ran great until last week where I lost a celeb interview when only my side of the conversation recorded. I still don't know why.

    You need to pay for the pro version of the software but it's been a boon.

  21. #21
    SitePoint Zealot SEO Canada's Avatar
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    Having done some with fairly important folks, and gotten a question of mine asked to 50 Cent in Time magazine's interview a little while back, I've got a couple of favourite pointers:

    1) Ask them about something many people will care about. Read around the industry and see what topics come up a lot. If you can get something original, it'll be interesting to a lot of people.

    2) Have them give you a bio to introduce the article and encourage them to link to their best content in it. If they're at all good at SEO, and/or marketing they'll be looking to link to the interview and thus reinforce their own backlinks.

    3) Derive ideas from their recent blog postings and ask about that. For example, XMCP wrote about expired domains in Yahoo's directory. I followed that up with a post suggesting that if you buy these domains, you put their old content (based on Archive.org) back into place, in order to pass manual review by Yahoo's editors. Once enough time has passed so you can be sure that the link is in the directory to stay, you can add a link or two to another site of yours and pass the yahoo link value to your important projects. Both those posts went hot on Sphinn, so you can see how building on something popular will likely get you juicy content too.

  22. #22
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    Really very nice thread...and useful discussion.

    My view are almost same as of "chris_fuel" above.

  23. #23
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    very nice thread, i did some research in interviews online

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    Sometimes getting people to open up to you and start talking can be quite difficult. Here's useful technique I learned a few years ago when I was working in sales.

    When your client finishes their statement, repeat their last 3 or 4 words back to them as a question.

    For example...

    Person1 : "So why did you start this thread?"
    Person2 : "I need help. I'm not very good at interviewing people."
    Person1 : "At interviewing people?"
    Person2 : "Yes, I never know what to ask and I run out of questions."
    Person1 : "Run out of questions?"

    You get the idea. It's a great way to keep your subject talking before you throw in a new question. Just don't over use it.
    John Pitchers
    Viperfish Media

  25. #25
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    Get into your comfort zone. If you have trouble with the dynamics of an in person or phone interview, why not try interviewing people by email or instant message? It might be more comfortable for both of you, and the extra time that it takes to get answers back and send them will give you more time to think of follow up questions (and them more time to think of answers).

    A phone interview could take less than an hour, and if there are awkward silences (Like when you take notes) you might feel rushed, or that you need to wrap things up although you don't feel finished. A text format interview, on the other hand, could take a few days, so both you and the interviewee feel less rushed.

    A big part of getting information from someone is establishing a rapport, and comfort plays a big part in that. Of course you might find ice-breaking on the phone much easier, or you might find some people are just easier to talk to on the phone.

    You could also try a mix of phone and email, for more chances to establish a a rapport with your interviewee. Perhaps you could start with a phone interview to break the ice, ask a few questions, email the question list for their reference and ask if it's all right to send some follow up questions in email, while reminding them that if they'd like to add anything they can email you.


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