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2011 Predictions For Virtual Events

October 30, 2010

As we head into the final 2 months of 2010, it’s time for another round of predictions.  First, let’s review my 2010 predictions:

  1. The 2010 Predictions for Virtual Events
  2. The Mid-Year Report Card on the 2010 predictions
  3. A posting on the Future of Virtual Events

I assigned myself a mid-year grade of B.  And now, I’m designating a final grade of B-.  I hope to improve in this year’s predictions.  To assist with my predictions, I invited a few experts from the community to chime in, so I’ll be including their predictions with my own.

Market Expansion

To date, “market expansion” has meant a growing number of “pure play” virtual event platform providers.  In the US, we started with a handful of major vendors and we’ve seen new entrants into the market in 2009 and 2010.  We also saw the emergence of platforms outside the US, notably in Europe – and in 2009, in Asia Pacific as well.

For a large Requests For Proposal (RFP) in 2009 and 2010, the virtual event platforms knew whom they were competing against (each other).  Starting in 2011, it gets cloudier (pun intended), as the blending of virtual, social and Enterprise 2.0 means that a wider set of vendors are vying for the same business that virtual platforms got in 2010.

Consider the following vendors, each of whom has offerings that (in part) look, feel and smell like virtual events or virtual business communities:

Jive Software, Yammer, Pathable, Facebook Groups, Socialtext, SharePoint (Microsoft) and Lotus (IBM).

Virtual event platforms can expect to sell against some of these players in 2011 and some platforms may go the partnership route, to build a combined offering as a competitive advantage.

Service Level Agreements (SLA)

The virtual events industry is at a point in its growth where Service Level Agreements (SLA) make a lot of sense.  With a growing number of vendors, SLA’s help separate the contenders from the pretenders – if you’re offering money back (or a credit) if an event fails, then only the strong will survive.

I predict that one vendor will lead the way and proactively hit the market with an SLA – forcing others to follow suit later in 2011.  Expect SLA’s around availability and simultaneous users.

Later in 2011 (or perhaps in 2012), SLA’s will be defined around “quality”, such as response time.  This development helps the market – the assurance provided behind an event allows the market to expand, attracting new customer growth that exceeds 2010’s figures.

Market Upheaval

Market expansion and SLA’s mean the strong get stronger. But lesser platforms have a challenging year ahead. According to Cece Salomon-Lee, Principal at PR Meets Marketing, “some players will be bought by larger organizations, merging to bring together complimentary strengths or even some disappearing from the industry all together. No matter how, we will begin to see some consolidation within the industry.”

Meanwhile, Miguel Arias of IMASTE believes that US platforms will look abroad for acquisitions.  To “gain presence, customers and market knowledge” in Europe, Latin America and Asia, Arias believes US platforms will look to partner or acquire in-country platforms in those same regions.

In my mind, there is an enormous, (largely) untapped market within the US, which means that US-based platforms will continue to focus domestically in 2011.  Global expansion will occur in 2012 or beyond.  In addition, due to the “strong get stronger” phenomenon, I predict that one of the prominent US-based platforms will cease operations in 2011 – or, be sold at a below-market price.

Technology A La Carte


Today, virtual event platforms are “monolithic” – you enter an event and all of the functionality provided by the platform sits within that event.  You can’t experience the platform’s features outside of an “event”.  In my futures column, I predicted that virtual events “move closer to the end user”.

Driven by market demand, platforms will “break out” pieces of their technology platform in a la carte fashion. Customers who do not need a five course meal may opt just for an appetizer and coffee.  This may surface in a number of ways, including:

Thin desktop clients, mobile apps, browser toolbars, virtual booths embedded in banner ads, group chat embedded on a web page, etc.

Hybrid Innovation & The Year of the Hybrid

In 2009, some INXPO colleagues and I predicted that 2010 would be The Year of the Hybrid.  This was partially true – in fact, Cisco received the 2010 Grand Ex Award for their hybrid approach to Cisco Live and Networkers. However, the mass adoption of hybrid events (that we predicted) did not ring true.  But that’s OK, it’s always better to be a year early than a year late.

Event and experience marketing agencies have adopted virtual in varying degrees – 2011 is the year where they demonstrate the most aggressive push to date.  You’ll see strong adoption from the “big brands” in 2011 and it will come by way of these channel partners to the virtual event platforms.  2011 will set the foundation for growth – with “hockey stick growth” coming in 2012.

Another major adopter in 2011 will be associations. They’ve done a number of virtual events to date – in 2011, you’ll see 200%+ growth.  Local chapter meetings will continue to occur at physical locations, while the annual, national chapter meeting of the association will move to a hybrid event, with the virtual component serving those members who were not able to make it to the physical gathering.

More generally, 2011 will see innovative technologies that blend the virtual/online world with the real world.  And these same technologies will be integrated into hybrid event experiences, blurring the lines between physical and virtual.  I’m referring to location based services (LBS), mobile, augmented reality and QR codes.  Expect to see a lot of hybrid events innovation, which benefits everyone.

Miscellaneous Predictions

From Miguel Arias, “After some virtual events vendors, marketers and event organisers have shown in 2010 with successful case studies what are the benefits of virtual events we will see much more events and movements in Europe and South America specially.  I expect a 250-300% growth of the total market size in those regions.”

From Cece Salomon-Lee, “I believe the players that will remain on the landscape will begin building out an ecosystem of services to plug-and-play on the platforms.”

From Miguel on vendor specialization, “With more vendors in the space and more clients asking for more tailored solutions we will probably see a leader in the corporate events environment, a leader in the generic trade show market, other for hybrid events, for virtual career fairs, etc.”

Conclusion

I’ll sum up this piece by using a number of nouns to describe what I expect to see in 2011: innovation, shake-out, growth, change, adaptation, expansion, excitement.  Check back here in 6-8 months for my mid-year report card!

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Virtual Events In Europe: Best Practices, Learnings And Observations

April 19, 2010

The following is a guest post from Miguel Arias of IMASTE.

In the past months we have delivered a virtual career fair in partnership with Monster.com in various European countries. After a number of successful events in France, United Kingdom, Ireland and Italy (and with the imminent launch of the German version and preparations underway for the Polish and Czech versions), it is time to evaluate the project.

With a reach of over 400,000 unique attendees and more than 200 participating exhibitors to date, the Monster European virtual job fairs have become a very relevant case study about the way virtual events and tradeshows are being hold in Europe.

There are a few issues that I would like to point out:

Market differences within Europe

The fact that each of those markets has a different language is a known fact, which demands a certain level of customisation capabilities in the virtual event platform. This affects not only the code language but also all the 3D environments, interfaces size, fonts, etc.

And some of the countries have many official languages; therefore virtual event platforms need to have “real time” Multilanguage capabilities.

But, there are some other subtle differences that may have a big impact for virtual event production and development. For instance, legal differences lead to changes in the résumé data model and in different levels of integration with the partner´s databases.

Different customer expectations

The penetration and market awareness of virtual events is different in the UK, France and Italy. This leads to relevant gaps in terms of pricing, willingness to pay or expected features for the potential customers in each of those countries. Live interaction seems to be more relevant in UK or France, while an immersive user experience ranks higher in the Italian market.

We have also observed that French companies are keener to virtual stand customisations than British companies. It is difficult to generalise, but there seem to be some trends there.

Different marketing approach

In line with the last idea, the effectiveness of some marketing tools is quite diverse. The use of social media to promote the event has proven more successful in our French events than in other countries, while the effect of SEO/SEM strategies have worked better in UK. There is a need of knowing which are the best specific web traffic drivers of each country, to ensure high quality attendees in each event.

Vendor – client relationship

Since virtual events are “live” events, there is a need of a common trust between the event producer and the virtual event vendor. In order to build this relationship, factors like distance, time zone sharing and face-to-face trainings, meetings and follow up are very relevant.

We hired native country managers in Imaste for the French and British market, and will be doing the same with the Italian and German market in the following weeks.

To summarise, I would say that, the Monster Virtual Career fairs, in spite of being delivered for the same company and being the same type of event, implied an important percentage of adaptation and flexibility in each country. And the personal relations that go with a good level of service, involve a cultural understanding of country related particularities.

I believe that Europe can’t be considered a homogeneous market as the US is. American vendors should take this into account when entering the continental Europe market.

About Miguel Arias

Miguel Arias founded IMASTE in 2003 in hopes of building a bridge between companies and university graduates via live career fairs. Over the years, IMASTE has evolved to become one of the major agents in the virtual trade shows and events market, with successful projects in various European and South American countries

IMASTE is a Spanish company, European leading provider of virtual events, 3D online environments and online trade-shows, which connect, inform and engage visitors and exhibitors. IMASTE´s customized solutions reduce travel costs and are environmentally friendly, while our customers are able to generate leads, networking, increase online sales chances and communicate projects or services globally.

IMASTE has delivered more than 100 successful virtual events for global clients across the globe. You may find more info in http://www.imaste-ips.com

Miguel holds a MEng in Civil Engineering from Universidad Politecnica de Madrid and a Professional MBA from the Instituto de Empresa Business School.

Related links:

http://www.monster-edays.fr/2010/printemps/

http://www.monstervirtualjobfair.com/DEMO/

http://www.fieralavoromonster.it/

http://blog.imaste-ips.com

http://www.imaste-ips.com


2009 Year In Review: Virtual Events

December 24, 2009

2009 was a landmark year for the virtual events industry – early adopters expanded their virtual event initiatives and leveraged the technology in innovative ways.  Many industries (and associated corporations) entered the mix, producing their first ever virtual event in 2009.  Despite the economy (or perhaps aided by the downturn), virtual event platform providers enjoyed healthy growth in client demand, event volume and revenue.  The platform market expanded beyond the U.S., with the emergence of new platforms in Europe and New Zealand.  We even had the industry’s first ever face-to-face event, the Virtual Edge Summit (U.S. – Santa Clara, CA).

To get a better sense of how 2009 unfolded, I reviewed the past 12 months of postings on this blog and sought to categorize the trends and patterns.

Source: flickr (User: Linzi's Cakes)

Assorted Shapes and Sizes

In the early days, the industry was all about virtual tradeshows.  During 2007-2008, new event types were spawned – and in 2009, we saw many more instances of non-tradeshow events: virtual job fairs, virtual sales meetings, virtual partner summits.  In addition, we saw innovative concepts applied in hybrid events – where event planners staged concurrent physical and virtual events.  I wrote about learnings and observations from Cisco Live and Networkers Virtual, in which virtual and physical blended together.  In 2010, I expect to see many more hybrid events, with event planners leveraging creative ways to tie virtual together with physical.  In fact, I believe 2010 will be The Year of The Hybrid Event.

In addition to the assorted event types – we’re starting to see the use of virtual event technology to support ongoing business communities.  The community concept makes a lot of sense in conjunction with physical or virtual events – instead of “going dark” between live event dates, event planners can leverage the “platform” to keep the community interaction and dialog going – where the events serve as “momentum points” to drive continued activity within the online business community.  I brainstormed about tactics that could be applied to sustain virtual business community loyalty.

Social Media and Twitter

With all due respect to Facebook and other services, I believe 2009 was The Year of Twitter.  There are many ways in which Twitter can be leveraged for virtual events – here are a few ideas that I blogged about:

  1. Leverage Twitter for Virtual Tradeshow Outreach
  2. How to Promote Your Virtual Event on Twitter
  3. Leverage Twitter Lists for your Physical or Virtual Event

Virtual event platforms have integrated with Twitter and other social networks – in 2010, I see the breadth and depth of integration expanding.  The expansion will be fueled both by interest (from the virtual event platforms and from clients) as well as richer interfaces (APIs) from the social network sites.  For instance, LinkedIn recently announced an open API for their platform.

In parallel to virtual events, 2009 was a watershed year for social gaming (e.g. Zynga, Playdom and other sites).  In 2010, we’ll see virtual event platforms leverage gaming for a mix of fun and business use.  I wrote about the reasons that virtual events should incorporate gaming.  Lastly, I believe the tried and true webinar needs to become more social – webinars need to encourage and support more participation from the audience.

The market extends beyond the U.S.

In 2009, virtual events platform vendors emerged globally – in order of appearance in this blog:

  1. ExpoNZ – New Zealand
  2. IMASTE – Spain
  3. Ubivent – Germany

I expect to see a few more virtual event platforms emerge in Europe in 2010 – Asia Pac is sure to see local entrants as well.

Virtual Event Best Practices

I wrote a lot about virtual event best practices in the past 12 months. Here’s a selection of the more popular postings:

  1. Virtual Event Best Practices
  2. How to Market your Virtual Event
  3. Best Practices for Virtual Tradeshow Exhibitors
  4. Lead Follow-Up for Virtual Events
  5. Assemble the Right Team for your Virtual Event
  6. Increase Your Virtual Event ROI
  7. Think Outside the Inbox for Virtual Event Promotion
  8. How to Run a Virtual Event Command Center

Happy Holidays to all.  2009 was a great year for virtual events.  And I have news for you – 2010 will be even better!


Video: Virtual Events With IMASTE

December 11, 2009

Miguel Arias (@mike_arias), Co-Founder and Director-Partner of IMASTE, visited Silicon Valley (Northern California) this week.  IMASTE, the leading virtual events provider in Europe, was 1 of 10 Spanish technology companies selected to visit Silicon Valley to meet with the likes of Google, Yahoo and venture capitalists.

In 2009, IMASTE produced a number of virtual career fairs, including a large scale job fair for Monster Worldwide.  In addition to virtual career fairs, IMASTE produced virtual tradeshows, including hybrid (physical + virtual) events.  IMASTE serviced clients in Europe and Brazil, including a virtual event in Croatian, for a client based in Croatia.

Looking ahead to 2010, Arias sees strong growth in the European market, as awareness of virtual events is growing – in addition, Arias believes hybrid events will be a large growth area in Europe.

View this video for more details about IMASTE – the video includes a brief demo of the Monster virtual career fair that IMASTE powered.


2010 Predictions For Virtual Events

December 3, 2009

Source: flickr (User: sassycrafter)

Back in August, I jumped the gun a bit and wrote a “year in review” posting about virtual events.  Now that we’re in December,  I think it’s high time to peer into the Magic 8 Ball and speculate on what’s in store for the virtual events industry in 2010.  Away we go…

Widescale adoption and integration of video conferencing

Virtual events have incorporated a lot of on-demand and live video – however, to date, the majority of attendee interaction has been via text (e.g. private text chat, group text chat, etc.).  Many platforms have enabled the use of attendee webcams (a la Skype) and that was a nice start.  In 2010, I believe that the virtual event platforms will integrate with third party video conferencing technologies in a big way – stirred largely by client demand for it.

Think about it – multinational corporations have adopted high-end video conferencing to encourage collaboration and save on travel costs.  They have the budget to invest in Cisco Telepresence or HP Halo.  As those same corporations look to adopt virtual events (e.g. for an annual virtual sales meeting), it’s only natural that they incorporate the video conferencing technology that they already have running.

To capture mid-market and small business interest, virtual event platforms will look to integrate with mid-tier video conferencing systems, such as Tandberg (whose acquisition by Cisco is pending) and Polycom.

Another interesting player is LifeSize Communications, an Austin-based provider of “mainstream telepresence” that was acquired by Logitech in November.  LifeSize recently launched an offering called Passport, which they term “a portable telepresence-quality system” that fits in the palm of your hand.

I see continued use of consumer-grade webcam technology in 2010 virtual events  – however, the game changer will be the incorporation of multi-party, HD video conferencing.

Emergence of global players

We’ve already seen the emergence in Europe of virtual event platforms – IMASTE in Spain and Ubivent in Germany.  I expect to see another European-based platform emerge in 2010, along with one or more in Asia Pac.  In addition, we’ll see services companies launch to capitalize on the demand (for virtual events) from publishers, corporations and event marketers.  The companies will provide both strategic and logistical services around virtual events.  You’ll see some start-up companies and you’ll also see physical event marketers spawn service offerings around virtual (or more logically, hybrid) events.

Industry consolidation

We’ll see the merging or acquiring of virtual event platform companies.  Some providers will look to acquire/merge out of platform capability gaps – while stronger players will look to complementary/synergistic technologies offered by the competition.  As the economic environment comes back around, companies (and their investors) will be more apt to combine forces to fuel the next phase of growth.  Lastly, larger and more established players in the “collaboration space” may look to acquire virtual event platform companies, to add a complementary piece to their product portfolio.

Decrease in “relative response rates”

Virtual events had a great run in 2009, but we’re now past the novelty, “wow, this is cool” phase.  In the B2B market, we now have plenty of users who have attended two or more virtual events.  If virtual event show hosts continue to use the same graphical templates, organize the same presentation agenda and re-create an identical experience to their last event, then “relative response rates” will drop – meaning, it will become harder and harder to recruit users to register and attend.

Decreased response rates are natural as any new “content type” grows beyond infancy – and the supply/demand ratio begins to tilt towards having more supply than demand (e.g. lots of virtual events).  Virtual event show hosts will need to consider the incorporation of gaming, the creation of affinity programs and more.  The solution to decreased response rates will be fun to watch – innovators will step to the table to find creative ways to engage and attract virtual event attendees.

Platforms take first step towards immersiveness

While virtual event attendees may not “require” the immersiveness of Second Life and other 3D virtual worlds – immersive capabilities provide real value in a B2B setting.  The most obvious use case is an immersive rendering of a complex product – consider the high-end video conferencing system, the high-end router, the latest luxury car model.  Instead of a 2D PowerPoint slide that highlights the capabilities of the video conferencing system, how about an immersive experience where attendees (aka prospects) get to experience the system and interact with it?

Client interest and demand will drive some platforms to add immersive capabilities in 2010.  I don’t expect a software download, however – it would serve platforms well to support the immersive experience within their existing framework (e.g. Flash, JavaFX, Silverlight).

Those are my 2010 predictions for virtual events.  I’d love to hear your’s!


Ubivent Enters The Virtual Events Platform Market

December 2, 2009

Based in Mannheim, Germany, ubivent has entered the virtual events platform market with a recently launched platform.  According to Michael Geisser, Managing Director Market Development, the ubivent co-founders “met at university, working together in an IT research program and pursuing our PhD”.  The co-founders then spent several years working at multinational corporations, where they held numerous roles in IT and IT management.

In fact, Geisser and co-founder Thomas Butter (Managing Director Research and Development) were recently with SAP, where they worked on some of SAP’s first virtual events.  Ubivent is off to a fast start – they received 12 months of funding from EXIST, “a program of the European Union and the German Federal Ministry of Economics and Technology” designed to support innovation.  In addition, in late November, ubivent was selected as the most promising young company in Mannheim.

Target market

Ubivent’s initial target market is to serve large and distributed corporations – large companies have already adopted the basic technologies required for virtual events (including sufficient bandwidth capacity) and distributed companies can immediately leverage the convenience and cost savings of virtual collaboration (versus in-person).

“However, this does not mean that we do not offer our services for small, non-IT organizations”, noted Geisser. “We’ve also done projects with local authorities. Obviously, the entire project size has been not that extensive as for a global event with multiple thousands of participants.”

Since the European market for virtual events has not developed as quickly as the U.S. market, Geisser sees plenty of opportunity in Europe.  Geisser sees opportunity in all sorts of event types, but notes that “the type of the event is not as important as the content and the participants. We see the advantages of virtual events especially for knowledge-intense content (e.g. software, finance, etc.) with globally distributed participants”.

In comparing the U.S. and European markets, Geisser believes that while “US based customers put more emphasis on the look and feel, the European customers are very keen on getting a technically scalable and secure platform. Fortunately we’re combining both.”

Technology platform

Ubivent is a member of Microsoft BizSpark, a program that provides “software, support and visibility” to software start-ups.  While most virtual event platforms are built on top of Adobe Flash, ubivent’s platform is based on JavaFX, a platform for building rich internet applications that runs on top of JRE (Java Runtime Environment).

According to Geisser, the use of JavaFX serves as a competitive advantage for ubivent over competing Flash-based platforms – “JavaFX is one key advantage of our platform. This opens the door for completely new functionalities which are not possible with other technologies (e.g. Flash)”.

Ubivent developed an accessibility framework to assist visually impaired people in using their virtual events platform via a screen reader.  The source code for the accessibility framework has been published as open source.  The framework is built on top of JavaFX, which means that other platforms seeking to incorporate it would need to run JavaFX as well.

Virtual events vs. immersive virtual worlds

Geisser has taken a look at 3D immersive virtual worlds, such as Second Life and Twinity.  He believes, however, that the immersive virtual world is currently more suited to B2C or C2C use cases, whereas his B2B market is more focused on quick and convenient access to selected content.  Notes Geisser, “In a B2B context, the desire for avatars and the ability to walk through a virtual world is less distinct. Here, the focus is more the ability to quickly access information and other participants. The need to ‘walk’ through the virtual world to access this information or participant is considered adverse with regard to this goal.”

In closing

It will be interesting to watch the European market for virtual events in 2010.  Ubivent and IMASTE are two of the leading European-based providers – while they may encounter each other in common client accounts, I’m sure the providers from the U.S. market will be looking towards Europe (and Asia) as well.

Related links

  1. Follow ubivent on Twitter
  2. Ubivent’s Facebook page
  3. Ubivent-developed accessibility framework, fxaccessible
  4. Ubivent’s executive management team
  5. Audio interview – ubivent speaks about their JavaFX-based virtual events platform

A Look Inside Virtual Job Fairs With IMASTE

July 28, 2009

IMASTE Co-Founders: Miguel Fernandez Lapique, Aitor Zabala, Miguel Arias

IMASTE Co-Founders: Miguel Fernandez Lapique, Aitor Zabala, Miguel Arias

Founded in 2003 and headquartered in Madrid, Spain, IMASTE has a mission statement that reads, “We create innovative contact platforms for our customers and their potential users”.  According to Miguel Arias, Director-Partner at IMASTE, “We founded IMASTE with the purpose of enabling a bridge between companies and university graduates. We first started organizing real events and after two years we became the Spanish leader in university recruitment events in Spain.”  As technologies began to emerge, IMASTE found it natural to leverage the web to complement their physical recruitment events with virtual job fairs.

Today, IMASTE has three primary product categories:

  1. Virtual Fairs – Virtual Job Fairs have been produced in Spain, France, UK, Brazil and Portugal – and IMASTE is working on a sustainability virtual fair in France.
  2. Virtual Environments Lab – based on Adobe Flex, IMASTE builds rich internet applications for clients.  Arias notes, “We have developed the virtual corporate office for Deloitte, the virtual campus for Everis, a virtual music festival for Universia and a virtual petrol station for CEPSA.”
  3. On-Campus (Physical) Job Fairs – IMASTE organizes more than ten Spanish university job fairs, a primary source for Spanish employers to tap into a pool of young graduates.
Monster Edays Event, Powered by IMASTE

Monster Edays Event, Powered by IMASTE

IMASTE worked with Monster to produce Monster Edays, a 2-week virtual job fair that leveraged instant messaging and video chat and enabled more than 90 online company presentations.  IMASTE leveraged Adobe Flex for 3D renderings and animations, as well as the Red5 video conferencing application.  With the event targeting the French market, IMASTE enabled French language support in their platform and coordinated video production activities from Paris.

According to a Case Study posted on the IMASTE web site:

With more than 35 participating companies, over 100,000 unique visitors and over 8,000 collected CVs, the project was a huge success. The media buzz generated more than 350 referring sites and great blogger reviews.  Thus increasing heavily the brand awareness among jobseekers.

Like many providers of virtual events and virtual event technology, IMASTE has a fairly healthy schedule of events.  In the Fall of 2009 alone, they have virtual fairs planned in Croatia, France, Spain, UK and Ireland – with a second edition of a Brazilian virtual job fair scheduled as well.

Speaking of the European market, Arias notes that Europe encompasses many countries, languages and cultures – for virtual event success, “one needs to take into account the cultural differences of each country and localize your platform to each specific need.”  Sprinkling in a bit of humor, Arias concludes, “Therefore, you need to be very flexible and code a lot.”

Arias believes that vast growth opportunities lie ahead, since the European market has not yet fully embraced virtual events – “corporate and marketing executives are not so keen of web innovations and there is a very strong culture of the importance of physical events to enable networking.”

Perhaps IMASTE should leverage their physical job fair business – and prove the ROI and benefits to the European market by turning them into hybrid (phyical+virtual) events.  This way, European exhibitors/sponsors still experience a comfort level (with the physical event sponsorship) and begin to experience the corresponding benefits of the virtual experience.

Related links

  1. A list of IMASTE’s products
  2. The IMASTE blog
  3. The IMASTE Team
  4. IMASTE blog posting on SEO and social networks
  5. Blog posting: For Virtual Events, Globalization Means Localization

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