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Beyond the Restaurant Blog


Chef Fowke
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Recently I sat with my management team and talked about the usefulness of our websites, one for each restaurant. Both websites average 145 unique visits a day with over half of our reservations coming from the sites or Opentable.

It was decided that a ‘portal’ was needed to be developed to support both restaurant’s websites. A re-direction of both restaurants to the one site.

In the process of this conversation a lot of banter went around about our marketing plan 2008 and driving our new customers to the website through every marketing initiative we developed for 2008. It was agreed that for this to be successful the site would have to be fun, informative and interactive.

Daily I search out Restaurant Blogs, Restaurant Websites and anything else I can find of interest on the internet. But what does the regular customer really appreciate?

And the investment in time…I do it because it is part of my life and I have known no other way. As an employee of a restaurant how much time should you be expected to invest in a project like this? Is it a term of employment, even if you are not comfortable with internet/blogs?

We are in BETA TESTING right now, but check out where we are at: Rare and Metro Restaurant Portal

Chef/Owner/Teacher

Website: Chef Fowke dot com

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First two thoughts, since you asked...

Google ads on a "corporate" website are, well, tacky. Your website is a form of advertising, and its budget should come out of your own marketing budget, not google adsense. Plus, it's just going to direct people to other restaurants instead of your own.

My other thought was: How do I get to the restaurants? I found the links easily enough, but they opened new windows, triggering my popup blocker. That's a personal design decision, but something to consider.

When I go to a restaurant's website, I'm looking for the CURRENT menu, prices, directions, reservations, and any special events. Photos of the food or review clips are a bonus. Honestly, it doesn't have to be much more than that, although from what I understand of your restaurant, anything else would certainly be interesting! :)

Edited by Allura (log)

Joanna G. Hurley

"Civilization means food and literature all round." -Aldous Huxley

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Cool...google ads and this site co-exsist for one reason ~ e-inititives cost money and I do not want to charge back to my customers the cost of something I enjoy. I am posting live from the kitchen 3 - 10 times a day, uploading photos, keeping it exciting. This is not a Food Network polished site, this is real grit in the kitchen.

I am pleased that google ads pays for the monthly fees of the site. Currently, no profit is made.

And as you can see, your other criteria is met.

But really ~ I am bored with the stock restuarant site; YAWN...menu, hours, bio ~ is nobody interested in up-to-the-minute info, photos and data? Is it a waste of time to operate Chef Fowke dot Com? What will make the average consumer keep coming back to look and be entertained?

This is a Beta site and feedback is appreciated.

First two thoughts, since you asked...

Google ads on a "corporate" website are, well, tacky. Your website is a form of advertising, and its budget should come out of your own marketing budget, not google adsense. Plus, it's just going to direct people to other restaurants instead of your own.

My other thought was: How do I get to the restaurants? I found the links easily enough, but they opened new windows, triggering my popup blocker. That's a personal design decision, but something to consider.

When I go to a restaurant's website, I'm looking for the CURRENT menu, prices, directions, reservations, and any special events. Photos of the food or review clips are a bonus. Honestly, it doesn't have to be much more than that, although from what I understand of your restaurant, anything else would certainly be interesting! :)

Chef/Owner/Teacher

Website: Chef Fowke dot com

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I agree with Allura about the Google ads. With 145 visitors a day, or even 10 times that many, it should be possible to do this website so cheaply that cost isn't an issue. Likewise, with that kind of traffic the Google ads revenue can't be enough to matter.

I worry that the way the portal is implemented may actually distract people from clicking through to the restaurants' websites. I'd consider having one website, period. In other words, whether someone types www.rarevancouver.com or www.metrodining.ca one still winds up at the same unified place. On that page, very clearly, present the basics about both restaurants front and center, followed by whatever Chef Fowke content you want to present as a presence/loyalty builder.

The blogging thing seems very ambitious and perhaps not a great use of a busy chef's time given the limited potential return. There's a reason almost all blogs die: it's a lot of work. And in a corporate context, when you give up on your blog, it's embarrassing and results in a fossil website. So don't bite off more than you can chew. 3-10 updates a day from the kitchen? Probably unsustainable. One update a week, maybe. And that all has to be weighed against the benefits to be derived from using that time to do other kinds of marketing and PR.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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I find the blog aspect unique and probably (as Fat Guy has said) something you will find yourself doing less and less of as time goes by. Limit it now, a daily update on most blogs is time consuming enough. The blog itself however is fascinating. It does make me want to fly to vancouver and experience what Chef Fowke has to offer. Keeping people up to date on what's local, fresh, and in season as well as what you are making of it appeals to me. I would go to the site just to pick up some tips or ideas. The Chorizo & tomato water, spot prawn, Savoury clams, smoked Sablefish has my mouth watering.

I also agree that the googles ads really detract from what could be a well constructed site. I think that if the site becomes popular through the blog ( it really does say "Look what we are doing here!" to me) that it will drive business to the restaurants and that is how it pays for itself. You just have to get people to the site, maybe banners on taxi's and buses with just the url posted.

The two restaurants look wonderful but should probably (Also what Fat Guy said) be incorporated into the main site more.

My 2¢

Edit* extra spaces are bad!

Edited by RAHiggins1 (log)
Veni Vidi Vino - I came, I saw, I drank.
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One typo:

Chef for a Day; at Granville Island

At least once a month I do an event call Shop with a Chef through Edible BC at Granville Island. More information can be found at this site: Chef for a Day

As far as driving people to the website you may want to look into Search Engine Optimization (SEO). May want to consider Google Adds as in you pay google to to put a sponsored link on their search pages relevant to your site. Can be costly but you can control those costs as in they turn off when you have reached your budget.

Promoting you site via the web can take up more time than adding content.

You could post about your "New Lunch Tenderloin of Prime Canadian Beef 'Bourguignon'" on websites with a link to that specific article which in theory should drive up your page rank on google and many other search engines.

An important point about this would be linking to that article and not your homepage. The "key words" should be relevant to the page the link was created on.

edited to add quote code

Edited by SundaySous (log)

"And in the meantime, listen to your appetite and play with your food."

Alton Brown, Good Eats

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Cool...google ads and this site co-exsist for one reason ~ e-inititives cost money and I do not want to charge back to my customers the cost of something I enjoy.

Are you doing this for yourself or for the customers? Sounds from your posts like it's for yourself. If so, it's like any personal blog and the Google ads are not out of place, but it's good to be clear about these things. Maybe have your commercial site (reference for customers) the first thing that comes up, presented fairly simply, with a link to blog? (I do like a personal touch on a restaurant website. Some of my favorites post recipes or updates pretty frequently and send emails out to notify people, but the main site you click on is still pretty simple.)

The site does make your restaurant look interesting and if I were in the neighborhood, I would come.

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Recently I sat with my management team and talked about the usefulness of our websites, one for each restaurant. Both websites average 145 unique visits a day with over half of our reservations coming from the sites or Opentable.

I have no experience in running a website for a restaurant, but I *can* say that if your web hosting provider is so expensive that you feel the need for ads to keep it viable without passing those costs along to your customers... you may just need to look into a new web hosting provider. Ours gives us so much bandwidth we are highly unlikely *ever* to go over it... and we have multiple sites, two of which have traffic that is higher than what you indicated yours was getting. We also get fabulous service and have recommended our provider to many other site owners who've switched and been very happy that they did. Soo.... if I were you, I'd shop around.

Daily I search out Restaurant Blogs, Restaurant Websites and anything else I can find of interest on the internet. But what does the regular customer really appreciate?

And the investment in time…I do it because it is part of my life and I have known no other way. As an employee of a restaurant how much time should you be expected to invest in a project like this? Is it a term of employment, even if you are not comfortable with internet/blogs?

Do you have a webmaster? If so, get him/her to set you up a form in PHP or a similar format that will allow your employees to add blog entries, photos, etc. without needing any technical know-how. Seems like a few minutes spent a couple of times a month wouldn't be an onerous task, and a few minutes coaching on how to use such an interface, if the forms are properly constructed, will usually be sufficient to train even the most reticent technophobe to add content to your site.

One last comment... while I don't know how feasible it is to "require" employees to contribute to your site, I can tell you that the bane of any editor, be it for print or web publications of any sort, is <i>finding content</i>. Having a policy that requests periodic contributions would definitely help you in this department... and once your guests and web visitors get used to seeing updated content on a regular basis on your site, they'll check back frequently... which is probably likely to translate into more frequent dining visits to your restaurants, as well.

Good luck!

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It is rare that I make it to a restaurant without hitting their site first. And when they don't have a site, I still will have googled them for directions. All of the things you are talking about sound fun, but all I ever click are (in this sequence): menu (checking for items and prices), hours/days, directions (including cab rider friendly info), and reservations.

I can only think of one exception to this which was a Japanese restaurant in Denver that the page pics peeked my interest enough to look for more pics of the building which was very unique. Otherwise, my bond and interest is never strong enough with a restaurant that I would care enough to read a blog. That said, if you're doing outrageous things then I might.

What might draw me to a site (although probably not) are specials. Focus on making sure no matter how people search for you, that 1) you are found quickly and 2) they are driven to the website.

An example of this - I'm traveling to Palm Springs tomorrow. Yesterday I spent a good hour searching eGullet for recommendations, then I googled the various restaurants. Checked prices and locations for anything I was interested in - if they had a site, and if they didn't found anything I could about them - usually review sites. That's my typically traffic pattern. Hope it helps.

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as a former web designer on a marketing team, i concur with previous comments. in a nutshell, people embark on a web site to communicate their ideas with other people, when their ideas are not communicated effectively, people shut down.

think about your site this way, you're telling a story, so you need a beginning, middle and end.

your beginning is your portal. you need some sort of clear hero. your nav right now shows your two restaurants and your chef name are all the same size. even though you're name's in the middle, it's not apparently clear. who's site is this? it needs to be made clear. so for example "my name is chef fowke, owner of blah and blah. i like fishing. or something to that effect.

your middle is all your supporting stuff that supports your beginning. google ads are fine here I suppose as long as it is STILL clear who's site this is. You want them to listen to YOU, not all that other chatter. you should arrange your navigation more clearly. for example i am not sure what the "category" for the items on teh right is. maybe it needs a title. You should seriously consider changing the way your menus launch as I get pop-up blocking and that just makes me not want to reconfigure my popup blocker just to view the menu. right now your blog is front and center, which is good because it keeps the site fresh, but perhaps it needs to be subordinated. it's really a supporting feature of why people are visiting your site...they come for the food, stay for the conversation. you are telling a story...don't just shoot out all the info at the same time, organize it in a way that people can find out stuff. simplify simplify simplify.

then for the ending. this is what you want people to DO when they leave your site. you want them to visit your restaurant, contact you, send the link to a friend. this needs to be very clear.

thanks so much for sharing your site with us.

Edited by sugarseattle (log)

Stephanie Crocker

Sugar Bakery + Cafe

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Well..you asked...

Drop the Google ads crap. Hosting costs $75/yr tops; if you're paying more you're being ripped. The basic design _including a Wordpress blog_ might go for $500 including some degree of maintenance/updates.

_Neither_ of the reservations links worked.

IMHO..and you _did_ ask..that site isn't going to be worthwhile in terms of time or money.

Good luck! You have lots of people here who will help you...listen to 'em.

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Thanks for all the great comments....to take this site a little further, spend some serious time playing with it. Click on the Forum button. That is were the staff of Rare and Metro are actually starting to have fun.

PS. the reservation buttons do work, check your level of MS Security, LOL...Try the crtl key, or read what the pop message says.

PPS. Google ads, I am not sure what I am going to do...I am personally enjoying reading what they upload each day. Thats enough for me to keep them. They can be very good AND very amusing.

Chef/Owner/Teacher

Website: Chef Fowke dot com

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Thanks for all the great comments....to take this site a little further, spend some serious time playing with it.

Why? There needs to be some incentive.

Click on the Forum button. That is were the staff of Rare and Metro are actually starting to have fun.

That's nice for them, but are your customers going to have fun reading, or find it useful? Most people are not going to be patient enough to jump through hoops to find out.

PPS. Google ads, I am not sure what I am going to do...I am personally enjoying reading what they upload each day. Thats enough for me to keep them. They can be very good AND very amusing.

OK, well, again, it sounds like you are doing this for your own amusement, which is fine as long as you are clear about that.

I think in this day and age, people who surf the web are pretty jaded. If they are looking for certain information-- not just killing down time at work or whatever-- they are likely to leave your site the minute they see any self-indulgent stuff.

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The site looks like an semi-clunky, amaturish blog, not a serious restaurant website. The three vertical panels really bother me. The content in the center panel doesn't wrap gracefully in less than a full-screen window, which means using the horizonal scroll bar to fully view pictures and longer lines. And whether or not the ads make financial sense (or you find them amusing), you have to balance the fact that they cheapen the look and feel of your site, especially taking up so much of your screen real estate.

I think in this day and age, people who surf the web are pretty jaded. If they are looking for certain information-- not just killing down time at work or whatever-- they are likely to leave your site the minute they see any self-indulgent stuff

That sort of hits the nail on the head.

I should never have to fiddle with my pop-up blocker to get to sub-pages. I'm a computer person by trade, and it annoys me - I can only imagine how much of a turn off that would be to someone less comfortable with computers. The important stuff (i.e. the biggest reason people go looking for a restaurant website) like phone number, hours, online menus, is unnecassarily obfuscated here.

There are alot of details that give the whole thing an unprofessional feel, enough so that it might make sense to hire a professional to redo your design, or at least evaluate. A poorly executed website can actually turn people off to your restaurants.

That said, your pictures are beautiful and your content is interesting. Maybe you should consider separating the interesting blog-like aspects from the restaurant pages.

"Nothing you could cook will ever be as good as the $2.99 all-you-can-eat pizza buffet." - my EX (wonder why he's an ex?)

My eGfoodblog: My corner of the Midwest

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Regardless of whether you find the Google Ads amusing or not, what is your primary concern here? Amusing yourself, or creating a professional portal for your restaurants?

The ads smack of a cheap free host or porn site. How many reputable culinary establishments do you see with banner ads dominating their design? Not many. There's a reason.

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The ads are bad news. Not only are they distracting, they are possibly advertising your competitors. If you insist on doing ads, I would switch to another less intrusive format, maybe a link unit.

You have to see the expense of having this portal as an advertisement cost and one that is part of doing business. If cost is an issue get a typepad account for 15 bucks a month.

Also, the navigation is very clunky. The right side column gets cut off after a few lines in firefox.

I think the idea is great, but you need to polish it up a bit.

One of the best photo/blog sites I know in terms of content and photos is the one for Studio Kitchen.

Granted it isn't for a restaurant, the idea is the same.

John Deragon

foodblog 1 / 2

--

I feel sorry for people that don't drink. When they wake up in the morning, that's as good as they're going to feel all day -- Dean Martin

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I started reading cheffowke.com before this thread, and I thought it was clear from the amateurish design of the site that it ISN'T the main site for the 2 restaurants. The entries are clearly random amusing/interesting tidbits from Chef Fowke, and the forum just further confirms it.

there are cook's 'blogs that I follow (or have followed), simply because I find their experiences interesting. Most of them had non-professional layouts and Google ads, and I was OK with that, because they're just 'blogs.

I don't think that just because Chef Fowke is a chef and not a cook that he's suddenly not allowed to write a personal 'blog, or that he should have to do it anonymously.

to me the only problem is that Metro and Rare's websites are hard to find on their own. I did a few quick Google searches, and none of them returned the websites in the first few links -- ideally, all of them should show the official websites as the first link.

also, Googling "Chef Fowke" gives cheffowke.com as the first result, when it really should be metrodining.ca or rarevancouver.com. Yes, both are linked off your 'blog, but most people Googling for your name are diners looking for your restaurants, not readers looking for your 'blog, and having to click through the 'blog looks and feels sloppy.

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maybe an analogy would help. Consider a musician. Her official website is glossy, professional, and nicely laid out, with no pop-ups and probably no forum. All the pictures are professionally shot, there's a bio written by the PR department, a discography with clips, and tour date listings. 99% of the content is generated by the record label, and the site and hosting comes out of the label's budget. Finally, ANY content from the artist herself -- including music -- is heavily groomed by the label before posting. Google returns this site as the first result for any number of searches; the label probably pays so that it shows up in Google Ads too.

meanwhile, the musician keeps her own personal 'blog on the side. It's probably hosted on some crappy service like LiveJournal or Blogger. It may even be written under a pseudonym. There are almost certainly Google ads. The content is posts from the artist herself talking about her work, maybe a blurry phone-cam pic of bandmates doing something silly, maybe she posts an MP3 of her impromptu cover of someone else's song. It's probably not even linked off her official site, it's hidden on the 3rd page of Google results, and only the hardcore fans bother to find and read it.

is anyone really interpreting cheffowke.com as trying to fit into the first category?

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Given the way it's described in the first post, yes. This is not the description of a personal/for-friends-only and/or diehard fans site:

"It was decided that a ‘portal’ was needed to be developed to support both restaurant’s websites. A re-direction of both restaurants to the one site. In the process of this conversation a lot of banter went around about our marketing plan 2008 and driving our new customers to the website through every marketing initiative we developed for 2008. It was agreed that for this to be successful the site would have to be fun, informative and interactive."

He's talking about marketing plans and new customers there. With that in mind, the design is really a problem. I didn't even realize at first that Rare and Metro were the names of Chef Fowke's restaurants. And why are they at opposite ends of the button bar? Having google ads on a commercial website, or even the more casual part of the website, just seems like a bad idea. I use an adblocker anyway, so I won't be seeing them, but instead see a blank column where the ads would otherwise go. But anyway, google ads are for people who have blogs up just for the fun of it and really need that few extra bucks a month to keep the site online. If you have those ads on your portal, it makes you look like you're really hard up for cash, that people aren't buying your food. It basically gives your potential customers the opposite impression that you would want.

About the content, there's nothing wrong with putting up gorgeous pics and commentary, but the design of the site really impedes understanding of where those pics were taken, if those are items that are available at either place, etc. I'm sure you could get a web designer to set up a nice, intuitive design that allows you to customize content and add pics as frequently as you want. I would really do that, or at least find a different template to use.

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Given the way it's described in the first post, yes. This is not the description of a personal/for-friends-only and/or diehard fans site:

"It was decided that a ‘portal’ was needed to be developed to support both restaurant’s websites. A re-direction of both restaurants to the one site. In the process of this conversation a lot of banter went around about our marketing plan 2008 and driving our new customers to the website through every marketing initiative we developed for 2008. It was agreed that for this to be successful the site would have to be fun, informative and interactive."

He's talking about marketing plans and new customers there. With that in mind, the design is really a problem. I didn't even realize at first that Rare and Metro were the names of Chef Fowke's restaurants. And why are they at opposite ends of the button bar? Having google ads on a commercial website, or even the more casual part of the website, just seems like a bad idea. I use an adblocker anyway, so I won't be seeing them, but instead see a blank column where the ads would otherwise go. But anyway, google ads are for people who have blogs up just for the fun of it and really need that few extra bucks a month to keep the site online. If you have those ads on your portal, it makes you look like you're really hard up for cash, that people aren't buying your food. It basically gives your potential customers the opposite impression that you would want.

About the content, there's nothing wrong with putting up gorgeous pics and commentary, but the design of the site really impedes understanding of where those pics were taken, if those are items that are available at either place, etc. I'm sure you could get a web designer to set up a nice, intuitive design that allows you to customize content and add pics as frequently as you want. I would really do that, or at least find a different template to use.

I have a personal blog that's not attached to our restaurants site. Although I have attached the restaurants sites to my blog. I "blog" for entertainment and therapy, not for business reasons. My regulars know about the blog and get a kick out of it. It's by no means a serious attempt at anything. It really is for me.

Soon we will be doing an over haul of our restaurants sites and have considered including a blog but decided it was not professional. I wouldn't feel comfortable swearing or writing what I feel.

I've included google adds in my blog only because it gives it an air of legitimacy. Certainly not for making money.

www.saltyskitchen.com

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Interesting, I've never heard of google ads giving any sort of legitimacy before. In my experience, people find them irritating and try to avoid looking at them by installing ad-blockers on their browsers. I thoroughly recommend using the Firefox browser and the Adblock plus plugin for just that purpose.

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Interesting, I've never heard of google ads giving any sort of legitimacy before. In my experience, people find them irritating and try to avoid looking at them by installing ad-blockers on their browsers.  I thoroughly recommend using the Firefox browser and the Adblock plus plugin for just that purpose.

Legitimacy may be the wrong word. It makes it look more "official".

www.saltyskitchen.com

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I will just tell you my experience that when a blog suddenly becomes popular (mentioned in the newspaper, radio, or other media) and suddenly gets an increase in visitors and starts to carry more ads (usually the first ads to appear are google adsense ads), readers complain about the ads. What gives a blog legitimacy is being linked to or mentioned in media or blogs more popular than your own. What makes a blog appear popular to someone checking it out for the first time is having a lot of comments on daily entries. If you don't have many (or any) comments, it doesn't matter who you're sponsored by; it looks like you're just writing to yourself. And the ads, besides that, will look silly on a site that gets so little traffic.

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Great comments, everyone here have helped me a lot. I really appreciate everyone taking the time and effort to help me with my food information highway. I am just a chef who enjoys the internet; and is beginning to realize its potential. Since I started this project the traffic to my site has increased a 1000 fold and the reservations are up 200% at the new restaurant and strong at Rare.

I must be honest, I am using a professional web designer for www.cheffowke.com and he has delivered on everything I asked for. The first criteria was a 'portal' that was ME...not contrived. I thought that if I launched with something slick and polished it would be viewed as ‘just another marketing scheme’. I want a site that was ME!!! A Chef of twenty years who has bad grammar and takes poor photos but has a passion for food and the hospitality industry…and loves to share everything he knows about food and wine. Really! Call me tomorrow ~ ask me to take you on a tour of the local docks or markets; I will be there!

Tomorrow my web designer and I are going to take all the information you have supplies and make the 'portal' internet Savvy. Like I said, this was a Beta test. I needed a venue that I could randomly and with fun post to - the response has been astronomical ~ way above the traffic I expected.

Now we will tweak, and make it perfect.

BTW...I guess no one else on this board was involved with the Google IPO: LOL, big brother is a good friend to know!

Chef/Owner/Teacher

Website: Chef Fowke dot com

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