Open Letter To Wikipedia Editors: Yes, Matt Cutts Is Notable

Dear Wikipedia Editors:

I came back from vacation today to discover that in (some of) your infinite crowd wisdom, apparently the page at Wikipedia about Google’s Matt Cutts might get deleted. Wow. It’s inept things like this that can instantly reduce any respect I have for Wikipedia that builds up over time.

Editors, let me tell you a little story, since I’ve got you here. You know how I tell if I want to trust a travel book about some place, say a Lonely Planet or a Let’s Go? I find the edition about a place I know. I’ll look up what they’re saying about Newport Beach, California, my home before I migrated to England under the promise of sunnier skies (long story — we won’t go into it now).

If they’re talking about how nice Balboa Island is or the piers or places I like to eat, then I know I can trust the book. If they’re talking garbage, then I look for something else I trust.

I can do this because I’m an expert on Newport Beach. OK, maybe not an expert, but I know the subject well. Now let’s carry that over to Wikipedia. I live in this old house in Britain. It’s so old that some of the lights have to be plugged into these really small electrical outlets using BS 546 plugs. I needed to order some of these to I could wire up more lights on one of my hated DIY days, but I knew nothing about them.

Thanks to Wikipedia, I was impressively given the history and background of the BS 546 standard. I was especially bemused at how the plugs got bigger depending on the amps they were designed to carry. I could totally see that making sense to some British Empire bureaucrat years and years ago coming up with the spec. Plus, I knew the correct size to order.

Nice job, Wikipedia. You helped me, and I totally trusted what you wrote. But now we’re talking search. And you know what? I’m kind of an expert in that area. As an expert, the idea that Matt Cutts might not be notable in search is absurd.

Why? Because I said so. Darn, that generally works with my kids, but I suppose since at least one of you is so ignorant of search that you demand proof, I’ll waste some time and trot some out for you.

What type of proof? Actually, my first thought was that if Wikipedia is so darn tooting of the people driving, everyone should have a biography if someone wants to create it. Who is Wikipedia to be the judge? Ah, apparently you’ve already debated some of this yourselves:

Like any encyclopedia, Wikipedia includes biographies of important historical figures and people involved in current events. Even though wiki is not paper, there are some criteria which may be considered for inclusion.

This guideline is not Wikipedia policy (and indeed the whole concept of notability is contentious). However, it is the opinion of many, but not all, Wikipedians that these criteria are a fair test of whether a person has sufficient external notice to ensure that they can be covered from a neutral point of view based on verifiable information from reliable sources, without straying into original research (all of which are formal policies).

That’s from your page on the notability requirements for people. It also covers the proof you want. And what’s that?

In general, an article’s text should include enough information to explain why the person is notable, and such information should be verifiable. Biographies of living persons are subject to additional rules and restrictions.

  • The person has been the primary subject of multiple non-trivial published works whose source is independent of the person.
    • This criterion includes published works in all forms, such as newspaper articles, magazine articles, books, scholarly papers, and television documentaries except for the following:

      • Media reprints of the person’s autobiography or self-promotional works.3
      • Works carrying merely trivial coverage, such as newspaper articles that just mention the person in passing, telephone directory listings, or simple records of births and deaths.

The above is the central criterion for inclusion. Below are some criteria that make it very likely that sufficient reliable information is available about a given person.

Wow, do I understand this right? Of the things Wikipedia is going to centrally depend on what The Man — in the form of primarily mainstream media (that’s who publishes those magazine articles, books and TV documentaries) – decides is notable.


OK, I’ve written about Matt lots. Here’s a quick Google search showing I’ve mentioned him in articles almost 12,000 times. That’s a lot. OK, it’s probably fewer than that, if you subtract some of the summary things, mentions on forums and so on. Still, flip-flop to Wikipedia , and a similar search gets you only about 2,500 times. So he’s like six times more notable than you are, at least to me.

OK, OK, what’s Matt really done that so notable? Most important, he’s been the human face of Google to site owners specifically and to large degree the world in general. Matt protested recently that he’s not Google’s "unofficial" blogger. But he is. To my knowledge, he operates the most popular blog run by a Google employee, 3 million page views of popular.

Outside of Larry and Sergey (you know, the cofounders — they’ve got pages, right), he’s one of the few Google employees to have spoken regularly on critical issues for the company. He does it well, to the degree some want to dismiss him as the PR guru of the company. He could certainly teach the PR folks things, considering he’s worked at Google longer than any of them.

Now Matt hems and haws about whether he’s GoogleGuy. C’mon, he is. Or he was. And GoogleGuy is important. I wrote in 2004

Perhaps the most famous Googler after cofounders Larry Page, Sergey Brin and Google CEO Eric Schmidt is GoogleGuy, the long-time poster who has provided advice and help on the forum. He’s now asked that the GoogleGuySays web site to stop reposting his comments.

So Matt’s famous. He’s noteworthy. Even beyond the GoogleGuy persona, he has a noteworthy blog and position as unofficial Google spokesperson that I’ve touched on already. Sort of like, you know, Yahoo’s Jeremy Zawodny, who has a page on Wikipedia here largely for the same reason. Sort of like Robert Scoble, who also has a page here. But Matt’s not notable enough for a page, even though he fills the same type of role that both Jeremy and Robert have filled?

OK, you need mainstream. What, an entire chapter about him in the book The Google Story isn’t enough? You know, like you mention within his existing entry at Wikipedia? An entire chapter in a major book by a noted author about Matt isn’t notable enough?

More mainstream? How about at least 260 mainstream newspaper or magazine articles that mention him. That’s more than Jeremy’s 170 references (no offense, Jeremy — just lining up some more ammunition for Matt here). It’s not that far back from Robert Scoble’s 734 references.

I know, I know. Some of those are blogs or online references. And you know you can’t trust blogs or things that are online. Start doing that, and you might trust things like Wikipedia.

Hey, I know! I never had a Wikipedia entry myself here until last year when USA Today did a profile on me. That was cool. I mean the New York Times did a similar profile five years earlier, but you probably missed that one. Clearly the one you did see, from USA Today, gave me a nudge to finally being notable.

OK, now what does little old notable me say in that article about Matt?

Sullivan holds well-attended Q&A sessions, where he takes questions from the audience for several hours. But he harbors no illusions about how large his niche fame actually is.

"Sure, you can get swamped at the show," he says. "A lot of people want to talk to you. But then I’ll stand next to Matt Cutts, and he’ll get masses of people vying for his attention.

See, more notable than me! If I could do math equations it would be like:

matt > danny > not notable

Still not enough? You remember Matt was the guy that got BMW banned in Germany, right? I mean, he wiped out a major car web site in Google for spamming, creating a mini-controversy. BMW had to do PR directly against the action he took. How many people do you know with the power to yank a major site from the world’s most used search engine? How many people can spark a major car manufacturer to respond to their actions in a public manner? That notable enough?

More? Here’s the Washington Post mentioning Matt in 2002. Here’s the BBC covering him in 2004. Here’s the Chicago Tribune profiling him in 2006.

I can’t believe I’m wasting time on this, wasting time that the people-powered wonderful Wikipedia is supposed to do for itself. Drop the entire debate over whether the article should be deleted or not, if you want to maintain any shred of respect.

Geez — if this entire thing was kicked off by Ju66l3r who purports:

I’m knee-deep in writing my Ph.D. thesis in bioinformatics at Boston University and I just really need a release sometimes from the writing process. Oddly, I’ve found the best thing to take my mind off of my thesis is fixing vandalism and improving encyclopedia articles here at Wikipedia. Crazy, huh?

Then can I suggest, Ju66l3r, that you get back to your area of expertise, finish your thesis and stop ironically doing exactly what you profess to be trying to stop. That is, you’re vandalizing Wikipedia by suggesting Matt isn’t notable. He had a page happily sitting there for over a year before this absurd review came along.

Oh, and I’d say Barry Schwartz is notable as well. He’s up for deletion despite being the creator of an essential guide to search forum discussions, Search Engine Roundtable. And Mike Grehan deserves to be listed. He’s done pioneering work in explaining search technologies to the general public.

I especially enjoyed this:

Can you provide any sources to give him notability? Speaking at SES is not notable (it seems like every SEO consultant on WP has done this lately). Nor is knowing higher-ups in Google. In fact, the article as it stands now borders on a speedy. ju66l3r 18:06, 5 January 2007 (UTC)

In general, if they’re one of the relatively few asked to speak at a major conference on search marketing, yeah — they are notable. Every search consultant does NOT get to speak. But here’s a thought. Rather than putting article on review, then making a debate about whether to keep them, how about making the debate first be about whether they should come up for review at all.

Moreover, the person starting the debate suggestion (ju66l3r seems to have been the primary challenger in all these cases) should have do some the easy research about people rather than issuing challenges based on only what Wikipedia may be listing, since that information might not be complete.

Or just let everyone have a page. The people demand it! Power to the people! The people united shall never be divided. We want Matt! Stop this miscarriage of justice. Free the Wikipedia 3!

Related Topics: Channel: Industry | Google: Employees | Search Engines: Answer Search Engines


About The Author: is a Founding Editor of Search Engine Land. He’s a widely cited authority on search engines and search marketing issues who has covered the space since 1996. Danny also serves as Chief Content Officer for Third Door Media, which publishes Search Engine Land and produces the SMX: Search Marketing Expo conference series. He has a personal blog called Daggle (and keeps his disclosures page there). He can be found on Facebook, Google + and microblogs on Twitter as @dannysullivan.

Connect with the author via: Email | Twitter | Google+ | LinkedIn


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  • Caydel

    Danny, it’s kind of humourous to me that you linked to my post about this; I was severely chastised on my Wikipedia User talk:Caydel page for writing that post:

    Hi. I saw your blog entry:

    [snip]a copy of my entry[/snip]

    Hi. I see you’re fairly new to Wikipedia. Canvassing to influence an AfD is viewed very negatively. It’s against a guideline, the “Canvassing” part of the Spam Guideline. Like some other guidelines, the wording in the guideline tends to change back and forth with various debates — sometimes it’s very hard-line, sometimes it’s wishy-washier. Nevertheless, at a practical level, “votestacking” tends to really bother a lot of editors and probably drives more comments against your point of view than for it.

    Also, these things are not exactly votes — the closing admin makes the final decision. Comments by new editors or by existing editors with very few edits are heavily discounted in the decision, especially if there’s been any canvassing.

    I thought you’d want to know this. –A. B. (talk) 13:09, 5 January 2007 (UTC)

    I was also chastised by ju66l3r for another matter when I used a little sarcasm in an entry in the talk page discussing Barry Schwartz’s page which is also up for discussion:

    Please remain civil when responding to other users. Your recent comment concerning another user’s contribution to the discussion in the AfD for Barry Schwartz (technologist) are not helpful to discussing the issue at hand. Thanks. ju66l3r 20:51, 4 January 2007 (UTC)

    It sounds to me that the Wikipedia editor culture is starting to go the way of that of DMOZ – editors closing in on themselves in dictatorial role.

    Nice post, Danny!

  • Philipp Lenssen

    I’ve added my “keep” to the article deletion discussion. So far there’s only 1 “delete” against 9 “keep”, possibly some sparked by your article:

  • ogletree

    I have no idea how I got a TypeKey account. Anyway the reason I wanted to comment is that wikipedia is clueless. It is funny that Google is probably their biggest referrer and they don’t think one of the top 3 most famous people at Google is not important.

  • Michael Martinez

    Wikipedia is rife with misinformation and biased content. It’s best if the SEO community just tune it out.

  • Caydel

    I would also suggest people check out Barry Schwartz’s AfD page, and contribute notability mentions

    Philipp, unfortunately it is not a vote. Certain standards for notability have to be met for the article to survive it’s AfD stage.

    Hopefully it will survive – people have contributed a variety of news mentions to it!

  • Todd Mintz

    It’s funny that Matt, Barry & Mike Grehan are being considered for Wikipedia deletion while the Doug Heil page seems to be immune from such scrutiny.

  • Dave

    great post danny.

    after reading your post, i also added my .02 to the wikipedia discussion.

    seems like there appears to be some anti-search (anti-SEO? ) bias among some of the wikipedia editors… not to mention some microserf who has a bone to pick with google.

  • Chris_D

    Need more non blog citations?

    “Matt Cutts, the Google engineer who designed SafeSearch” – a mainstream press article from 2004

    “….the developer of Google’s SafeSearch filter, Matt Cutts, also know as “porn cookie guy”: “Cutts got his moniker by giving out his wife’s tempting homemade cookies to Googlers who help him find unwanted porn.”

  • AndrewGoodman

    Microserf!?! I now count Dave McClure as one of the only people who has *actually* read that Douglas Coupland book… (I sure haven’t)…

    Danny, can we chalk up this excess energy to the “got back from vacation” concept? :)

    It gets even funnier when the teens who run the show start upping the ante and talking about “hurting your chances” by “canvassing”… well thank you professors!

    Wikipedia is great most of the time, but as usual, when things unravel I go back to the professionalism concept. Lack of accountability/visibility and standards eventually bites you in the butt and turns some parts of the enterprise into a “Lords of the Flies” type situation :)

    Link drop referring to ancient history:

    Question for Caydel: do these snarky editors reveal names, ages, professions, biographical info, that type of thing? Or do you just get initials and obfuscation? It’s unraveling, IMHO. And you said it. It’s doing so in a way very similar to ODP’s personality-driven petty tyrannies.

    Things are turning in an interesting direction. Obviously, due to their “definitiveness,” Wikipedia results are showing up huge in SERP’s. One friend mentioned today that “What’s really hurt is Wikipedia.” In the sense that About guide pages are now much less prominent in SERP’s than Wikipedia because Wikipedia is the new “definitive du jour,” that’s true. I wonder when that will begin to swing back.

  • Caydel

    >Question for Caydel: do these snarky editors reveal names, ages, professions, biographical info, that type of thing? Or do you just get initials and obfuscation?

    I don’t know too much about them but their usernames and what few details they choose to make available to the wider community on their talk pages.

    Personally, I would like to see Wikipedia move to a more accountable structure – still allow editing by the masses, but make editors create verified account, and make their name and bio details available to the world…

  • Ian McAnerin

    So far, it seems to me that this system is working – clueless person suggests a change, then the more knowledgeable masses chime in to correct said cluelessness.

    The real test now of Wikipedia’s system is whether cluelessness or public knowledge wins the round.

    IMO, if Matt’s entry can’t survive this challenge, then it has no business being there, assuming that the system is fair.

    I’ve no doubt he belongs there, and that a sufficient case has been made, so the result will be a pretty clear indication of whether wikipedia is working or has begun it’s decline.

    It’s not about Matt, it’s about the system. Does it work, or doesn’t it?


  • Seth Finkelstein

    “Wow, do I understand this right? Of the things Wikipedia is going to centrally depend on what The Man — in the form of primarily mainstream media (that’s who publishes those magazine articles, books and TV documentaries) — decides is notable.”

    Yes, you understand right. One of the dirty little secrets of Wikipedia is how much it runs on telling outsiders that they can validate themselves in an outsider culture by slavishly aping the forms of insiders (that’s hard to parse, but it does make sense). It’s basically the same love/hate relationship bloggers have with the MSM – a counter-culture which craves the acceptance and approval of the dominant culture.

    Anyway, I don’t think any of the people up for deletion have to worry. They have sufficient mainstream notability, it just requires some work to put it together to satisfy the doubters.

    [Sigh, since this is The Net, let me make clear I'm using that phrase "secret" above in a literary sense and not as a literal description of secrecy. It's secret as in little-known, not as in NSA]

  • JLH

    Great summary Danny, just goes to show that so-called authority sites that are community written are not nearly as authoritative as individuals who really know what they are talking about.

  • JEHochman

    “Danny’s so cute when he gets all riled up,” -Jill Whalen

    Wikipedia is a unique community with different norms than SearchEngineLand or Threadwatch. The Matt Cutts article was flawed because it wasn’t properly referenced. Somebody came along and challenged the article, and a bunch of editors got involved to make the article better.

    We also patched up Barry Schwartz and Mike Grehan. The consensus for all three articles is now keep. In his defense, the editor you flame roasted, ju66l3r, was acting in good faith. After the articles were improved, he joined the consensus to keep them.

    Remember, people who aren’t involved in SEO have no idea about all these people. When creating a new article editors must reference sources to establish notability.

    It sounds to me that the Wikipedia editor culture is starting to go the way of that of DMOZ – editors closing in on themselves in dictatorial role.

    My impression of Wikipedia is the opposite of yours.

  • LMC

    What a fantastic article! In my little niche I’m finding that the wiki editors who have been watching a page for sometime, are getting quite proprietorial and dictatorial about what goes into the page – even when they actually simply don’t know very much about the topic. The fact that they are the ‘editor’ of the page is a rather egotistical and self-awarded role, and there’s just a *teensy* bit of possessiveness too. It used to use the wiki quite a lot, now not so much…

    and as for Matt Cutts being notable – George Bush’s official page has 11,800 inlinks (top listing in both G and Y! for the term george bush – broad match), and here’s is his wiki listing http:// en . …

    Matt’s blog has more than 100,000 inlinks… but he apparently isn’t worthy of a page – despite the fact that in the online community millions of people have read his blog, know of him, and know exactly what he does… I’m still not sure exactly what it is Mr Bush does… not having a go at him or anything – but Matt’s pretty clear about what he does, and why, and he has big time pull online, and as he is ostensibly in control (at least partly) of over 4 billion websites show-or-no-show status on the web, and has the ability to bring down sites and destroy online business – or build it – I would say that’s pretty BIG pull.. but the wiki chappie reckons he’s not notable… *snort*

  • Danny Sullivan

    Thanks, JE. Glad to know it worked out OK.

    As for roasting the editor, I debated that and honestly figured he had it coming. The stuff I dug up? A search on Google brings that stuff up. If the article wasn’t properly sourced, as I said, rather than a debate on killing it, some basic research should be done first. It wasn’t hard to find this material.

    I did see his comment that he was disappointed I didn’t just add the material myself. Why would I do that? I’m not going to waste my time adding to a page that someone else might decide the next day to rip apart according to rules and a culture that frankly is anything but transparent.

    I mean, it’s difficult to know how the article was “nominated” in the first place. Then who exactly inspired the debate to kill it. And now that the vote has gone as it should, who made that vote? I mean, we were told it’s not a voting thing but that there’s a discussion, then I gather editors all make it happen. Where?

    Wikipedia makes a lot about how open it is, but as an outsider, all I can say is that it feels very closed and difficult to know. It’s riddled with acronyms and insider talk. I actually felt the comment about the ODP was pretty close to the mark.

    I really do like Wikipedia as a resource. I use it all the time and find it remarkable at how helpful it is. But as I said, then you get something like this, and you just lose faith in it.

  • JEHochman

    Danny, in Wikipedia’s defense, they don’t have a PR department. They don’t have Matt Cutts either. Nor can they afford to fly people to speak at conferences.

    I didn’t say the editor didn’t deserve flame roasting on your blog. He should have used the {{notability}} or {{unreferenced}} maintenance tags to draw attention to the article for the purpose of improving it, rather than nominating it for deletion.

    Google Adwords isn’t very transparent either, and you need a lot of specific knowledge to run a successful campaign. The SEO community doesn’t know nearly as much about Wikipedia as they should.

    The decision to keep the article was made by me. I looked at the comments and saw that there was a clear consensus, so I closed the debate. That’s how Wikipedia works, all volunteer driven.

    It’s natural that you wouldn’t want to contribute to Wikipedia directly, because you have other opportunities. As an authority in the field, your comments are frequently original thought. Keep in mind that Wikipedia is not a place to publish original thought and research. It’s a place to gather thoughts that have already been published elsewhere. That’s the value on an encyclopedia, bringing together information that’s spread all over the place to form a concise overview of a topic. Once you have published, Wikipedia editors can then cite your work as a reliable source. Does that make sense?


  • Miguel Paraz

    Mea Culpa. I was the one who wrote the Matt Cutts Wikipedia entry (User:MParaz). Here’s why. If only I had a chance to clean it up before the call for deletion came out.

  • ju66l3r

    Hello, Mr. Sullivan.

    If you have an account at Wikipedia and would like to discuss the questions that you raise concerning how Wikipedia operates openly to the benefit of all users, then I’d be glad to show you around on the site. Just add a new note to my User Talk page by clicking the link to “Start a new talk topic” near the top and I’d gladly point you to the pertinent pages.

    As for some basics that you bring up in your most recent comment:

    1) Anyone can and should in good faith create an article for deletion (AfD) discussion for any article that they have concluded does not meet the guidelines of the encyclopedia.

    2) It is a 3-step process (tag the article, give your reasoning on the appropriate page for AfD discussions, add the article title to a daily log of discussions).

    3) Anyone else is then able to add their conclusions as to the fitness of the article for the encyclopedia and either reinforce or refute the original nomination (or even blaze a new path in the discussion such as deletion for an entirely different reasoning). All of this takes place on that discussion page setup in the second step of the AfD nomination (and is readily linked from the article’s page). Some people will look through the AfD log (setup in step 3) to contribute to any or all of the current discussions in order to help improve the encyclopedia.

    4) After a minimum of 5 days (and a minimum of community feedback or else the discussion will be relisted), a closing independent administrator will read through the discussion and determine the best course of action. This isn’t final, there is a process for review of administrative decisions and the deletion process can always be restarted for an article (although the first discussion is not lost and frequently a “kept” article would really need a novel argument for deletion or to have heavily degraded in order to be deleted on future nominations).

    Finally, the system isn’t perfect. Some might feel that I jumped the gun on this nomination. It wasn’t my first nomination nor was it the first nomination that resulted in a kept article (although every article I have nominated that resulted in being kept was substantially improved before the end of the AfD discussion to the benefit of the encyclopedia). Others may consider certain subjects to be notable even though consensus found that the article should be deleted. In most cases, an article can easily be reestablished and hopefully its new incarnation will meet the criteria according to consensus. In one case, I rescued an article that was deleted due to copyright violations and reestablished it and it may soon be listed as a Good Article (due to meeting certain criteria for good writing, sourcing, and encyclopedic nature).

    I disagree with your assessment of Wikipedia’s openness. I joined the site meaningfully in June 2006 without any information on acronyms, etc. and I now have over 1000 article edits and 3000 total edits across all of the different areas of the website from maintenance and vandalism prevention to article improvement, template discussion, and even policy discussion. The learning curve is not so steep and there is always someone (admin as well as just another editor) available to help clear up any issues with procedure or etiquette. I didn’t do anything special other than take a bit of interest in improving the encyclopedia for everyone (including those like yourself who simply choose to use it for DIY help or topical information and not edit to this point). In my patrolling of new pages and recent edits, I see new editors all of the time who share that same interest and when I go back to only June and revisit some of my old conversations with editors newer than me, I find that their latest contributions are on par with what I’m also now able to accomplish to help the project overall. This all suggests to me that Wikipedia is as open as it can be in its current form (and becoming more open and inviting all the time…some of the recent additions from more involved community members and the WikiMedia software developers make it even easier to get started and see how to contribute).

    I would liken it to an open door in a glass wall. It wouldn’t be much of a door without any sort of wall to pass through, but it is open and the other side is hardly a darkened room. You certainly don’t have to enter and you can easily observe and comment from the side you’re currently on, but it’s also not so hard to step in and look around to see what it looks like without the glass between you and the room.

    As I began, you or other commenters here are welcome to ask me about getting started on the website if you’d like to improve the encyclopedia. That’s about as open as I can make it for you. Sorry for the length of the comment, but I wanted to address some of your comments and concerns and I’m not sure that I’ll be returning to maintain any sort of dialogue here. Take care.


  • Bob Caswell

    I just thought I’d point to an interesting find by Marion Jensen. He found out that a Wikipedia article he was reading was an exact copy (with no citation) from the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica and then: “How many other Wikipedia articles have ‘borrowed from’ the 1911 work? In a quick and dirty study, I pulled five random articles from the 1911 Britannica, and a Google search showed exact matches for three of them in Wikipedia.”

    Just wonder where that might fit into your conversation here…

  • Bob Caswell
  • Jeremy Zawodny

    Well, look at that. I guess my page dodged the “not notable” bullet too.

    What and odd and amusing experience. I need to write that up someday, including the on-air public radio interview that almost happened as a result.

  • Joost de Valk

    OK this probably was a stupid act of these wikipedia admins, and articles like this might help preserve those pages, but please people, get to know WP’s culture a bit more…. You can do a lot more good by inviting a few friendly admins like A. B. to give their opinion (as I did), then throwing your own opinion in from an account that has done hardly anything on WP. It’s a trust thing :)

  • BUlbboy

    Ha, I can’t believe you emigrated to the UK from Sunny California Danny. What tempted you over? Was it the weather? The delightful cuisine? or the love a beautiful woman? =P

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