1. Summary:

The Digital Methods Initiative (DMI) is one of the entities involved in the European research project ‘Electronic Maps to Assist Public Science’ (EMAPS). During the last week of March 2012 the Digital Methods Initiative held the EMAPS workshop “Ageing Places” at the University of Amsterdam. The workshop was designed to provide a space for Amsterdam-based researchers and motivated students to explore together the issue of Europe’s ageing population and how it is being distributed, formatted, framed and diversified across cultural, institutional and geographical borders. The result was a week of inspiring talks and presentations in combination with intense analytical and technical hands-on research.

Present at “Ageing Places” were the Initiative’s director Richard Rogers, workshop coordinator and researcher Natalia Sanchez Querubín, DMI researchers Erik Bora, Bernhard Rieder, Marieke van Dijk and Simeona Petkova. Invited participant students were Aleksandra Kil, Demet Dagdelen, Chris Mead, Ave Tampere and Anne Laurine Stadermann. Guest speakers, representing other participant institutions in EMAPS, were Will Norman and Lucy Kimball from the Young Foundation in London, Tommaso Venturini from the Sciences Po in Paris and Donato Ricci and Michele Mauri from the Design Density Lab in Milan

The following account includes descriptions of the presentations and the two projects that were completed during the workshop.

 2. Presentations: different stories and perspectives.

The first two days of “Ageing Places” were scheduled to be a space dedicated to the exchange of ideas, findings and research questions between the DMI team, other institutions participating in EMAPS and motivated students that were part of the preparatory program Issue Mapping for Politics, taught by Richard Rogers and Natalia Sanchez Querubín at the University of Amsterdam. The objective of this initial part of the workshop was to diversify perspectives, aesthetics and methodologies and enrich the group’s understanding of ageing before the hands-on work began. Seven presentations took place during those initial days.

DMI member Natalia Sanchez Querubín gave the first presentation during the opening session of “Ageing Places”. Sanchez described the ageing of the population as a risk: as a set of unbalanced consequences that are in debate, in the making and that remain uncertain. Sanchez characterized ageing as an issue staged simultaneously as a crisis and as an opportunity, currently debated within local, international and transnational agendas, market interests and policy-making. In other words, ageing is defined by place and at the same time it produces new geographies – which contextualizes the title of the workshop, Ageing Places. Finally, Sanchez suggested two potential topics for deep exploration at the workshop: (1) ageing as a cross-cultural issue and (2) ageing and the change of place. As potential entry points she recommended, for example, a comparison of the Polish and the British agendas and the multiple narratives related to the migration of the care-workers and of pensioners seeking new retirement destinations.

Later that day during the early afternoon, Tommaso Venturini (Sciences Po, Paris) joined the workshop as a guest speaker. Venturini divided his presentation into two sections, first discussing criteria to measure the success of a project such as EMAPS and second sharing potentially inspiring issues with the other workshop participants. Briefly speaking, for Venturini EMAPS’s objective is not to provide map-producing tools for the general public, but instead to provide them with maps they can use, appropriate and circulate. In Venturini’s words: the project aims for “an atlas for public debate”. Consequently, in this user-oriented approach the success of the project depends on the usefulness of the map: do people actually use it and are they becoming a tool in the debates? How to measure this impact remains a topic for discussion.

For Venturini one of the many scenarios in which mapping could prove useful would implicate deploying the oppositions between the institutional and the non-institutional language used to describe people of age or between spaces such as baby care, childcare, self-help etc. versus elderly care. These types of accounts could perhaps help in redefining old people in their own terms and conditions.

During the second part of his presentation Venturini shared a number of sub-issues about ageing. From the set of questions and an exchange with Jacques Mizan from the Young Foundation, it was in particular the concerns regarding the relationship between older people and technology and the alleged digital divide in terms of distribution of skills between generations, which opened a lengthier discussion about how the EU has framed 2012 as its Year of Active Ageing and Intergenerational Solidarity. Summarizing, Venturini recalled the difficulties that pertain to identifying an online user with a specific age. This led to a brief debate about the Internet as an adequate space to study this particular target group and/or the necessity for people of old age to be online users in order to study them by using the Internet. Finally, Venturini shared the interesting case of a lace-makers group found in the content sharing platform Flickr, whose members were mostly older women uploading the pictures of their crafts. In this particular example, an identity related to old age was successfully identified online.

Following Venturini it was guest speakers Donato Ricci and Michele Mauri’s turn to give their presentation. Ricci and Mauri shared some of the controversy visualization projects fashioned by their students at the Density Design Lab in Milan. The projects (not focused on ageing but instead on climate change) were exceptional exercises on the use of the narrative techniques applied to complex data and information. Using digital research tools –Ricci and Mauri explained—the students performed a mapping of a particular case, which they later presented as a complete story in a video format, expressing a position and potentially aiding in raising awareness. For example, the project entitled “Cruising the web” confronted the sales strategies (which linked travel and awareness) used by cruises to the Antarctica with the data of the pollution generated by each ship. Additionally, Ricci and Mauri encouraged their students to visualize and narrate (as a way to document) the online research processes. For example, they would document how they used search engines, software tools, which type of data they obtained and what editing of information took place afterwards.

Finally, during a further discussion Ricci and Mauri explained how narrative and process were interlinked in their work. They made two suggestions in particular: “Imagine the final story and orient the process towards it” and “visualize the ideal protocol and evaluate other protocols in relation to the ideal.”

On the second day of the workshop, Will Norman and Lucy Kimball offered an elaborated and emotional account of the work that the Young Foundation has done over the past couple of years in relation to ageing in the UK. Part of their presentation was dedicated to the description of the foundation’s mission based on learning about people’s needs through interaction and observation, and then sharing this knowledge hoping to positively influence decision and policy making. For the Young Foundation, as Norman and Kimball explained, there is an urgency for social innovation to change and influence the way ageing and old people are thought of. For example, they have designed new currencies for relationships between young and old in the form of a time bank, called Care4Care, where carers earn credits that they can spend when they would like care in the future. Furthermore, the Young Foundation wants to promote ageing not as a problem but as a source of innovation (where Care4Care is a case in point).

In their particular view the life of the aging individual and his or her needs must take a central place in the finding of solutions. Consequently, one of the Young Foundation’s approach and narration styles for their research is that of scenario making, which was illustrated in their video production, and one of the highlight of the presentation, “Charles and Mary: A tale of ageing”. The video recreated the life of an older couple and their progressive encounter with bureaucracy, illness, death, the loss of their home and ability to travel and the final decision to move where care could be provided and the improvement of the quality of live. The video showed both the problems associated with ageing and solutions that embraced the ideals promoted by the Young Foundation.


As the presentation advanced Norman and Kimball brought several issues into attention. For example, the difference between ageing in an urban versus a rural setting and the issue of the migration of care-workers as related to problems over language, racism, older people that haven’t had contact with immigrants, and the moral dilemma of the migration of well-needed care workers from less favored nations to richer European counties. Additionally, they raised the questions if the digital divide will be bridged as new generations grow older and if so how will these changes affect the care-systems.

Lastly, the presentation concluded with Norman and Kimball sharing the progress and ideas regarding an exhibition currently being conceived by the Young Foundation around different types of conversations about ageing. Some of the potential ideas for the exhibition include: providing a space for the mappings produced by EMAPS and to some extent test their ability to engage the public, hosting workshop-like spaces and interactive and immersive experiences relate to ageing (e.g., a suit that recreates the sensations of an older body) and organizing a program with music and theater performances (inviting older drag queens to perform).

Finally as the first two days of the workshop came to an end, three students were invited to share with the other participants the age-related projects they developed preparatory program Issue Mapping for Politics. The students of this preparatory program for the workshop  became acquainted during the course of six weeks with three different mapping methodologies, namely, social cartography in the frameworks developed by Bruno Latour and Tomaso Venturini, risk cartography as conceptualized in theories by Ulrich Beck and Richard Rogers and neo-cartography as presented in the works of Jeremy Crampton and Lissa Parks.

Demet Dagdelen presented two age-related assignments. The first one dealt with health as a sub-issue of ageing, focusing particularly on the seven most popular age-related diseases according to Wikipedia (Heart disease, Arthritis, Cataracts, Osteoporosis, Diabetes, Hypertensions and Alzheimer). Her objective, as she explained, was to trace the concerns associated with each disease over the course of the 2012 European Year of Active Ageing and Intergenerational Solidarity. This motivated Dagdelen to open for each disease a Twitter account fed with RSS feeds from Yahoo! and Google’s search, blog and news services. The RSS feeds responded to content tagged with the disease in question. Through this experiment she attempted to use Twitter to construct a functional information capturing and analytical vessel that would potentially allow tracing the evolution of each sub-issue over time. However, the suspension of the accounts left the project in stand-by and open further discussions to how to avoid a similar outcome in the future.

Dagdelen’s second project was an attempt to map the types of actors involved in the ageing debate in the UK. The student performed a co-link analysis, which allowed her to deploy a network of interrelated entities, which she later classified according to their nature (i.e., NGO, academic or service provider). Dagdelen concluded that the institutions in the debate to some extent acknowledged each other (mostly seen through sector alliances), however not yet in a substantial way. For example, she argued that NGOs primarily linked to academic sources leaving other type of actors aside, while at the same time governmental sites tended to be linked to by other sites but they rarely linked back to other actors. Government appeared distant from the other sectors.

 In the following presentation Chris Mead shared his research on the public sector pension reform in the UK, an ongoing topic of controversy prompted by proposals by the conservative government to increase the retirement age. Mead was interested in identifying which actors were involved in this debate, how they related to each other, which issues were widely shared and which remained marginal in the discussion. Mead decided to examine the websites of different English political parties that according to the news had been present in recent protests. Mead found subtle signals regarding the frequency of terminologies and sub-issues shared amongst the parties. For example, conservatives were continually referencing tea and pens, indicating a form of class warfare and the ideas of the key words being tied to ideologies or particular cosmoses.

 Finally, Alexandra Kil, an exchange graduate student from Poland, presented three assignments that use the Polish Pension debates as case studies. The issue of aging, she explained, occasionally becomes a controversy in Poland when legislative proposals are put forward to change the retirement age. Yet, the media representation of this debate rarely makes any mention of local Polish NGOs working on this issue. As a response to this preliminary finding the student examined the issue language of a set of Polish NGOs (with links to the European AGE platform) and further compared it to the European organizations dealing with the same issue and with the Polish media. The results pointed towards distinctiveness between the issue-language of the three mentioned sources, putting into question the affinities between a European and a local polish agenda on ageing.

In a second project Kil inquired into the media’s staging of the pension reform. By the production of a map of interrelated claims and protagonist, the student was able to identify issues that were dominating the public debate and issues that were unrepresented. For example, Kil identified a predominance of an association of the pension reform with women’s rights (which lend to pension the visibility already associated with women’s rights in Poland), while simultaneously other issues such as clergy pension reform were left mostly aside.

In her third and final project, Kil researched the overlaying between polish regions with high density of aged population and the territory covered by NGO’s working on the issue of ageing. Her findings point that even if the NGO territory coincide with the one occupied by the elder population, the formation of ageing as a “post-working age” lead again to the retirement controversy, leaving other issues unrepresented in local agendas.

3. Ageing Places workshop projects.

Two projects were developed during the workshop: (3.1) a cross-cultural ageing issue analysis and (3.2) an exploration of classification systems and comparison of platforms.

3.1 Cross-cultural ageing issue analysis:

As remarked, the European Union designated 2012 as the European Year for Active Ageing and Solidarity between Generations resulting in a framing of ageing as a concern across nations. However, do European countries currently share similar concerns with respect to ageing? In order to begin addressing this question DMI researchers and students involved in this project performed a descriptive exploration of the general issue landscape of ageing across European countries.

The term ageing was queried in each of the dominant languages of localized Google search engines of twenty-three countries members of the European Union. The first hundred results outputted by the search engine, set to return only websites and documents from the countries in question, were used to identify and synthesize the top ten unique issues per country. For example: the website of a foundation dedicated to raise awareness for the rights of older women would be synthetized as “ageing and women’s rights awareness”. As the aim was to identify unique issues, if the same issue appeared more than once (ex: two consecutive websites addressing the rights of older women) the researcher was indicated to continue to the following results until she/he would find a new one. The preliminary output of this phase of the project were twenty-three lists containing the top ten unique issues per country using Google’s search engine popularity rankings as criteria. This same exercise was performed for the additional terms of “pension reform” and “retirement”. During the process each of the researchers were logged out of Google, and turned of Web history and personalization.

Once the issue lists were localized the researchers began identifying similarities and differences amongst countries. For example, issues such as “active ageing” (and references to the EU agenda on active ageing), “health and ageing” and “anti-ageing” were mostly shared amongst countries, pointing towards some resonance of the European agenda. The research focused further on exploring the issues that appeared as unique cases. For example, the suggestion of pumpkin as an anti-ageing food was a topic unique to Bulgaria, while in Czech Republic an anti-ageing cooking class was advertised. A foundation with the mission statement to help people decide what they want to be when they grow old appeared as issue-language unique to Spain, at least among the more prominent ones. Finally, the outcome of the project was a map of Europe that, linked to a dynamic spreadsheet containing the totality of the lists (in which the most unique cases were highlighted), visualized the distribution of issues per country. The map is available at

Identifying these differences was an initial attempt to map points where the debate could potentially diversify and yet pinpoint issues of particular ageing places. Indeed, the mapping of the accidents, in an otherwise homogenous landscape, could potentially act a counter narrative to the discourse of a centralized agenda for an ageing Europe. Finally, this landscape acted not only as a map, but also as a source of new entry points, sub-issues and actors for other future mappings. For instance, inspired by some of these findings the team decided to query the term “ageing tips” (and its equivalents in different languages) in diverse national search engines using a similar setting that the one used in the previous exercise. For each country the top five collections of tips (as usually tips are formatted as lists of numbered suggestions) were collected and then run trough a tag cloud engine. The engine output for each set of collections accounted for the most frequent terms used; which could also be understood as representing the most frequently suggested ageing tips per country. When comparing the data there were interesting results: for instance, in relation to food broccoli was the most frequently recommend food in the UK for its anti-ageing properties while in Spain it was fish and (red) wine that appeared to be dominant. Future potential ideas include the construction of a cross-national anti-ageing cookbook and following counties that are marketing themselves as ideal places to age.

Fig 1. Tag cloud. Top ageing tips in Spain.

3.2. Exploring classification systems and comparing platforms.

Different products target the senior consumer. For example, books about retirement and anti-ageing and apps that help them exercise their memory skills or organize their medical files. Also ageing is mentioned in songs and in literature. Can the large collection of these products help identify issues, statements or directions of the ageing debate? And if so, how can the information by collected, processes and visualized?

In order to address these questions researchers involved in this project built two tools that allow studying the catalogues of and the iTunes store via specific queries. Comparisons between stores, but also between commercial offerings and other platforms, can yield interesting insights into how the subject of ageing is presented quite differently in different locations.

3.2.1 Amazon Book Tool. is the biggest bookstore in the world. Not only is its catalogue massive, its high sales numbers mean that it collects significant data concerning sales statistics. Despite the rise of electronic media, the book is still a highly significant cultural object, both as a carrier of knowledge and in terms of symbolic capital.’s datasets are therefore of considerable interest and provide insights both into offer (what books are available?) and demand (which books are actually sold?).

The Amazon Book Tool tries to make this data pool available to digital methods researchers in various ways, all of which follow a common pathway: after choosing a local site (.com,, etc.), a user defined query is sent to’s servers via the Product Advertising API and the data for up to 100 books is retrieved (in a future version, we hope to go beyond that figure). The tool allows for the selection of different ranking mechanisms (e.g. sales rank, price rank, etc.). We consider the “sales rank” ordering to be the most significant as it provides not only the most relevant data in terms of demand (the 100 best selling books) but also concerning offer because this is the default ranking for searches on Amazon’s website (the 100 most “visible” products): this is what users see. What emerges from these data is a two-sided picture of the individual as consumer.

Based on the retrieved book data, the tool currently proposes two features, both based on output in form of a graph file (.gexf format).

a) Co-word analysis.

Co-word analysis of book titles allows for a quick exploration of frequency and structure of word combinations. If two words appear in the same book title, they are considered as “linked” and the more often they do, the stronger the connection. Trough network analysis, patterns can be made visible.


Fig. 2. Co-word analysis of query “dementia”: size represents degree and color betweenness centrality. Besides “dementia”, “care” emerges as a central connector term.

b) Classification mapping.

Classification mapping is based on the fact that every book is assigned to one or several places in Amazon’s (mostly) hierarchical classification structure (e.g. hobbies => gardening => flowers). The tool collects all of the category trees and attributes a frequency to every node. A subject – via the query – becomes localized in a subject organization system and, through the frequency count, the weight of individual categories can be made immediately visible, e.g. by sizing nodes according to frequency.

Fig. 3. Classification mapping of “retirement”: most books are classified in the “Business, Finance & Law” category

3.2.2 iTunes Store Scraper.

In the iTunes store, one of the most successful stores for downloadable applications and music, Apple provides apps for mobile devices and mac hardware, as well as music, videos, podcasts, and e-books. In similar vein to the Amazon Book Tool, the iTunes store scraper intends to make available to the digital methods researcher the data associated to items in iTunes. Per country and media type, e.g. music or e-books, the researcher can enter a key word as one would do in iTunes, Apple’s native interface for the iTunes store, and the scraper will retrieve all items on offer. The output is both available as a .csv file, for analysis in a spreadsheet or in data analysis software, and as a .gexf file in which items are linked with their categories. With the use of the open source network visualization software Gephi, the .gexf file can be used to detect clusters of densely populated as well as related categories.

Figures 3 and 4 provide two examples of the .gexf output for the query [aging]. In both figures the red nodes represent categories and the white nodes represent the individual items. If an item belongs to a particular category, a link is drawn. The node size is proportional to the amount of links a node is connected to (degree). For the sake of legibility, only the labels of the categories are shown. Figure 3 depicts the classification mapping of applications for the query [aging]. As can be seen, applications can belong to up to three categories and are mostly about “Health & Fitness” and “Lifestyle”. The third cluster is related to “Entertainment” as well as “Photo & Video”. Counter-intuitive at first, these apps allow the user to ‘age’ head shot pictures, e.g. by making someone look bold.

Fig. 4. Classification mapping of the query [aging] for ios applications available in the US iTunes store.

Figure 5 depicts the classification mapping of podcasts for the query [aging]. In the iTunes store podcasts mostly belong to only one category. As such, the visualization should be read like a tag cloud. It is interesting to see that a different type of offering leads to a different description of ageing. Wile there is still a lot of focus on health it also becomes apparent that e.g. Christian podcasts often address the issue.

Fig. 5. Classification mapping of the query [aging] for podcasts available in the US iTunes store.

3.2.3 Comparisons.

The results of classification mapping can be compared to other platforms that are based on subject classification, for example Thomson Reuter’s Web of Science. While the problem of diverging category naming and division is certainly important, these comparisons can give an overview over commonalities and divergence in the emphasis different platforms (and therefore different actors) put on different subjects. It is important to note that in all cases, category systems are not only subject mappings, but “navigational opportunities” for users searching and browsing the different platforms.

Fig. 6. Representation of Web of Science categories for the query “retirement”; categories are sized according to the number of scientific articles published since 2005, which were attributed to these categories. Compared to the Amazon graph, we can see, for example, that the dominance of economics over health issues is much more pronounced on the bookstore’s site.

On platforms for sharing user-generated content, uncontrolled tagging systems are more common than hierarchical classifications. This can lead to very different results. The data from two additional tools currently under development at the Digital Methods Initiative can illustrate the point:

a) Flickr.

The Flickr platform is one of the canonical examples for a folksonomy based classification and navigation system; and the actual content it stores – photos, an object with strong emotional value – allows for explorations of meaningful associations based on significant moments in people’s lives. Our Flickr Related Tag explorer uses the Flickr API to retrieve a list of “related” tags for a given query and then interrogates the API for each one of those tags to find out the number of photos for each “query tag AND related tag” and download a sample of those photos. Results are shown as tag cloud, list, and photo collection.

Fig. 7. Related tags for “retirement” on Flickr, as a tag cloud rather than a list because of the large number of tags. Word size shows the number of photos tagged with the query and the tag. (e.g. retirement + party = 32296). Through the medium of photography, a completely different picture emerges.

b) Wikipedia

Wikipedia is highly significant, both as one of the most coveted sources of knowledge and as a platform for the negotiation and representation of important issues. Our Wikipedia link analysis tool uses the dbpedia “site links” dataset, which contains all links between pages on the site. This allows us to easily create network representations from the link graph, which reveals the “latent human judgment” Jon Kleinberg attributed to hyperlinks.

Fig. 8. Link Network on Wikipedia, starting from “Retirement” with a depth of two, only nodes with two inlinks are displayed. Node size is indegree, color is betweenness centrality.

4. Conclusion

After a detailed description of “Ageing places” we would like to end with the somewhat counter-intuitive question: what is a workshop? Or better said, what is the structure behind the workshop we organized? And to what can we attribute its most successful outcomes?

The workshop “Ageing Places” was the concluding event of the preparatory program “Issue mapping for politics”. As was mentioned earlier, the participants of this preparatory program studied and became acquainted during the course of six weeks with three different mapping methodologies: social cartography, risk cartography and neo-cartography. They reviewed relevant literature and case studies, delved into specific topics via presentations and group discussions and developed their own research projects, for which the ageing controversy was suggested as one of the possible topics.

As a result the preparations strengthened in the participants particular proficiencies and skills that later during the workshop allowed them to approach the issue of ageing from multiple, interrelated perspectives. This preparation helped the participants establish a common set of concepts and methodologies, develop a general interest and familiarity with the ageing controversy and gather a preliminary set of sub-issues, directions and data that were later used as starting points. Also, the workshop’s design and its final products reflect the influence of the preparatory program. For example, having studied the ageing of the population in terms of a risk allowed the workshop to identify languages of prevention and anticipation in diverse formats such as anti-ageing (e.g. ageing tips project) and self-responsibility (e.g. Amazon Scraper, ageing and self-help literature). Furthermore, one of the workshop’s final products was a neo-cartographic interpretation of Europe according to the diversity of ageing issues or ageing places. In other words, “Ageing places” was arranged not as the beginning but rather as the continuation of a process that had been gaining pace during the weeks that preceded it.

In a sense “Ageing Places” brought together subject matter experts, prepared in the theory, with programmers and designers. The result was a multidisciplinary skill set and a workflow in which technical and conceptual processes went hand in hand. Additionally, the international nature of the New Media (MA) program at the University of Amsterdam allowed for the natural assembling of a multicultural team, which was very convenient while performing cross-country analysis. For example, all workshop participants were fluent in at least two European languages and could detect subtle differences in the phrasing of statements and query terms. In all the workshops organized by the Digital Methods Initiative we try as much as possible to encompass a diversity of skills and cultural background.

Additionally, in what was a more novel format for us, representatives from the Science Po, The Young Foundation and Density Design Lab participated in “Ageing places” as guest speakers. This proved productive on multiple levels. On the one hand, the perspectives, questions and ideas shared by the guest speakers gave additional layers to our own research directions. For example, the Science Po helped us reformulate our own concerns and introduce key inquiries regarding the business of ageing that influenced the construction of both the Amazon and iTunes Scrapers. The presentation by Density Design Lab gave us important lessons in storytelling and on how to communicate, in an approachable manner, complex results. Finally, the Young Foundation transmitted the urgency that there is to bring the projects to the people that they might benefit. Furthermore, promoting such an exercise of sharing has (and will continue to) aid in visualizing the different skills each one of the institutions has and the different ways in which we can collaborate and divide the work. In other words, an outcome of the workshop’s structure was, in our opinion, a greater synchronicity between partners.

To conclude, in our experience a workshop is not necessarily a starting point but instead the point were a process is given all conditions to achieve its maximum impact, where the elements have been to some extent distilled, set in motion and circulated, finding the ideal conditions to flourish and gain new layers of complexity in a richly designed environment. However, the resources and coordination necessary to organize a team to work and dedicate themselves exclusively to one topic for an extended period of time is very high. As a result, a workshop must be timely and planned to coincide with a specific moment where ideas and projects are already gaining some territory and are “asking” for that space to grow.

What comes next? On the one hand, we will share and make accessible the tools (Amazon and iTunes Scrapers) we designed. Secondly, one idea is to capture the process and outcomes of the preparatory program, the workshop and other relevant spaces in a publication. And thirdly, the format of a preparatory program followed by a workshop will be something that we plan on repeating every semester.

Finally, a workshop as the one we described might not be for everyone. We all have our own styles. But for those partners that have a natural affinity with this kind of working environment and with some of the methods we described (and which have proven successful in our own practice in numerous occasions) this is a workshop format we strongly recommend!

Written by Natalia Sanchez and Bernhard Rieder, with input by Richard Rogers and Erik Borra

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