Showing all posts tagged: social networks

Threads first birthday gift to users: advertising?

5 July 2024

Break out the coffee and the cake: a celebration is on the cards. Tomorrow, Threads, Meta’s answer — and much needed foil — to X/Twitter, notches up its first birthday. I was there as the platform began rolling out, and managed to score (just) a relatively low (five-figure) badge number. 98,522 for the record. These membership number badges were, for a time, displayed on a member’s corresponding Instagram (IG) page. Mark Zuckerberg’s IG page boasted the surely desirable number one badge.

But the badges have long since vanished, and Threads, after a few fits and starts, has taken its place — albeit if engagement is on the lower side — with the other micro-blogging style social media platforms, including Mastodon and Bluesky. And with one-hundred-and-seventy-five million active monthly users, it’s probably been a good first year for Threads.

In contrast, X/Twitter didn’t reach the same number of active monthly users until well into 2012, some six years after launching. But making these sorts of comparisons between Threads versus what was then Twitter, isn’t all that helpful. Twitter had to start from scratch. It was, just about, the first of its kind. I still recall some the discussions around X/Twitter, following its debut. A lot of people weren’t sure exactly what the platform was about, or what it was meant to achieve.

X/Twitter’s relatively slow uptake could be partly attributed to this bafflement that enveloped the platform. By the time Threads arrived though, we were all seasoned social media platform users. On top of that, it was a simple matter of clicking a button on your IG page, to become a Threads member. The boost IG and — to a lesser extent — Facebook, gave Threads, cannot be understated.

Aside though from posting what I call an online journal entry daily, I don’t really do much on Threads, or any of the social media platforms, for that matter. But I do get drawn into some of the conversations that appear, courtesy of the Threads algorithm, in my main feed. These posts are an intriguing combination of day to day happenings and situations. There are retellings of encounters with people nice, and not so nice. Of dating disasters, and weird goings-on at work.

In a sense, these posts from people I don’t follow, or even know of, are akin to the “suggested for you” content that litters many an IG feed. Somehow though, these Threads posts don’t seem quite as annoying, or intrusive, as the — and I won’t mince my words here — shit that features on IG. My big hope for Threads is that it doesn’t go the way of IG, which now borders on the unbearable. But Threads may become a little more IG-like in another way: the presence of ads.

While the prospect is apparently being considered, it may still be a year before ads begin making an appearance on the platform. To my mind, this is not so much a question of what happens, but rather, the way it happens. Threads needs to turn a profit. We, the users, cannot have this online playground to frolic on, without there being someway for Meta to pick up the tab.

Ads of some sort seem reasonable to me. As I say, it comes down to the way, rather than the what. Perhaps then there will be a measured approach to advertising. Or, worst case, perhaps not. The devil is very much going to be in the details here.

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The personal website returns: the good, the bad, and the ugly of it

6 May 2024

Kyle Chayka, writing for the New Yorker, in an article heralding the demise of the platform era:

Now digital-distribution infrastructure is crumbling, having become both ineffective for publishers and alienating for users. Social networks, already lackluster sources for news, are overwhelmed by misinformation and content generated by artificial intelligence. A.I.-driven search threatens to upend how articles get traffic from Google. Text-based media have given way to short-form videos of talking heads hosted on TikTok, Instagram, or YouTube. If that’s not how you prefer to take in information, you’re out of luck. Surrounded by dreck, the digital citizen is discovering that the best way to find what she used to get from social platforms is to type a URL into a browser bar and visit an individual site.

Platform refers to walled garden environments such as Facebook, TikTok, and Instagram. Places you can check out of, but never leave. I may not be a one-hundred percent fan of some of them, but I don’t necessarily welcome their total demise either. Social networks are part of the internet’s evolution, and fabric. They play a role. But when you find yourself trapped within their confines twenty-four/seven, something’s not right.

Needless to say, I welcome the homecoming of the homepage, personal or otherwise. Not that some ever really went away. Some websites, as Chayka notes, were determined to remain outside the walled gardens. Tech news site The Verge is one, even going so far as to incorporate a social-media feed/stream like feature, when they revamped their website about two years ago. If you can’t beat them, join them. Sort of.

But another line in Chayka’s article sent a shiver down my spine:

One could argue that its [The Verge] makeover, which has now become a subject of admiring chatter among media executives and the editors who work for them, heralds the revenge of the home page.

It’s great The Verge has shown us what a post-platform internet could look like. Not so good, perhaps, is the news that “media executives” are seemingly salivating in delight at the prospect. Out goes one money-making model: the platforms, back comes another: the homepage. But we’ve been there before. And depending how many websites you continue using, still are.

When blogs — perhaps the first descendent of the personal website — began to really take off, about twenty years ago, the first influencers were not far behind. The monetisation strategies quickly followed. This wasn’t all bad. That a writer could make a living, independently, from their craft, was an ambition many aspired to. But as time went on, things began to get out of hand.

And I’m not referring to the plethora of blogs-about-blogging, the content farms, and who knows what else. Reading many blogs had become a trying experience. I lost count of the number of times I’d made my way to a blog — often through a search engine query — to look up something, only to be immediately greeted by a popup box, obscuring the content. They’re called “entry popups”.

“Would you like to subscribe to this publication by email?” read the annoying message. Well, I might, but I’m in no position to decide, as I’ve not been able to read a single word of what’s written here, so have no idea if subscribing is worth my while. Give me ten minutes, I might have a better idea.

Equally irritating were the so-called “exit popups”. Move your mouse pointer towards the top of the page, and, on the assumption you were leaving the blog, one would appear. Their purpose was to entice you to stay, perhaps by offering a discount on an e-book (which you had no interest in), and/or making another attempt to garner an email address.

The early years of the social networks were positively refreshing in contrast. Here was an online experience devoid of popup boxes, ads, and content of questionable quality. Short wonder so many people sought refuge on the platforms. Of course the respite would be short-lived. Now people, “digital citizens”, are returning to websites. But my question: how long before the money hungry marketers make the same transition?

You can still peruse The Verge without being blocked-out by those annoyingly ubiquitous popup boxes. They still carry adverts, but they’re relatively unobtrusive. Of course, The Verge is not a personal website, and the primary goal of personal sites is generally not to turn a profit. But there’s nothing wrong, I think, with a publisher of a personal website, or blog, deriving some income from their website, especially where they are creating content others find useful or enjoyable.

But does that make it ok? To therefore monetise personal websites? Those unkempt public parks, as Mike Grindle eloquently describes them?

I think it’s vital that we still have web spaces where rampant monetization and marketing are frowned upon or outright disallowed – spaces like the Fediverse, personal blogs, and the indie web. They are like the unkempt public parks of the internet’s town square-turned-metropolis. They are places where we should be careful to not let the billboards outgrow the trees.

The billboards had outgrown the trees, particularly towards the end of the first homepage era. And then they eventually swamped the platform era apps. Can anyone else see the trend here? I’m sure the aforementioned media executives can, as they eagerly anticipate the return of the homepage. But they’re not interested in collateral damage.

I can’t imagine though, too many Indie Web/Small Web personal websites sacrificing screen real estate for a great many billboards. There are other means of monetising, some so low key they’re almost invisible. While hardly the best examples of personal websites, even if they are published (mostly) by individuals, Daring Fireball and Kottke nonetheless make for noteworthy role models.

Enduring also, both have been online for decades. Daring Fireball, whose revenue model I’ve written about previously, features a single, small, advert in its left hand column. And it doesn’t look half bad either. Kottke meanwhile, draws income from a voluntary membership system. There’s barely a billboard to be seen, but I’m guessing both publishers are doing well.

If that’s not proof less is more, what is?

Meanwhile plenty of personal website readers are happy to make “buy a cup of coffee” type donations to content creators whose work they like, or buy their products. There’s also going to be other ways to go about this, without a return to those homepage destroying, oversize, billboards.

There’s also something else that may help prevent a repeat of the overgrown billboard homepage apocalypse. Something that was not present twenty-years ago, at least not entirely in the form it is today, and that’s the Indie Web/Small Web community. A community determined to see independent publishers thrive. Massive billboards may one day again overwhelm, and wipe out, resurgent homepages, but not in all quarters of the internet.

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Aaron Sorkin penning a sequel to The Social Network in response to January 6

3 May 2024

I squeezed in two screenings of The Social Network — the 2010 film by David Fincher and Aaron Sorkin, dramatizing the founding of Facebook — on the day it was released in Australia. I went up to the local cinema the morning it opened, so I could write about it here, then returned to the same cinema for an evening viewing.

Don’t get me wrong here, I’m no fan of Facebook itself, but various trailers, and the pre-opening hype, had me excited. Facebook was once a start-up, a small business, and the dramatization of the early days promised to be a doozy. The movie sits in my home library now, and I still look forward to rolling it out once or twice a year.

Even today, I still wait in anticipation for the night-club scene, where Justin Timberlake’s character Sean Parker, utters the line this is our time. The track playing during the scene, Sound Of Violence, by Dennis De Laat, is still on my Spotify favourites playlist.

There’s no two ways: I’m a fan of The Social Network.

And news the other day that the film’s co-screenwriter Aaron Sorkin, was penning a sequel, saw me getting euphoric all over again. But I suspect the sequel, of “some kind”, will strike a far more sombre tone than the original. This because Sorkin believes Facebook played some part in the 2021, January 6 insurrection, in the United States:

Sorkin would not answer why he blamed Facebook for Trump supporters storming the U.S. Capitol, but he teased: “You’re going to need to buy a movie ticket.” “I’m trying [to write a movie about it],” Sorkin elaborated. “Facebook has been, among other things, tuning its algorithm to promote the most divisive material possible.”

I wonder if the original cast, Jesse Eisenberg (as Mark Zuckerberg), and Andrew Garfield (as Eduardo Saverin), among them, would reprise their earlier roles? It’d make for a great opportunity to catch up with some of the key players, and see what they’re up to nowadays. It might also add a lighter touch to what could otherwise be sullen proceedings.

As such, I see a role for the Winklevoss twins here. They’ve been busy since The Social Network days. In addition to rowing in the 2008 Olympics, they founded a cryptocurrency exchange, and a venture capital company. But that’s not all. They also formed a band, Mars Junction, which they describe as “a hard-hitting rock band”.

Check out this short clip of them performing at a gig about two years ago. Perhaps, in the proposed sequel, it could be imagined the Winklevoss’ had bought a house next door to Zuckerberg’s, and both parties find themselves in conflict again. This time though, over loud Mars Junction band practice sessions that annoy the hell out of Zuckerberg.

Of course, I can’t see that happening, but I can dream. Whatever, I’ll be looking out for the sequel once it is released.

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Tracking versus privacy, are Pay or Ok consent models ok?

23 April 2024

So called “pay or ok” consent models allow social media users to access services such as Facebook or Instagram, without adverts, if they’re prepared to pay a subscription. Otherwise they’ll see ads, possibly targeted ads, at some point, and obviously be OK with that. At face value, this seems reasonable. There’s no such as a free lunch. If people want to continue using big social networks, they either need to pay to do so, or accept the presence of ads.

But regulators at the European Union’s (EU) European Data Protection Board (EDPB) aren’t happy with the “pay or ok” arrangement. In particular, the idea of targeted advertising. Long story short, to place targeted ads in a social media user’s content feed, it’s necessary to track that user. This is something the EDPB objects to.

Instead, they’d prefer a third option. Freely available access to social media services, but with non-targeted advertising. This might be akin to radio and television advertising, where a more blanket approach is taken to ad placement. As far as the social networks go, this sort of strategy could prove to be hit and miss though. One or two revenue generating ads may be relevant to a user, but not enough to be viable.

I didn’t want to write in-depth today on the topic of online tracking, whether consensual or not, but a point John Gruber, writing at Daring Fireball, made last week caught my eye. According to Gruber, the majority of EU residents, when it comes to the likes of Facebook and Instagram at least, prefer free access to these social networks, and are prepared to see targeted ads in return.

Gruber paraphrases late Apple founder Steve Jobs in making the point that people are smart, and perfectly capable of making informed choices when it comes to — in this instance — accepting targeted ads on their social media services. Gruber suggests regulatory bodies such as the EDPB believe many people are not so switched on though:

But Jobs was right too: people are smart, and they can — and should be allowed to — make their own decisions. And many people are more comfortable with sharing data than others. The privacy zealots leading this crusade in the EU do not think people are smart, and do not think they should be trusted to make these decisions for themselves.

That seems reasonable. Or is it? Jack Baty suggests the problem isn’t to do with how smart people are, but rather their general lack of concern. Particularly when it comes to comes to opting into targeted ads, in exchange for a payment-free social media experience.

I wouldn’t say I’m a zealot, but I think John mis-characterizes people here. It’s not that people aren’t smart, it’s that they don’t care. If we can’t get them to care about doing things that might be harmful to themselves or others, maybe the government should step in and care for them.

Baty’s point raises the question: how much thought are people really giving to some of the decisions they make? Do we indeed need the support of lawmakers because we may not be fully aware of what we’re agreeing to sometimes? It’s a pertinent point. For my part, I know I have, on occasion, clicked the “agree” button when presented with a text-wall of small print, so I can gain access to an app or service quickly.

Updates to the operating system of my smartphone are one example of what I mean. I try to skim read what I’m being asked to agree to, often numerous pages of legalese, but I can imagine many time-poor people would baulk at the prospect. Particularly those who need to use their phone urgently. And in doing so, not fully reading what they’re agreeing to, what tribulations might they be setting themselves up for later on?

People probably aren’t asked to read voluminous terms and conditions when agreeing to targeted ads appearing in their content streams, but are they aware of just what they’re signing away? The exact degree of privacy they might be forfeiting? Targeted ads can only be generated by tracking, but just how deep does this tracking go?

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Personal branding overkill is killing solo content creators

2 April 2024

A band performs live as an audience member photographs them. Photo by Pexels.

Image courtesy of Pexels.

Rebecca Jennings, writing for Vox, on the tyranny of the personal brand, and the stifling effect they are having on content creators:

The internet has made it so that no matter who you are or what you do — from 9-to-5 middle managers to astronauts to housecleaners — you cannot escape the tyranny of the personal brand. For some, it looks like updating your LinkedIn connections whenever you get promoted; for others, it’s asking customers to give you five stars on Google Reviews; for still more, it’s crafting an engaging-but-authentic persona on Instagram. And for people who hope to publish a bestseller or release a hit record, it’s “building a platform” so that execs can use your existing audience to justify the costs of signing a new artist.

Back in the day, and I’m talking fifteen plus years ago, if you had any sort of online presence you effectively had a personal brand. It was a term that was frequently bandied about, often quite casually, but to me seemed like a set of (self-determined) guidelines to adhere to.

Boiled down, a personal brand helped maintain a consistency across your online activities. It was quite simple, mostly.

For someone like me, as a blogger/self-publisher, it meant standardising the avatar/log on my website, Twitter page, and things like (the long gone) MyBlogLog, and I was set. Back to blogging I went. Although some people took their personal brand (or, more specifically, the idea of a personal brand) more seriously than others, maintaining one was very much a part time effort. That’s because if you were a content creator (however you defined that: blogger, photographer, musician, artist, designer, author, whatever), being creative was what you did first and foremost. Times have changed.

Yet this is not the place I thought we would, one day, end up in. I do not rate myself as an artist, but I vividly recall the excitement the self-publishing potential of the internet evoked, when I launched the first iteration of disassociated in 1997. Back in the day, the internet presented itself as a space where creatives could carve out a niche of their own, free of intermediaries such as newspaper and book publishers, and record companies.

If they had something they wanted to share with the world, there was no longer anything stopping them. All they had to do was find an audience. And as a bonus, there a possibility they may even be able to make a little money from their craft in, what were then, newly minted roles as content creators. They could deal directly with anyone who was interested in their wares. Outside the costs of hosting a website, and owning a domain name, no one in the middle would be taking a cut.

A whole new age of opportunity seemed to be dawning.

And for a while, some creatives, musicians, writers, and other content creators, did well in this new self-publishing wonderland. Back then, these people centred their enterprise, their brand, their personal brand, on a website, and did so for some time. Even during the early years of the first decade of the twenty-first century, social media channels were far and few between.

Friendster and MySpace were among them, but they were largely for personal use. Facebook, Flickr, Reddit, and Twitter, began to appear, and at first were used as side-line web presences. Creatives were grateful for the extra exposure they offered, but generally didn’t stray far from their websites. But as the likes of Twitter evolved, some of the first self-made influencers began to emerge. By self-made, I mean people who were not celebrities, or music or movie stars, but had garnered large followings on the platform, in their own right.

They may not have had millions of followers, initially, but with several tens of thousands, were the envy of many. And so the shift began. Creatives wanting a spot in the limelight, began devoting more time and energy to social media. YouTube, Instagram, and TikTok added to the frenzy when they arrived. Social media channels had the audiences already. Massive audiences. It was only a matter of finding a slice of the collective gaze.

Content creators could throw out the SEO handbook; they no longer needed to drag visitors, kicking and screaming, onto their websites. Before long, the big social media channels were just about the only game in town, and if you weren’t on-board, you were out in the cold. Long gone was the content creator’s individually owned and branded website.

That in turn, heralded another change. Instead of being a part time web designer, content creators were taking on the role of marketers, and full time administrators of their personal brand. Fine of course if you have the luxury of a social media manager who can take care of your self-promotion, leaving you to focus on whatever it is you do. But solo content creators usually do not have that luxury. So when creatives are spending more time maintaining their personal brand, and less on creative or artistic output, something’s clearly not right.

How is anyone meant to bring forth quality work, when they’re thinking only of self-promotion? No doubt some are managing, but many would be struggling. But personal branding overkill is only part of the problem. The returns for content creators aren’t what they used to be.

Publishing advances for authors have decreased, as have royalty payments for musicians. This is partly a supply matter. With so many artists and content creators vying for audience attention, some are going to be overlooked. Musicians also have to contend with the algorithms on the music streaming services. If their work isn’t put on high-rotation, few ears are going to hear it. And recent changes to the way Spotify makes royalty payments is only going to make matters worse. To be eligible to receive a royalty, a track must be listened to at least one thousand times a year.

What an appalling, and sad, state of affairs, one far, far, removed from the almost utopic cyberspace realm the self-publishers of the late 1990’s envisaged. Certainly the problems are easy to identify, but the solutions are going to be little more elusive. In the meantime, perhaps some consolation can be taken form the artists themselves. I like to think they’ll come through this. They’re survivors; they’re used to doing it tough. Not that anyone should be using that to their advantage.

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Should we let micro-blogging fade away with Twitter?

19 September 2023

Threads. Mastodon. Bluesky. They’re among options for fans of micro-blogging who want to leave Twitter behind. But is seeking out alternatives to Twitter really the solution? American computer scientist and author Cal Newport, writing for The New Yorker, believes we should instead move on from what he sees as the flawed idea of a global conversation platform:

Fortunately, the original small community ethos of the early Internet seems to be mounting a comeback in forms like podcasting, e-mail newsletters, Discord groups, and TalkNats.com-style discussion sites—all of which can offer a more homegrown and personal variety of online interaction.

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Matildas social media followings skyrocket during World Cup

24 August 2023

Many members of the Australian women’s football team saw their social media followings jump exponentially as a result of the recent 2023 Women’s World Cup, according to data compiled by Australian football news and information portal Keepup.

Mary Fowler’s Instagram (IG) follower count soared by nearly 470% to — as of time of writing — about 281,000. Caitlin Foorde meanwhile saw her IG followers increase by 153% to about 208,000, while team captain Sam Kerr’s count doubled to over one and half million people.

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Threads web version here soon, Font Awesome glyph available

22 August 2023

Threads users have been waiting for a bevy of features to be added to the micro-blogging platform, and it looks like a web version — something I’ve certainly been looking forward to — may arrive in a few days. Last week Adam Mosseri, Head of Instagram (and I guess Threads), said Meta had been working on a web version for “a week or two”, but added that more work had been needed.

Being able to cross-post across platforms such as Instagram, Mastodon, Facebook, and Twitter/X, by way of the web is an absolute boon for me. No doubt there’s an app that does this, but I prefer the flexibility of being able to copy, paste, and alter posts, while going from one browser tab to another.

In other news, and I don’t know when this happened, but a Font Awesome Threads glyph has also become available. There’s only the one version at the moment, but maybe there will be more later.

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Threads still among top apps at Apple and Google

21 August 2023

John Gruber, writing at Daring Fireball last week:

At this moment, Threads is #2 on the App Store’s top free downloads list, and X is #51. On the Play Store, Threads is #6 and X is (scroll, scroll, scroll…) #66. This rebranding would be a firing offense if the mastermind behind it didn’t own the company. (So much for Threads being the one that’s supposedly gasping for air.)

Despite the good app install numbers, engagement reportedly remain low on Meta’s rival to Twitter/X. Abené Clayton, writing for The Guardian, says Threads saw 576,000 active users in August, compared to over two million in July.

Threads is up against a few competitors, Mastodon and Bluesky to name a few, so the market is perhaps a little crowded. I would add Twitter/X to that list, but owner Elon Musk seems intent on destroying the platform, and in the process, his plans for… world domination.

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You don’t get 100,000,000 followers without telling a few stories

15 August 2023

After reading Move fast and beat Musk: The inside story of how Meta built Threads, by Naomi Nix and Will Oremus of The Washington Post, I’m certain the story behind the launch of Meta’s rival to Twitter, Threads, is ripe for adaptation to the big screen.

In exactly the same way The Accidental Billionaires, the 2009 book by American author Ben Mezrich, about the founding of Facebook, spawned the 2010 David Fincher made movie, The Social Network.

All the ingredients of a thriller-like race against time are there. Trust me. So here I am, calling action.

First, opportunity presents itself:

The mercurial Musk had just taken over Twitter. Amid the ensuing chaos, [head of Instagram Adam] Mosseri’s boss at rival Meta smelled opportunity.

Next there are senior Meta executives on family holidays in Europe, taking breathless phone calls from their boss in the middle of the night:

It was nighttime in Italy, and Mosseri spoke softly to avoid waking his sleeping wife. The group discussed Twitter-like features they could add to existing apps, including Instagram.

What? Enhance an existing app to make it look like something it isn’t? Are you for real? No, the boss wants to land the legendary three-thousand pound marlin here:

Zuckerberg, however, had a different idea: “What if we went bigger?”

Now that exact requirements are understood, and the enormity of the task at hand can be seen in the cold light of day, the inevitable panic begins to set in:

“Oh God, we’ve got to figure this out, because [Zuckerberg is] very excited about this,” Mosseri recalled thinking. “Sometimes you can tell when he kind of gets his teeth into something.”

The last thing, of course, you want to do is disappoint the boss. But you know what they say: when the going gets tough, the tough get going:

With a mandate from Zuckerberg to take a big risk, Mosseri assembled a lean, engineer-heavy team of fewer than 60 people to hack together a bare-bones app on a breakneck timetable more reminiscent of a start-up than an entrenched tech giant.

That paragraph sounds like it packs a punch, but a sixty person team is hardly “reminiscent of a start-up”. Instagram, which Threads is built upon, was, at the beginning, the work of two people, Michel Krieger and Kevin Systrom. But who cares? This is the movies, and all audiences want is a great story.

And size of the development team notwithstanding, there were challengers aplenty. Mainly what product features not to include, rather than what to ship:

To keep things moving, the Threads team punted thorny decisions and eschewed difficult features, including private messages and the ability to search for content or view the feeds of people you don’t follow.

But the clock is ticking. No one knows when the competitor — he who must not be named — might snatch back possession of the ball, and wrest the game away from the team we’re barracking for. But (naturally) such fears prove to be unfounded:

That night, a “core group” worked together at Meta headquarters while Mosseri and other team members chatted on an internal messaging forum, watching the sign-ups pour in. Mosseri recalled astonished team members asking, “Are we sure about these numbers? Can someone double-check that the logging isn’t messed up?”

And there we have it, the happy ending. One hundred million app signups. But wait, how can you call ever declining engagement, and plummeting time spent on the platform, a happy ending? Of course you can’t, but don’t you see where this is going? Wait for it. Wait for it. To a sequel, of course.

Watch this space, you will not be disappointed.

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