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Stupid “networking”. Grumble! Twitter!

Monday night I was at this “networking” event. Sorry for the air quotes.

It’s just such a depressing word. I honestly can’t even say it without hearing Nelson from The Simpsons mocking me: “Ha ha! You’re a grownup!

Gah. Networking.

But that’s not even where I’m going with this.

If you’re one of my clients you’re totally thinking hey, she’s going teach one of her word reframing techniques.

Like, we’ll do a spot of magic (Mary Poppins voice, yes) and either turn “networking” into something I can like again or make up a new, improved and thoroughly less sucky word for it.

New! Improved! Less Sucky!

And actually, if I ever get around to wrapping up the Tuesday Blogging Therapy series, I have another series waiting to go that’s all about that.

You know, taking words we hate (eeeeeeeew, marketing) and figuring out where the stuck is, reconfiguring the patterns and coming up with something better.

But astonishingly — and maybe for the first time in my life — I don’t feel like talking about words. I’d rather talk about what I figured out on Monday.

Quickie definition because I can’t help myself.

Fine. Whatever. So for our purposes let’s just assume that “networking” in and of itself is not gross or icky per se, and that it’s just about meeting cool people.

Cool people who might also share my excitement about the stuff I do or cool people that I can possibly help with something. Yay, helping people!

Twitter has ruined my life! But, you know, in a good way.

I met Kim Dushinski a few years ago while taking a course (the best way to “network” outside of Twitter).

She recently wrote a post about how “networking” with Twitter people is way, way more fun and productive than the old way. You should read it.

Basically, the idea is that if you walk into a “networking” room and you already know people there from Twitter, you know what they do and what they’re like. And whether or not you like them.

So your conversations don’t have to be absurdly awkward and artificial. And you don’t have to dust off some ridiculous elevator speech. Ahhhhhhh. Much better.

What’s that? You’re not on Twitter? Read this again. And then consider the fact that this blog would not exist without Twitter. This is not open for debate, guys. Get. On. Twitter.

So … in practice.

Anyway, I went to this event. And there were some Twitter people there … though not as many as you’d think given that this was kind of a warm-up for Portland people headed to SXSW Interactive. Hello, interactive.

And yeah, I’ll be at SXSW. But not to “network” or anything.

No. To hang out in real life with some of my dearest Twitter friends (who peer-pressured me into going). To have the world’s best slumber party with Pam and Naomi and Nathan. Stuff like that.

Anyway, I was at this thing. And no one knew who I was, which was somewhat disconcerting. But all sorts of people recognized Selma and came over to say hi to her.

I met some great people. I mean, great people. Not just saying “great” to be nice. Smart, funny, goofy, easy-to-talk to people. And it was actually really fun.

But I still don’t care. Until March I’m planning on staying home and live-twittering from the chaise lounge that is my desk.

Here’s why doing stuff in real life doesn’t measure up.

Well, maybe not “doing stuff”. Doing stuff rocks.

Real life … I’m for it!

But specifically the “networking” part: going out in order to wander around a room full of strangers and talk to them about things when you could do it online instead? That’s what I mean.

In no particular order:

1. Eye contact. Making it.
It’s a hard and awkward thing.

Everyone’s in some little group. And then if you’re in a little group and you see someone else wandering around aimlessly, it’s difficult to grab them and bring them in.

On Twitter you don’t need to make eye contact. You just respond to someone if you feel like it. Or not. It’s not a big deal.

2. There’s no good way to start a conversation.
Because in real life it’s completely random to just charge up and start talking to someone with no introduction or preamble. Even if it is a “networking” event.

You still have to smile and offer your hand and say “Hi, I’m so and so and this is my duck”.

Actually, I’m the only one who has to say that, but you know what I mean.

And then they ask what you do. It’s awful.

It’s even more awful because you instantly forget what you do, and proceed to launch into your impressive stuttering-fool routine until something mercifully ends it and you can just start talking to each other.

On Twitter you just start talking. Casually. No introductions. You can even talk to yourself and other people will join in.

Plus there’s that handy bio so you don’t have to actually present yourself. You’re in.

3. There’s no good way to end a conversation.
In real life you have to actually say something to indicate that a conversation is done.

And it’s usually something embarrassing and stupid like “Gee, I should go say hi to so and so” or “Looks like I need to go get drunk” or “Well, I’m going to go mingle.”

Also, because not lying is part of my yoga practice, most of the things you would normally say to end a conversation are not actually things that I can get away with saying.

On Twitter you can casually wander off and it doesn’t mean anything. Which reminds me. . .

4. Awkward moments.
On Twitter there aren’t really so many of these.

If Communicatrix says something hysterical and I say something back and she doesn’t reply, I’m not being snubbed.

It might be that she started doing something else at that moment. Maybe she’s working now. Or maybe she’s twittering on her phone and not getting all replies.

Maybe 75 different people replied to her and she can’t answer each one individually because that would be insane.

Whatever. It doesn’t matter. The point is that it has nothing to do with me and I don’t look like an idiot.

In real life, if I say something in response to someone else and they ignore me, I feel foolish. And if I ignore something someone says to me, I’m a rude and horrible person.

On Twitter, it’s just the stream. Stuff flows. It’s not a big deal. There aren’t awkward pauses. There’s just times when you’re overlapping and connecting and times when you’re not.

5. Stalking people: way less creepy.
In real life, if I’d wanted to get the aforementioned Communicatrix to eat hot buttered biscuits with me, I would have had to move to Los Angeles and follow her around. For years.

And it still probably wouldn’t have worked. And I’d be in Los Angeles.

Thanks to Twitter, I was able to casually be smart and funny in her general vicinity until she decided she had to have hot buttered biscuits with me.

Reverse stalking: less expensive and way more fun.

6. Getting dressed: what’s up with that?
Finding something that’s not yoga clothing and is clean and presentable? It takes time.

Also, what a useless, annoying thing to have to do. Really. If I were the sort of person who cared about things like matching socks I’d stop running my own business and apply for a “real” job.

And a gazillion other things that I can’t be bothered to list.

Like business cards and where to put them. Or how there’s nowhere to go when you don’t feel like talking to anyone.

Or how it’s not polite to roll your eyes. Even when people say things like “What’s Twitter?

So yeah, I’m done.

If you’re at SXSW, I’ll be the one with the duck. And the mismatched socks. And crumbs on my face. Stop by and say hi to Selma. We’re really nice.

But until then? I’m staying home. Or sitting in a cafe. Or going biscuit-ing with one of my Twitter friends.

p.s. If you’re feeling tempted to give me “networking” advice, save it for your blog. Because being a cranky misanthrope works just fine for me on Twitter.

27 Responses to Stupid “networking”. Grumble! Twitter!

  1. Melanie Baker
    Twitter: melle
    says:

    Lordy, so timely. Was at a marketing seminar yesterday, and blessedly it was mostly about the audience listening to a speaker and not us hobnobbing amongst ourselves. Cuz it was fairly obvious that there were two types of people there: those who already knew everyone, and those who were uncomfortable. Guess which I was! :)

    Lame as it is, at least one can always go for more coffee or check one’s BlackBerry if everyone else is already chatting or refusing to make eye contact…

    I will be the one at SXSW deliriously happy to see you and your duck and your slumber party friends (and possibly with a sockmonkey).

    Melanie Bakers last blog post..Congratulations, United States of America!

  2. Joely Black says:

    I hate the word networking. Somebody even wrote to me once on Facebook saying he’d really like to “network with me.” I mean, I preferred the guy who said he really wanted to fondle my feet. That sounded so much nicer than being networked. I felt like a PC with issues.

    And “Interactive” is another icky word. Now I feel like I’d be going there to be plugged in to something. Ew.

    On the other hand, for some reason I really do the real life schmoozing thing. I don’t know how because a few years ago I’d have been writing this comment nodding away and saying I hated it and felt awkward too. The thing is, the more comfortable I’ve become being me, the easier I find it to walk up to total strangers in a big room and just chat it out. This might be because I will talk to just about anybody about anything.

    I was invited to appear at a literary festival last year. A bunch of published authors and me, with no credentials in publishing at all. I knew I’d have to work ten times harder from the start, so I just decided I’d have loads of fun playing a game where I practiced Being Big. While all the other authors sat around talking to each other and nobody approached them, I was in the middle of the crowd chatting away to everybody. I honestly don’t know how I did it, but it was loads of fun. It was really funny having people read my name badge and try not to look embarrassed that they didn’t know me – assuming I was uber-biggified or something. And I’d just say, “It’s okay, you have no idea who I am.” And I didn’t even have to lie at the end of the conversation. I’d just say thank you for talking to me about your stuff, and I’m going to go see the rest of the room and I’ll come back later. It was cool.

    Oh yeah. And you don’t get awkward silences with me. Because I could talk the legs off a donkey AND persuade it to go for a walk afterwards. Talky stuff is my thing.

    What I don’t like is “obvious” networking. “Hi! I’d like to pretend I’m interested in you so I can get you to buy my product!” networking. I can spot it a mile off and I hate it. I do understand though, how hard it can be to do the going out there stuff. I used to thoroughly hate it, and I’ve never worked out what changed to make it easy later on.

    You know what? It’s really weird coming here and suddenly finding that there’s something that I do that I’m really comfortable with already. It’s a little unnerving, in fact! I hope you don’t think I’m bragging…

    Joely Blacks last blog post..A post where I rant and kvetch and basically long for my comfort zone

  3. Thanks for this little pick-me-up to get to re-know Twitter again. I’ve only sparingly used it and I know there are ways to really really REALLY use it and I’m not really really REALLY using it to its full potential.

    Margaret (Nanny Goats)s last blog post..Apocalypse Now?… What About Now?… How About Now?

  4. Danielle
    Twitter: somaphile
    says:

    Awesome. “Networking” IS stupid … fo’ shizzle. It’s such a relief to hear you just say it how it is. Because I don’t know anyone who likes those events. Except for perhaps my most hardcore Corporate Whore friends. They are a strange breed indeed.

    Cheers to Twitter!

    Danielles last blog post..The Making of Oliva’s Blanket

  5. Grace Judson
    Twitter: GraceJudson
    says:

    Well. For the first time I actually feel silenced and inhibited about replying to a blog post here.

    So of course I’m doing it anyway, because life is all about stretching, right? :)

    All I’ll say is, I’ve made some awesome, amazing contacts on Twitter.

    AND I’ve made some awesome, amazing contacts at networking events.

    I used to hatehatehate networking, and now I’m about to teach a workshop on it. And blog about it, once I finally get my blog up and running (soon, really, soon).

    All the rules about networking? Throw ’em out. But don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.

    That’s my opinion, and I’m stickin’ to it! :)

  6. Eileen
    Twitter: evalazza
    says:

    Man, I suck at official networking! But I do like meeting cool people, except when I’m all tongue-tied and turn red and burst into flames of awkwardness. I say we start pretending that real life is twitter, it would be so much more…direct.

    In the meantime, I will also be at SXSW, and if I stalk you and say something to you, and you ignore me–I shall pretend we are simply communicating asynchronously. It’ll be our own “special thing.”

    There. That feels better!

    Eileens last blog post..In the first person

  7. Cairene
    Twitter: thirdhandworks
    says:

    If only my sad lonely lunch-tray carrying self had known about Twitter last October! I was so disillusioned with networking, meeting people I expected to like and so not liking them, and wondering where IS everyone?!? It was a lot of work for no return and major discouragement.

    [ Curious? You can read the whining here:
    http://thirdhandworks.wordpress.com/2008/10/15/junior-high-all-over-again/
    I actually mention creating a table – freaky… ]

    Find what works and do it – even if it seems counter to all the shoulds.
    Twitter shouldn’t work, but it does for many of us – really, really well.

    Cairenes last blog post..Lessons Learned #9 – It’s Better with Denzel

  8. Liz Grandmaison
    Twitter: lizgrandmaison
    says:

    Cranky misanthrope is what I tend to look for in my favorite people. Chirpy-rah-rah-glad-handers? Not so much. Which would explain why I’m here. (But I really don’t find you cranky or misanthropic, for the record.)

    I’m with you on the networking group thing. I hate them for all the reasons you listed and all the gazillions you didn’t. Which is why I Twitter ought to feel comfortable for me, in theory. In practice, I’m having a hard time getting into the groove. Right now, it feels like walking into a room full of people clusters and trying to start a conversation from the doorway. With a megaphone. But that’s right now; probably in a few weeks it will feel different to me. I will persevere, taking encouragement from you and your lovely duck.

    Cheers!

  9. Kyeli says:

    Megan, her sweetie, Marty (the UE book’s illustrator), Pace, and I will be at SXSW!!

    I’m really excited about it. It’s the week of my birthday, and it’s going to be so cool and awesome, and there’ll be so many awesome people there! Like you and Selma!! And Naomi!!

    Wow, I’m dazzled, and looking forward to it even more now. Whee!

    Kyelis last blog post..Book Bonanza Wednesday! Chapter 2: Different communication styles

  10. Heidi
    Twitter: moonheids
    says:

    Speaking of “networking,” I’m about to leave for such an event, with 2,000 attendees. The only thing that’s making it bearable is that there are a few Twitter folk going I can at least try to find. This way my lonely wandering in the crowd is more purposeful than pathetic. :)

    Speaking of Twitter, I realized I can’t have conversations with you there because my account is protected (moonheids). So if you feel like including me in your Twitter circle, please send a follow request. Thanks!

    Heidis last blog post..A snapshot of history

  11. creativevoyage
    Twitter: creativevoyage
    says:

    I have a friend who is an ubernetworker but not because she’s a networker but becuase she’s just very friendly to EVERYBODY.

    The thing you failed to mention (I’d throught I’d give twitter a try because a friend said she’d sold a picture in 30 mins after twittering it) its that twitter is the CRACK COCAINE OF THE INTERNETS ! I’ve spent hours on it since I joined 2 weeks ago.

    Liz I’m creativevoyage on twitter and I just ‘followed’ the people on my friends’ list who looked interesting then searched for people mentioning areas I’m interested in or in areas I frequent and followed them. Then I started little conversations or gave practical info which I’ve got at my fingertips.

    creativevoyages last blog post..Edinburgh wanderings

  12. jennydecki says:

    Oh my gosh. See, I found your stuff two days ago, fell in love with your sell page, thought the freebie mini books were magic and just @replied to you on Twitter with a question.

    Then I saw this.

    Considering the final copy of my book, Non-Toxic Networking is in the mail for my approval…uh…I have to disagree.

    Not to take away how you feel about it or anything – you can have that – but man. Networking is a GREAT word for me.

    I think of it as working to create a net like the kind the trapeze people at the circus have (the ones that aren’t dead anyway, some of them don’t have nets, and I just can’t roll with that.) That net is what keeps you safe in times of crisis and lets you soar even when danger is not imminent because, just in case something goes horribly wrong, you’re safe!

    Networking is how you make friends, too, the process is no different with a business relationship (except you don’t talk about how you got all sloppy drunk last week during the first conversation) of course, if you did that to someone you just met and it wasn’t business related that wouldn’t be any better, would it?

    Networking is about so much more than just business. Who knows where to get the most reputable plumber? Who knows what preschool is best? Is there someone you can call and find out where to get the best Thai food? Your network provides all those things for you.

    The best part? When you call and ask your business network for Thai food recommendations it makes them more likely to love you – because you care about them and didn’t try to sell them crap the first go-round.

    I feel bad people don’t like the word networking, but I think that work is necessary to have a good relationship and I’m certainly willing to put my time and energy into having a great net of contacts I can get referrals, Thai food recommendations, and some extra bonus friends I wouldn’t have had otherwise.

    Plus there are great ways to start the conversation, end the conversation, and I swear that none of them involve you acting like a dirty hooker or sounding like a dumbass or looking desperate.

    Maybe we should talk. I’m not really as zealous as this comment sounds. Well, I am a little zealoty, but in a love-filled “it’s cool if you want to keep cringing but I’d rather free you from that ickyness” way…not a Spanish inquisition way.

  13. Havi Brooks
    Twitter: havi
    says:

    Hmmmm …

    @creativevoyage – That cracked me up, speaking of crack. It is, but it’s okay because then you can spend all the time that you would have spent “networking” just doing your networking on Twitter. Which is the best network ever.

    Plus you can also stop spending time on marketing because Twitter connections will do that for you too. :)

    @Liz – Give it a few weeks. The first month kind of makes no sense. And I think you have to be following at least 40 people to get any sense of what the flow can be like. Patience!

    And say hi to me there!

    @Heidi – Ahhh. I didn’t know. It’s hard to talk with people who have their updates protected because then there’s no way to introduce them to other people and make connections.

    And if I respond to someone who’s protected her updates, other people will think “ooh, I want to eavesdrop on that conversation and maybe join in!” and then they can’t. Which makes me look as though I’m whispering behind my hand to friends.

    Twitter is definitely harder with protected updates because of that. Though I get why people want the protection … I don’t know what to suggest!

  14. Havi Brooks
    Twitter: havi
    says:

    @Grace – It sounds like you’re feeling nervous because you think I’m saying that all networking is bad and that I have implied that this reflects on you because you’re teaching it. (?)

    I don’t know if that’s right. I guess I’m feeling pretty surprised at your reaction, which makes me think that maybe I’ve misunderstood.

    Let me reassure, if I can. I am not against networking. I am talking about how much I, personally, dislike doing any form of it that takes place offline.

    My network online is where I feel comfortable.

    What I was trying to do — and maybe not successfully — was to share what the world is like from the minority position of someone who can’t really cope with these events.

    The classes I’ve taken on networking have all tried to convince me that going outside and meeting people is something I needed to do for my business. With zero empathy or understanding for what it’s like to be the kind of person who has to spend three days gearing up for an evening meeting and another three days recovering from it.

    And yet I’ve grown a very successful business without doing it. Maybe in trying to be comforting to everyone like me — to reassure them that they don’t have to do it if they don’t want to — I’ve stepped on the toes of the people who enjoy going to events and talking to people. That wasn’t my intention.

  15. Grace Judson
    Twitter: GraceJudson
    says:

    @Havi – yikes – no, I didn’t mean that! sorry.

    To start with, just for the record, I’m in awe of your online networking and the ways that you’ve so brilliantly made it work for you. :)

    I know what you mean about the ways that the networking classes try to tell everyone to “just do it,” to set those ridiculous goals of X number of connections, business cards, coffee meetings – blech. Doesn’t work. Nope. Not for someone who doesn’t have that sort of networking point of view – which I honestly do think is a LOT of people. In fact, I’ve met only a few people who tell me they’ve always enjoyed networking, versus those who’ve learned how to enjoy it (or at least tolerate it).

    While I obviously don’t have the same exact experiences as you do, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been in tears driving away from an event where I felt like I’d been a complete and total failure, nerd, whatever you want to call it.

    So I guess I’d just say … there are a lot of ways to approach anything, and what’s really important is that people find the way that’s right for them. My intention was just to introduce a bit of a different point of view, and to say that there are some alternatives.

    Perhaps I was too brief and flippant in how I did it – my apologies to you and your readers if so!

  16. Havi Brooks
    Twitter: havi
    says:

    Oh.

    @Grace – I see! Thanks for re-explaining! I was in sensitive mouse mode and read your words in the wrong light.

    It is a HUGE relief to know that even among networking teachers there are some who have left in tears.

    I actually manage to enjoy the events themselves as I am very good at faking extrovertism (five years as a bartender) but the recovery time is devastating for me.

    I’m glad there are people like you teaching alternatives for those who need them, and I wish I had met someone like me a few years ago who could have reassured me that I could stay at home and build an amazing network completely energetically and pixelated … without leaving the house!

    *blows kiss*

  17. Grace Judson
    Twitter: GraceJudson
    says:

    @Havi – oh, yeah. :) I’d say I wish there had been someone like you to teach me that I could stay home and build that pixelated network – except – the thing is, I really DO enjoy (and still can’t believe I’m writing this!) networking events now. Not always, but mostly. So I’m glad I went through the painful process of learning.

    Especially since I’ve found which ones have good food!

    Speaking of which, I’m about to be late for one tonight – a Women in Leadership event – yippee!

    *hugs*

  18. Being a 50/50 extravert/introvert, networking exhausts me. I gain tonnes of energy if I’m up on a stage talking to people (or the front of the room giving a class). I’m also good with one-on-one coffees. But interacting with a group of people in a group situation? HEADACHE! I feel like they’re just sucking my energy away from me and I just want to run away brandishing crucifixes and calling for Buffy to come stake them all.

    Fortunately, I live half a world away from most of my “networking” opportunities so I get to do it on the computer. I love Twitter and Facebook and blogs for all the reasons you do, Havi, but I also love virtual networking because I never have to be in a group making sure that I’ve “done the rounds” and said hi to everyone.

    Alex Fayle | Someday Syndromes last blog post..What’s the Big Picture? Don’t lose yourself in details

  19. Melissa says:

    Yep, networking needs to be ‘less sucky’, which i think is exactly why i like Twitter…I can ‘talk’ to someone in 140 characters and then be done. Too bad we can’t do networking events like that :)

    i’ll be at SXSW so i’ll be on the lookout for you and your duck.

  20. Heidi
    Twitter: moonheids
    says:

    @Havi I see what you’re saying, and I’ll admit it’s sometimes a conflict for me.

    In fact, I have 2 Twitter accounts; my second one, @heidimoon is unprotected, and is my Official Real Person Talking About Marketing and Business Stuff account. I use it to connect with other marketing folks, follow news feeds, “network,” etc.

    My protected account is my original, personal, fun, just for me thing. In Havi speak, it is a “safe space” :) I can say whatever I want and it’s not searchable. I follow people who are cool and funny and Not Official (most of the time). I actually accept most follow requests, but I have declined a few. I guess you could say it’s for my Right People?

    So I’ll keep following you, and even if the conversation is only one-sided, it’s nice to know you’re there :)

    Heidis last blog post..A snapshot of history

  21. Yooper says:

    Havi,

    Love you and love everything thing about twitter for all those reasons and more…

    I don’t IM, mostly because I still have a job…so by the time I make it to my comfy place (where you live and I still yearn to live…all day)…I don’t really feel like connecting with people so much.

    But with twitter, I can check in, say something stupid to my friends and get back to the comfy place…or even tweet FROM the comfy place…which happens to be my recliner.

    Speaking of doing more fun things from my recliner…everyone needs an iPod Touch or other small wifi device…I can now update my netflix queue and tweet from my recliner…ahhh, that’s nice.

  22. Sue says:

    Did all the Twitterfolk speak in less than 140 character sentences? :-)

    I’m with you, Havi, on the “networking” thing. Blech. It’s stress-inducing for me too.

    I’d rather Twitter and blog from my dining room table any day!

    Sue – @slots777 on Twitter

    Sues last blog post..Inauguration Media Overload – Ain’t It Great?

  23. JoVE says:

    The thing I struggle with is more that the people I really need to get to know me, my “right people” might not be hanging out online and might not even know what Twitter is (I did a coaching call with someone who mailed me a cheque because she had never heard of PayPal, for example; which makes me think Twitter is what birds do in her world). And I’m kind of extrovert (though I’M discovering that maybe not so much as I thought).

    But the phrase “networking event” kind of makes my skin crawl. Literary festival (in Joely’s example), fine. Academic conference (which is where my people hang out), fine. Networking event, icky.

    But your post has stuck some kind of thing in my head about rethinking who I need to network with. And Twitter might be ideal for that. Though the fear that it will be a huge timesuck and procrastination device of the kind I really don’t need right now is winning.

    JoVEs last blog post..Book Review: The Smile

  24. Casey
    Twitter: 74rally
    says:

    Hey! I thought I was the acknowledged misanthrope on Twitter! Too bad we can’t form a virtual club and snark at everyone else from within. :)

    PS: If you’re a misanthrope, I’m a walrus.

  25. Jadine says:

    Wow, I love you.

    And I’m not even on Twitter. Just checked out your blog tonight to see why your duck was a whore ;)

    But this is totally my experience of meatspace versus online interaction. And to those who think it’s some misperception about how to network, and they have some magic key that makes it better – some of us are just introverts who don’t like being in a room with a group of people, no matter what you call it.

    Personally, I can even go to a party where I know every single person, and still find it awkward to make conversation if there are too many people there. I can fake being an extrovert pretty well – half those people would misidentify me as one – but it’s draining, and I’m prone to miscues. Actual networking events are just awful, and I’m totally with you about the recovery time.

  26. I just got a twitter! It’s semi addictive and I’ve only had it for a few hours. hooray twitter!

  27. Natalia
    Twitter: nataliapresent
    says:

    “If I were the sort of person who cared about things like matching socks I’d stop running my own business and apply for a ‘real’ job.”

    I am SOOO there with you.

    Natalias last blog post..Welcome

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