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How Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg Became one of the Most Powerful Women in the World

February 1st, 2012 02:50 admin View Comments

sheryl-sandberg.jpegMark Zuckerberg is on his way to becoming one of the richest people in the world, but when it comes to influence in the worlds of politics and business, he sits in the shadow of his chief operating officer, Sheryl Sandberg.

Sandberg, 43, is credited for the success of Facebook’s advertising strategy. When she joined Facebook in 2008 it had 130 employees and no cash. Three years later Facebook was profitable, 2,500 people worked there and the userbase had jumped from 70 million to almost 845 million. But her career – and influence – began long before Zuckberg sought her out.

“Don’t leave before you leave.”

Sandberg was born in 1969 in Washington, D.C., and at the age of two her family moved to Miami, where she grew up. She is the oldest of three siblings, David and Michelle.

As an undergraduate at Harvard, Sandberg majored in economics and took Lawrence Summers’ class in public sector economics. Her midterm and final grades were the highest in the class, and Summers ended up becoming the adviser on her senior thesis, “how economic inequality contributes to spousal abuse.”

When Summers became the chief economist at the World Bank in January 1991, he recruited Sandberg, hiring her as his research assistant. After two years of working for Summers, she took a job at McKinsey & Company, and married (and later divorced) a businessman named Brian Kraff. When Summers became the Deputy Treasury Secretary in the Clinton Administration, he asked Sandberg to join as his chief of staff. She accepted.

Sheryl Sandberg, Christine Lagarde - World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2012

Sandberg and Christine Lagarde, managing director of the International Monetary Fund at the World Economic Forum, January, 2012

In Sandberg’s talks about women in the workforce, she reinforces the fact that women need to stand up for themselves, and speak up.

“Sit at the table,” she said in her 2010 TEDWomen Talk. “At the corporate level, women in C-level jobs the number of women tops in at 15%. How do we change those numbers? She asks a willing audience. “By keeping women in the workforce.” She adds that she is not here to judge anyone – and those who don’t want to stay in the workforce is okay. But her one caveat: This talk is specifically for women who do want to be in the workforce. “Success and likeability are positively correlated for men and negatively correlated for women,” says Sandberg. “And men are reaching for opportunities more than women.”

The Sheryl Sandberg resume


  • Currently:
    Center for Global Development – Director
    Walt Disney Company – Director
    Starbucks Corporation – Director
    World Economic Forum 2012 – Co-chair
    President’s Council on Jobs & Competitiveness – Member
  • Formerly:
    Google – VP of global online sales & operations
    McKinsey & Company – management consultant
    Secretary of the Treasury (Lawrence H. Summers) – chief of staff
  • Education:
    Harvard Business School – 1993-1995
    Harvard University – BA, Economics, 1987-1991

That was the first of three points she delivered. Second, she tells women to “make sure your partner is a real partner.” At the Grace Hopper Conference, Sandberg expanded on that statement, speaking to an audience of young women. She told them that it was okay to get involved with those “crazy types” when they’re young, but do not marry them. In 2004 she married her long-time best friend David Goldberg, who is also the CEO of SurveyMonkey. Together they have a five-year-old son and a two-year-old daughter.

Her third point speaks to her choice to have a family and a career. “Don’t leave before you leave,” she told the TED audience. Don’t leave the workforce to have kids and not return because you didn’t get that job you wanted before you left.

Sandberg demonstrated that first point during her time with Summers. She always made sure she was at the table, even if it meant asking others to move. In 1999, at 29-years-old, Summers became Treasury Secretary; Sandberg was his chief of staff. “If I was making a mistake, she told me,” Summers told The New Yorker. “She was totally loyal, but totally in my face.”

In 2000, the Clinton Administration came to an end. Sandberg left Washington for the Silicon Valley shortly thereafter. Google had been aggressively recruiting her – and finally she accepted their offer. She joined in 2001, at a time when Google was still new and not-at-all profitable. But she joined Google for the same reason that she decided to get involved in politics: there was a bigger mission at stake. At Google, that mission was to make the information more accessible and freely available. Sandberg is credited with making Google AdWords profitable. These ads don’t really affect the user experience; but on the flip side, they are gathering keywords from personal data found in email exchanges.

By 2008, it was time for a change again. Zuckerberg sought out Sandberg after they ran into each other at a party in the Valley. After months of negotiations, Sandberg decided to leave Google for Facebook, whose goal was “to make the world more open and connected.” It was a perfect fit.

Somaly Mam of Somaly Mam Foundation and moderator Sheryl Sandberg, Chief Operating Officer, Facebook speaking at the session ONE ON ONE: Somaly Mam

Sandberg and Somaly Mam of the Somaly Mam Foundation, October, 2011

The Business & Culture of Facebook

Sandberg started working at Facebook in 2008, when she was 38 years old. When she joined under the title of “director,” she was granted .1% of the company. That means that when Facebook begins to trade on Wall Street later this year, she will became one of the richest self-made women in the world. She just bought a house down the street from Facebook, and she’s going to stay there – at least, for the time being. In 2011, Forbes listed her as the number 5 most powerful woman in the world.

As an influencer, Sandberg focuses her energies on companies with broad, powerful missions. In politics, it’s about the greater good; at Google, she focused on making the world’s information accessible to all. And now she is at Facebook, where the goal is “to make the world more open and connected.”

At Facebook, Sandberg’s work not only influences politics and information-sharing, but is shaping the way humans think about communication. Because Facebook is not only a freshly minted public company – it’s a culture we live in.

Source: How Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg Became one of the Most Powerful Women in the World

Wanita Power: What Women in the US Could Learn from Indonesians

March 19th, 2011 03:00 admin View Comments

JAKARTA– I’m mid-way through a trip to Indonesia at the request of the State Department, and I’m finding a hard time putting the experience into words. You’d think after two years of writing about other countries it’d be easy. I can’t remember if it was always this hard, or there’s just something different about this trip.

Maybe it’s the added surreal layer that this time, I’m flying around between seven far-flung cities in the world’s largest Muslim country talking about the importance of more Indonesian women starting companies.

Most people know the topic of “WHY AREN’T THERE MORE WOMEN IN SILICON VALLEY?” isn’t my favorite. Far too often the debate degenerates into grandstanding, whining and pointing fingers at all those evil male gatekeepers like, you know, TechCrunch. Never mind our company is run by a woman, our editorial group reports to another woman and more than half our senior staff are women.

But even worse, the debate has degenerated into pure linkbait. I rarely read anything new or thought-provoking on it. People glorify the need to RAISE AWARENESS, but who isn’t aware? Do you have eyes, and have you ever been to a tech conference? Then you’re plenty aware. We all are. Still hasn’t fixed the problem.

So while a lot of the women I’m talking to are expecting the fancy US expert to come in and tell them all how we’ve figured it out and what they should learn from us– I’m doing the opposite. I’m telling them how messed up it is in the world’s great meritocracy of Silicon Valley. I’m telling them that only about 20% of tech workers are women, despite more women graduating with math and science degrees than ever before. I’m telling them that only 15 Fortune500 companies have woman CEOs despite there being gender parity in terms of management jobs in the US, according to the World Economic Forum. I’m telling them that even though 40% of small businesses are women owned, only 8% of the venture funded startups are.

And then I’m telling them that for all the talk and handwringing about it, the smartest people I know can’t for the life of them figure out why that is. We have no idea why immigrants in Silicon Valley can do so much better in our country than American women can, and we have less of an idea how to fix it.

I tell them all the reasons people come up with and ask them if they face those things here in Indonesia. I tell them why I think some of those reasons are cop-outs and why some– like work-life balance– are legitimate issues that do keep women from starting businesses. I tell them how many professional women– me included–get trapped in feeling like pregnancy is a disability, rather than proof of how strong we are. And we talk about some solutions to make things better.

Most of all, I’m telling them the easiest way to break a glass ceiling is to never create one, and urging groups to work hard to include women in Indonesia’s burgeoning private sector and entrepreneurial ecosystem now, while it’s just getting started.

It’s surreal for me, an American woman, to be telling audience after audience of women dressed in traditional Muslim headscarves that we don’t have gender equality figured out. But it’s more surreal for them to hear it. More than a few women have told me they were shocked. That they’d assumed women could do whatever they wanted in the US. A few have said that after my talk, they think starting a company sounds easier in Indonesia.

Sure, a few times a male in the audience has gone there. One fervently disagreed with my entire keynote saying that it was morally wrong for women to be out of the home and that if the government did anything to advocate this, it would be a nightmare for Indonesian society, birth rates would go into free-fall and all hell would break loose. It was a long diatribe, and my translator clearly gave me the nice version of his comments. Whether it was stated or not, the implication was there: What the hell are you doing out of the house half way around the world, crazy American lady? What’s wrong with your husband?

Another time, a man suggested that the US statistics proved that women shouldn’t start businesses. Turning my argument on its head, he suggested that the US economy doesn’t seem to be missing the participation of more women, and that it’d clearly been a positive for us. I pointed out that studies have shown that women-owned businesses become profitable faster and generate more revenue, and that the US economy isn’t exactly a global role model these days. There’s also the obvious retort– we have no idea what the opportunity cost from more women not participating in Silicon Valley’s economy has been. “Sorry, pal, but the facts just aren’t on your side,” I said, and the predominantly female audience laughed.

These are obviously viewpoints too un-PC to voice in the US, even if many people still believe them. But when each guy made these arguments, the women in the audience didn’t seem cowed or even too concerned. There was definitely some knowing-looks and eye rolling exchanged. “Oh there he goes again talking about how we need to stay in the house…” The attitude wasn’t preventing women from attending these events or the entrepreneurship colleges I’ve spoken at, where more than half of the audience have typically been women.

I’ve known from my previous trips to this country that Muslim Indonesians are very moderate and not at all like the stereotype many Americans would expect, particularly in more cosmopolitan urban areas. But during this trip, I’ve frequently been speaking at Muslim schools in more remote cities. My first talk was in a school so known for demonstrations that last week several classrooms were set on fire. And yet, even there the women don’t fit the meek-and-submissive stereotype as much as a few of the men would clearly like them to.

The brutality of Indonesian life– whether it’s 350 years of colonial domination, dictators, poverty or a never-ending assault of natural disasters– have forged these women into pure steel. Friends in the US have remarked at how intense it is that I’m here traveling city-to-city, lugging suitcases up and down jetway stairs in the tropical heat, delivering keynotes for more than three hours per day. Indeed, for an American pregnant woman, it is a pretty intense schedule. My ankles have morphed into thick, bloated stumps. Last week a clerk at a maternity store refused to let me carry a small bag of clothes to my car, I haven’t washed a dirty dish or stitch of laundry since my husband found out the news, and Paul Carr regularly takes my backpack from me when I try to leave the TechCrunch offices every night.

And yet, I met a woman the other day who runs a company delivering goods and services to remote villages. She has seven kids. When she was nine-months pregnant with number seven she was loading up her motorbike with supplies and winding around Indonesia’s crazy highways and dirt roads to continue her work. That, ladies and gentlemen, is intense. Is that woman going to be stopped by a man telling her she’s not strong enough to run a company? The idea made her laugh. She was sitting in the front row of one of my keynotes, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen a woman so confident and self-possessed. She was not only badass, she was well aware of just how badass she was.

Unlike shrill women advocates in the US, these women don’t care whether male gatekeepers try to keep them down; it doesn’t seem to affect them. They shrug and go after what they want anyway. That’s stunning because generally Indonesia is a culture that looks to the government to solve most of their problems for them.

I spent the afternoon in Jakarta the other day with a group called IWAPI– which translated stands for the Indonesian Businesswoman’s Association. The woman who runs it commanded the room with intense features, a bright red headscarf and an elaborate green silk dress. (She’s center in the picture to the left.) Throughout the meeting she snapped at her assistant– a man– to bring the water, fetch her bag, bring more chairs. My male state department guide looked a little scared. Before I could say anything she started to grill me on my qualifications. I knew one thing immediately: I never want this woman on my bad side.

But she uses that intensity to create opportunities for the 40,000 members of this organization that was started the year I was born. For instance, while some entrepreneurs in the country are complaining that new Asian trade agreements will flood the domestic market with cheaper Chinese goods, IWAPI is organizing its own collective trade missions to surrounding South East Asian countries, looking for new markets to offset the risk. The woman in green told me what she tells young women in Indonesia: The literal translation for the Bahasa word for entrepreneur is “a person who makes things happen.” “If you want things to be done for you, you’re not an entrepreneur,” she said. “You work for the entrepreneur.”

Many of the women I’ve met– including those at IWAPI– appear to do a much better job at the thing we fail at most: Women helping lift one another up. Last week, I visited a co-op in Surabaya, where women jointly run a hotel, a grocery store (below) and a sort of local Indonesian street vendor food court. They pool that money– and money from outside investors– to grant more than $1 billion rupiahs (or more than $100,000) in monthly microloans to their 12,000 women members. Operating well before microloans were trendy, this co-op has been in business 30 years.

It was a hub of activity– women working at the various businesses, women helping watch one another’s kids, women in the computer lab learning how the Internet could help fuel their businesses, women in line to make payments on their loans. No one is worrying too much about work-life balance, because it’s a given many of them will have half-a-softball-team of kids. If they want to work, those issues are just reality. One of the many challenges of Indonesian life. One woman (pictured at the top of the post, waiting to make her monthly loan payment) had been a member for 20 years. She owns her own businesses and has seven kids and was welling up in tears telling me about the impact the co-op had made. That without it, she simply wouldn’t have been able to start a company. With it, her business had thrived and she’d never missed a payment.

The co-op’s board member opened my talk with a cross between a cheer and call-and-response prayer. Roughly it translated to:

How are your businesses doing?

“AWESOME!” The women yelled back raising fists in the air.

Are you paying your loans back?

“YOU BETTER BELIEVE IT!” they yelled.

Are you going to default?

“NO WAY!” they yelled, together dismissing the thought physically with an emphatic wave of their hands. As each of them told me their stories, the women clapped at every success milestone– nevermind they’d heard these stories all before.

Back at IWAPI, four of the women told me that not only were their husbands supportive of their companies– they’d done so well that their husbands had quit their jobs and were now working on the wives’ entrepreneurial dreams. Even my Indonesian state department translator was stunned to hear it. “There are two types of IWAPI husbands,” the uber-intense woman in green told me. “Those who are silent partners and support their wives, and those who become actual partners in the business.” Another woman in the group was living the harsh flipside of this statement. Her husband left her a single mother, because she refused to give up her fashion design company and sit at home while he worked. Her life isn’t easy, but she has no doubt she made the right choice.

I don’t mean to paint the picture of some gender utopia. In each case, these were women that opted to attend a talk about entrepreneurship, so it may not be a relative sample of the population.  And to be sure, questions come up about pressure from society to raise kids and men not taking them seriously; the same issues women talk about in the US. When I’ve brought up some of the issues we face, there’s a lot of head nodding in the audience and commiserating laughter. Some of this is just international, it seems.

But the difference among the women I’ve met so far in Indonesia is they just don’t seem to dwell on it. They’ve got more important things to do.

Source: Wanita Power: What Women in the US Could Learn from Indonesians

The Haves and Have-Nots: The True Story of a Reader Suddenly De-Invited from TED

February 27th, 2011 02:36 admin View Comments

I was determined never to write another negative post about TED. Really. I feel like my views on the conference’s smug-tendencies have been well-stated. And, as I said in this article in Fast Company, I think the TED Fellows program and the TEDx program have gone a long way towards fulfilling the stated mission of TED, doing actual outreach into places the conference long professed to care about. Beyond that, I’m just hearing of a lot of Valley people who aren’t going anymore after the move to Long Beach, making the conference less of an annual to-do for the tech community.

But then I got this email below, and all the reasons I wrote the original BusinessWeek column came flooding back. If TED would just own up to being about making the wealthy, famous and powerful feel comfortable–like other high level affairs like Sun Valley or the World Economic Forum– I wouldn’t have an issue with it. Business conferences have good reasons to be elitist; deals are getting done and high-level conversations need to be private sometimes.

But when credentials are revoked at the last minute based purely on the whim of a more important member of the TED community, the inner workings are just too much like a country club for an organization whose stellar content is all about pluralism and uplift. It’s the Sarah Silverman incident all over again. Oh you made one of the more important people feel uncomfortable? Then you’re out of here.

Private events should absolutely have the right to de-invite people, and there are right ways to handle it. I get de-invited from things all the time and don’t get upset. For instance, Polaris Ventures holds an annual, clubby retreat in Jackson Hole that I went to last year. Partner Mike Hirshland told me I wasn’t going to be invited back, after I questioned the wisdom of a portfolio company, whose avatars for 13-year-old girls were beyond anorexic, dressed like hookers and sashaying back-and-forth on a virtual world’s street corner. I’ll admit, I went a little rabid when the middle-aged, male CEO told me the problem was I just didn’t understand what it was like to be a teenage girl, like, presumably, he did. But at least something I did caused the de-invite, Hirshland told me about it upfront and we even laughed at the time. No hard feelings.

The story below is another matter. I plan on sending this link to Roger Ebert, so he knows why one of his biggest fans won’t be there for his TED talk.

(Details are redacted.)

Dear Sarah -
I hope this note finds you having a wonderful day.  I’m writing to you primarily because I so very much enjoyed your (now several years old but still entirely relevant) piece on TED, ‘Why I’m fed up with TED.’  I, too, am fed up with TED, but for different reasons than you mention.  I have to share my TED story with you, and because I know how busy you must be, I’ll be as brief as I can be.

Unlike many people who are rightfully fed up with TED, I will confess to having attended a TED conference.  A few years ago, I worked with one of TED’s major donors.   You know how TED has a ‘patron’ level, where people can pay $100K for five years’ worth of conference registrations in advance (with lots of nice perks?)  Well, this person is paid up with TED until sometime late in the decade, has contributed to many of TED’s special programs – I could go on and on, but you get the picture.  TED is very important to this person, and this person is even more important to TED.

One of the privileges of supporting TED at the level described above is that you are allowed to ‘designate’ an attendee, and this, incidentally, is how I think most ‘normal’ people get into TED the first time around.  Unless you’re a celebrity, a tycoon, a speaker, or a TED-fellow, someone of this ilk has to ‘recommend’ that you be ‘allowed’ to attend TED.  Well, in 2008, the major donor I’ve mentioned above ‘recommended’ that I be invited to TED 2009, and I promptly received my invitation.  I paid my (gulp!) $6,000.00 registration fee, and I went to TED’s first conference in Long Beach, dubbed ‘The Great Unveiling.’.

Now, I’m no Steve Jobs – not by a longshot.  But I’ve done pretty well in my career by most standards, so you’d think that at some level, I’d have found a niche at TED.  Nothing could’ve been further from the truth, and I just can’t tell you what an uncomfortable experience TED was for me..

Long story short, from the opening night gala, TED rapidly segregates itself into two distinct groups:  Group A, (the people everyone would love to meet), and Group B (the people who want to meet those people.)  The people in Group B spend the entire TED conference running around with business cards, hoping for, you know, five seconds of face time with Sergey Brin, Bill Gates, Steve Wozniack, Cameron Diaz, or the like.  The people in Group A, on the other hand, spend most of TED trying to avoid the people in Group B.  Put the people in Group A and Group B together in a room (the ‘opening night’ gala is the only time this really happens), and the tension is sometimes palpable..

I wish I could tell you more about my own initial TED experience (which isn’t even the subject of this letter, believe it or not), but I became violently ill after the TED 2009 opening gala (maybe something I ate?) and spent the first two days of TED in my bed, literally so sick I was barely able to move.  I did ultimately attend as many of the TED talks as I could, and they were great, but there was that same sense of segregation even at the talks that I’ve described above.  Seating is run like the Oscars; the ‘celebrities’ are all down front, and people like me -we’re in the final rows, in the balconies, literally at the ‘back of the bus.’.

I didn’t particularly love my TED experience because I was ill for most of the time, but I did want to see what TED was like when, you know, I wasn’t spending most of my free time throwing up.  So, I saved up for a year – a year – and, in 2010, applied to attend TED 2011.  I was accepted.  I paid my registration fee (gulp!) again.  And for the better part of a year, I’ve been looking forward to the conference, which begins next week.  I was looking forward to going, incidentally, not because I relished feeling uncomfortable yet again, but because Roger Ebert will be speaking at TED this year, and he’s one of my personal heros..

And then, the unthinkable happened: On February 17th – about ten days before TED 2011 was scheduled to begin -I received a terse email from TED’s leadership telling me that I was being ’uninvited’ from this year’s TED conference.  My registration had been revoked, my pass had been destroyed, and I could expect a refund of my conference registration free shortly..

I was stunned, shocked, confused, and wrote to ask why, since nothing about me had changed over the past year, TED would suddenly make the decision to un-invite me.  The initial response I received to this query was equally terse and went something along these lines:  ”According to our terms of use, we don’t have to tell you why we’re uninviting you.”.

I wasn’t content with this response, so I went straight to the top.  I sent a personal email to Chris Anderson, TED’s ‘curator,’ asking for an explanation.  I got it. Here it is: I was uninvited to this year’s TED conference because the major TED donor I’ve referenced above and with whom, for reasons unknown, I have now not spoken to for more than two years (TED’s leadership tells me that this is because this person and I have had a ‘falling out’ of some kind) had seen my picture in the TED 2011 ‘Facebook.’   This person had called the conference organizers to express that my presence at the conference might result in this person feeling some ‘stress’ and – perhaps – not enjoying the conference as much as this person otherwise might..

Now, we all know it’s very unlikely that, in a conference of 1,800 people, every attendee is going to get along perfectly with every other attendee. Indeed, I rather suspect that some of the best ‘ideas’ that come out of TED start out as disagreements.  And it’s equally unlikely that I’d even have run into this person (in 2009, I *tried* to run into this person and couldn’t do it.)  But none of that really seemed to matter..

The point is that TED’s leadership was unwilling to run the risk of one of their biggest donors feeling ‘stressed’ at TED, so they determined that, suddenly, nothing about me rendered me ‘worthy’ to attend this year’s TED, and I was no longer welcome to attend.  Not just this year.  Ever. For as long as this person is around or until we ‘complete our unfinished business’ (whatever that means.)  No debate.  No discussion.  End of story.  And I was reminded of virtually every gangster film I’ve ever seen by something Anderson said to me in his reply.  He actually told me – and I’m not kidding – that I shouldn’t take this decision to uninvite me ‘personally.’  This decision, it would seem, was just ‘business.’.

Upon reflection, I’ve decided that I’m not upset that I apparently won’t ever be attending TED again (though I’m sorry I won’t get to tell Roger Ebert how much his work has meant to me over the years).  I’m more of a ‘power to the people’ kind of guy, and even though I was happy to have been able to attend a TED conference and was eager to do so again, I’ve never been particularly comfortable with TED’s underlying ethos.  Speaking personally, I’m a stickler for ‘authenticity,’ and I’m not sure I like the idea of a conference whose mantra is ‘Ideas Worth Spreading’ but that, in practice, operates so as to suggest that the only persons with ‘ideas worth spreading’ are those with the ability to make very substantial contributions, not necessarily to the world-at-large, but to the Sapling Foundation, the non-profit organization that own and operates TED..

But I have to say, I was really shocked to learn just how much power TED’s major donors apparently exercise over every aspect of the conference, including the attendees.  I think it’s perfectly reasonable to allow major donors to designate an attendee (that seems like a positive), but I absolutely cannot believe that TED allows its major donors to do just the opposite when it suits them – to bar people from attending TED altogether..

Can you imagine a similar scenario occurring at, say, the Red Cross?  Imagine I were to make a $100,000.00 contribution to disaster relief in a stricken area, but with the condition that, as a result of my gift, the Red Cross absolutely refuse to use any of its funding to help Jane Smith, a particular person I know who lives within the disaster area and who otherwise qualifies for help, but who I just don’t happen to like very much for reasons that have nothing to do with the disaster itself?.

Despite its many missteps, the Red Cross would not EVER accept a contribution under those conditions.  TED, on the other hand, not only appears to accept such conditions attached to the contributions made to the Sapling Foundation; it encourages them.  But that’s another story.  In the end, what I really found myself wondering was how many other otherwise qualified TED attendees have been ‘uninvited’ to TED at the eleventh hour (or declined an invitation in the first place), simply because a major donor to TED said, ‘I don’t particularly want to share the (million square foot) TED conference space with this person?”.

We’ll never know the answer to this question, but there is one thing I now know for certain:  if this is how TED ‘thinks,’ then as far as I’m concerned, in not going to TED, I’m not missing out on anything at all. I hope reading what I’ve written here serves to reaffirm for you everything you said about TED three years ago.  Again, I really enjoyed your piece and look forward to hearing from you soon..

Best Regards,

[Redacted]

Source: The Haves and Have-Nots: The True Story of a Reader Suddenly De-Invited from TED

The Haves and Have-Nots: The True Story of a Reader Suddenly De-Invited from TED

February 27th, 2011 02:36 admin View Comments

I was determined never to write another negative post about TED. Really. I feel like my views on the conference’s smug-tendencies have been well-stated. And, as I said in this article in Fast Company, I think the TED Fellows program and the TEDx program have gone a long way towards fulfilling the stated mission of TED, doing actual outreach into places the conference long professed to care about. Beyond that, I’m just hearing of a lot of Valley people who aren’t going anymore after the move to Long Beach, making the conference less of an annual to-do for the tech community.

But then I got this email below, and all the reasons I wrote the original BusinessWeek column came flooding back. If TED would just own up to being about making the wealthy, famous and powerful feel comfortable–like other high level affairs like Sun Valley or the World Economic Forum– I wouldn’t have an issue with it. Business conferences have good reasons to be elitist; deals are getting done and high-level conversations need to be private sometimes.

But when credentials are revoked at the last minute based purely on the whim of a more important member of the TED community, the inner workings are just too much like a country club for an organization whose stellar content is all about pluralism and uplift. It’s the Sarah Silverman incident all over again. Oh you made one of the more important people feel uncomfortable? Then you’re out of here.

Private events should absolutely have the right to de-invite people, and there are right ways to handle it. I get de-invited from things all the time and don’t get upset. For instance, Polaris Ventures holds an annual, clubby retreat in Jackson Hole that I went to last year. Partner Mike Hirshland told me I wasn’t going to be invited back, after I questioned the wisdom of a portfolio company, whose avatars for 13-year-old girls were beyond anorexic, dressed like hookers and sashaying back-and-forth on a virtual world’s street corner. I’ll admit, I went a little rabid when the middle-aged, male CEO told me the problem was I just didn’t understand what it was like to be a teenage girl, like, presumably, he did. But at least something I did caused the de-invite, Hirshland told me about it upfront and we even laughed at the time. No hard feelings.

The story below is another matter. I plan on sending this link to Roger Ebert, so he knows why one of his biggest fans won’t be there for his TED talk.

(Details are redacted.)

Dear Sarah -
I hope this note finds you having a wonderful day.  I’m writing to you primarily because I so very much enjoyed your (now several years old but still entirely relevant) piece on TED, ‘Why I’m fed up with TED.’  I, too, am fed up with TED, but for different reasons than you mention.  I have to share my TED story with you, and because I know how busy you must be, I’ll be as brief as I can be.

Unlike many people who are rightfully fed up with TED, I will confess to having attended a TED conference.  A few years ago, I worked with one of TED’s major donors.   You know how TED has a ‘patron’ level, where people can pay $100K for five years’ worth of conference registrations in advance (with lots of nice perks?)  Well, this person is paid up with TED until sometime late in the decade, has contributed to many of TED’s special programs – I could go on and on, but you get the picture.  TED is very important to this person, and this person is even more important to TED.

One of the privileges of supporting TED at the level described above is that you are allowed to ‘designate’ an attendee, and this, incidentally, is how I think most ‘normal’ people get into TED the first time around.  Unless you’re a celebrity, a tycoon, a speaker, or a TED-fellow, someone of this ilk has to ‘recommend’ that you be ‘allowed’ to attend TED.  Well, in 2008, the major donor I’ve mentioned above ‘recommended’ that I be invited to TED 2009, and I promptly received my invitation.  I paid my (gulp!) $6,000.00 registration fee, and I went to TED’s first conference in Long Beach, dubbed ‘The Great Unveiling.’.

Now, I’m no Steve Jobs – not by a longshot.  But I’ve done pretty well in my career by most standards, so you’d think that at some level, I’d have found a niche at TED.  Nothing could’ve been further from the truth, and I just can’t tell you what an uncomfortable experience TED was for me..

Long story short, from the opening night gala, TED rapidly segregates itself into two distinct groups:  Group A, (the people everyone would love to meet), and Group B (the people who want to meet those people.)  The people in Group B spend the entire TED conference running around with business cards, hoping for, you know, five seconds of face time with Sergey Brin, Bill Gates, Steve Wozniack, Cameron Diaz, or the like.  The people in Group A, on the other hand, spend most of TED trying to avoid the people in Group B.  Put the people in Group A and Group B together in a room (the ‘opening night’ gala is the only time this really happens), and the tension is sometimes palpable..

I wish I could tell you more about my own initial TED experience (which isn’t even the subject of this letter, believe it or not), but I became violently ill after the TED 2009 opening gala (maybe something I ate?) and spent the first two days of TED in my bed, literally so sick I was barely able to move.  I did ultimately attend as many of the TED talks as I could, and they were great, but there was that same sense of segregation even at the talks that I’ve described above.  Seating is run like the Oscars; the ‘celebrities’ are all down front, and people like me -we’re in the final rows, in the balconies, literally at the ‘back of the bus.’.

I didn’t particularly love my TED experience because I was ill for most of the time, but I did want to see what TED was like when, you know, I wasn’t spending most of my free time throwing up.  So, I saved up for a year – a year – and, in 2010, applied to attend TED 2011.  I was accepted.  I paid my registration fee (gulp!) again.  And for the better part of a year, I’ve been looking forward to the conference, which begins next week.  I was looking forward to going, incidentally, not because I relished feeling uncomfortable yet again, but because Roger Ebert will be speaking at TED this year, and he’s one of my personal heros..

And then, the unthinkable happened: On February 17th – about ten days before TED 2011 was scheduled to begin -I received a terse email from TED’s leadership telling me that I was being ’uninvited’ from this year’s TED conference.  My registration had been revoked, my pass had been destroyed, and I could expect a refund of my conference registration free shortly..

I was stunned, shocked, confused, and wrote to ask why, since nothing about me had changed over the past year, TED would suddenly make the decision to un-invite me.  The initial response I received to this query was equally terse and went something along these lines:  ”According to our terms of use, we don’t have to tell you why we’re uninviting you.”.

I wasn’t content with this response, so I went straight to the top.  I sent a personal email to Chris Anderson, TED’s ‘curator,’ asking for an explanation.  I got it. Here it is: I was uninvited to this year’s TED conference because the major TED donor I’ve referenced above and with whom, for reasons unknown, I have now not spoken to for more than two years (TED’s leadership tells me that this is because this person and I have had a ‘falling out’ of some kind) had seen my picture in the TED 2011 ‘Facebook.’   This person had called the conference organizers to express that my presence at the conference might result in this person feeling some ‘stress’ and – perhaps – not enjoying the conference as much as this person otherwise might..

Now, we all know it’s very unlikely that, in a conference of 1,800 people, every attendee is going to get along perfectly with every other attendee. Indeed, I rather suspect that some of the best ‘ideas’ that come out of TED start out as disagreements.  And it’s equally unlikely that I’d even have run into this person (in 2009, I *tried* to run into this person and couldn’t do it.)  But none of that really seemed to matter..

The point is that TED’s leadership was unwilling to run the risk of one of their biggest donors feeling ‘stressed’ at TED, so they determined that, suddenly, nothing about me rendered me ‘worthy’ to attend this year’s TED, and I was no longer welcome to attend.  Not just this year.  Ever. For as long as this person is around or until we ‘complete our unfinished business’ (whatever that means.)  No debate.  No discussion.  End of story.  And I was reminded of virtually every gangster film I’ve ever seen by something Anderson said to me in his reply.  He actually told me – and I’m not kidding – that I shouldn’t take this decision to uninvite me ‘personally.’  This decision, it would seem, was just ‘business.’.

Upon reflection, I’ve decided that I’m not upset that I apparently won’t ever be attending TED again (though I’m sorry I won’t get to tell Roger Ebert how much his work has meant to me over the years).  I’m more of a ‘power to the people’ kind of guy, and even though I was happy to have been able to attend a TED conference and was eager to do so again, I’ve never been particularly comfortable with TED’s underlying ethos.  Speaking personally, I’m a stickler for ‘authenticity,’ and I’m not sure I like the idea of a conference whose mantra is ‘Ideas Worth Spreading’ but that, in practice, operates so as to suggest that the only persons with ‘ideas worth spreading’ are those with the ability to make very substantial contributions, not necessarily to the world-at-large, but to the Sapling Foundation, the non-profit organization that own and operates TED..

But I have to say, I was really shocked to learn just how much power TED’s major donors apparently exercise over every aspect of the conference, including the attendees.  I think it’s perfectly reasonable to allow major donors to designate an attendee (that seems like a positive), but I absolutely cannot believe that TED allows its major donors to do just the opposite when it suits them – to bar people from attending TED altogether..

Can you imagine a similar scenario occurring at, say, the Red Cross?  Imagine I were to make a $100,000.00 contribution to disaster relief in a stricken area, but with the condition that, as a result of my gift, the Red Cross absolutely refuse to use any of its funding to help Jane Smith, a particular person I know who lives within the disaster area and who otherwise qualifies for help, but who I just don’t happen to like very much for reasons that have nothing to do with the disaster itself?.

Despite its many missteps, the Red Cross would not EVER accept a contribution under those conditions.  TED, on the other hand, not only appears to accept such conditions attached to the contributions made to the Sapling Foundation; it encourages them.  But that’s another story.  In the end, what I really found myself wondering was how many other otherwise qualified TED attendees have been ‘uninvited’ to TED at the eleventh hour (or declined an invitation in the first place), simply because a major donor to TED said, ‘I don’t particularly want to share the (million square foot) TED conference space with this person?”.

We’ll never know the answer to this question, but there is one thing I now know for certain:  if this is how TED ‘thinks,’ then as far as I’m concerned, in not going to TED, I’m not missing out on anything at all. I hope reading what I’ve written here serves to reaffirm for you everything you said about TED three years ago.  Again, I really enjoyed your piece and look forward to hearing from you soon..

Best Regards,

[Redacted]

Source: The Haves and Have-Nots: The True Story of a Reader Suddenly De-Invited from TED

We Have A New Uber Boss, And She’s Greek: Aol Buys HuffPo For $315 Million

February 6th, 2011 02:20 admin View Comments

You know who won the Super Bowl? Arianna Huffington. AllthingsD is reporting that our parent company Aol has bought Huffington Post for $315 million, this afternoon.

“Armstrong made the official offer to Huffington by phone in January, while she was at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland and he was snowed in in New York.

Five time multiple to the Huffington Post’s $65 million in expected revenue for the coming year, the offer was accepted quickly.”

According to the post Huffington will be in charge of all Aol properties, including Engadget, Urlesque and us. Welcome to the family, Arianna.

Updating.

Full release below:

AOL AGREES TO ACQUIRE THE HUFFINGTON POST

Acquisition Will Solidify AOL’s Strategy of Creating a Premier Content Network

With Local, National and International Reach

 

Arianna Huffington To Lead Newly Formed The Huffington Post Media Group Which Will Integrate All Huffington Post and AOL Content, Including News, Tech, Women, Local, Multicultural, Entertainment, Video, Community, and More

The New Combined Media Group Will Reach

117 Million Americans and 270 Million Globally

Group Uniquely Positioned To Redefine the Future of Brand Advertising and Marketing

For an Engaged and Influential Audience

New York, NY – February 7, 2011 – AOL Inc. [NYSE:AOL] announced today that it has entered into a definitive agreement to acquire The Huffington Post, the influential and rapidly growing news, analysis, and lifestyle website founded in 2005, which now counts nearly 25 million unique monthly visitors*.

The transaction will create a premier global, national, local, and hyper-local content group for the digital age – leveraged across online, mobile, tablet, and video platforms.  The combination of AOL’s infrastructure and scale with The Huffington Post’s pioneering approach to news and innovative community building among a broad and sophisticated audience will mark a seminal moment in the evolution of digital journalism and online engagement.

The new group will have a combined base of 117 million unique visitors a month in the United States and 270 million around the world**.  Following the close of this transaction, AOL will accelerate its strategy to deliver a scaled and differentiated array of premium news, analysis, and entertainment produced by thousands of writers, editors, reporters, and videographers around the globe.

As part of the transaction, Arianna Huffington, The Huffington Post’s Co-founder and Editor-in-Chief, will be named President and Editor-in-Chief of The Huffington Post Media Group, which will integrate all Huffington Post and AOL content, including Engadget, TechCrunch, Moviefone, MapQuest, Black Voices, PopEater, AOL Music, AOL Latino, AutoBlog, Patch, StyleList, and more.

“The acquisition of The Huffington Post will create a next-generation American media company with global reach that combines content, community, and social experiences for consumers,†said Tim Armstrong, Chairman and CEO of AOL.  “Together, our companies will embrace thedigital future and become a digital destination that delivers unmatched experiences for both consumers and advertisers.â€

Armstrong continued, “Arianna is a singularly passionate and dedicated champion of innovative journalistic engagement, and a master of the art of using new media to illuminate, entertain and enhance the national conversation.  Arianna is a remarkable person and she will continue to create remarkable outcomes for the combined company.â€

“This is truly a merger of visions and a perfect fit for us,†said Huffington.  “The Huffington Post will continue on the same path we have been on for the last six years – though now at light speed – by combining with AOL.  Our readers will still be able to come to the Huffington Post at the same URL, and find all the same content they’ve grown to love, plus a lot more – more local, more tech, more entertainment, more finance, and lots more video. We are fusing a legendary and powerful new media brand with a vibrant, innovative news organization, known for its distinctive voice, a highly engaged audience, an expertise in community-building, and a track record for demystifying the news and putting flesh and blood on the data while drawing our audience into the conversation.â€

Huffington continued, “By uniting AOL and The Huffington Post, we are creating one of the largest destinations for smart content and community on the Internet.  And we intend to keep making it better and better.â€

Kenneth Lerer, The Huffington Post’s Co-Founder and Chairman and Manager of Lerer Ventures , said, “The Huffington Post team has created a potent brand with the proven track record of knowing how to grow traffic, inform and entertain its readers and build a one-of-a-kind online community.  Add that to the powerful scale and resources of AOL and you have the perfect combination for today and the future.  Together these two companies will be a premier online content provider.  From local citizen reporting through AOL’s Patch, to The Huffington Post’s national reporting on politics, business and culture, consumers will have access to everything they want whenever they want it.â€

AOL has agreed to purchase The Huffington Post for $315 million, approximately $300 million of which will be paid in cash funded from cash on hand.  The Huffington Post is privately owned by its two cofounders, as well as a group of investors.  The proposed transaction is subject to customary closing conditions, including receipt of government approvals.  The boards of directors of each company and shareholders of The Huffington Post have approved the transaction.  The transaction is expected to close in the late first- or early second-quarter 2011.

 

The Huffington Post over-indexes on educated, affluent users, reaching the key decision makers in C-suites around the globe.  The Huffington Post speaks to this influential audience via a host of prominent voices on its group blog.  Among those who have blogged on The Huffington Post are: President Barack Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Larry Page, Diane Sawyer, Buzz Aldrin, Nora Ephron, Bill Maher, Madeleine Albright, Robert Redford, Katie Couric, Neil Young, Rahm Emanuel, Mia Farrow, Senator Russ Feingold, Senator Al Franken, Ari Emanuel, Harry Shearer, Senator John Kerry, Representative Nancy Pelosi, Madonna, Lawrence Summers, Jamie Lee Curtis, Ryan Reynolds, Craig Newmark, Alec Baldwin, Aaron Sorkin, Natalie Portman, Scarlett Johansson, Russell Simmons, Sean Penn, Bill Gates, Norman Lear, Charlie Rose, Elizabeth Warren, Tavis Smiley, Sheryl Sandberg, George Clooney, and former President Bill Clinton.  And the audience speaks back, generating four million comments a month***.

 

The Huffington Post’s affluent, influential audience, that is growing at a rate of 22 percent (December 2009 vs. December 2010)****, when combined with AOL’s massive scale, video offerings and local expertise, will represent an incredibly desirable demographic for a broad range of advertising partners across the board.

 

ConferenceCall – 8:00 a.m. Eastern Time, Monday, February 7, 2011

AOL will host a conference call with Chairman and CEO of AOL, Tim Armstrong, CFO of AOL, Arthur Minson and The Huffington Post Co-Founder & Editor-in-Chief, Arianna Huffington to discuss the transaction at 8:00 a.m. Eastern time today.  To listen to the call via webcast and access prepared remarks regarding the transaction, please visit our website at ir.aol.com and click on the link titled “AOL Inc. Conference Call†located under “Events & Presentations.† The prepared remarks by Arthur Minson regarding the financial impact of AOL’s acquisition of The Huffington Post will be available beginning at 7:00 a.m. Eastern time today.  We recommend going to the website at least 15 minutes prior to the start of the webcast to register, download and install any necessary software. Instructions for accessing and registering for the webcast will be available at ir.aol.com beginning today. Visitors will also be able to listen to an archived copy of the webcast at ir.aol.com by clicking into “Events & Presentations†for up to 1 year following the event.

 

Parties in the United States and Canada should call toll-free (800) 329-9097 and other international parties should call (617) 614-4929. Participants should reference “AOL Call†when dialing into the live call. The conference call is scheduled to begin promptly at its appointed time, and all participants should be on the line by then.

 

Replays of the conference call will be available at 11:00 a.m. (ET) on Monday, February 7, 2011 and run until 11:59 p.m. (ET) on February 21, 2011. To hear the replay, U.S. and Canadian parties should call toll-free (888) 286-8010 and other international parties should call (617) 801-6888. The access code for the replay is 90388239.

 

Forward-Looking Statements

This press release contains “forward-looking†statements within the meaning of Section 27A of the Securities Act of 1933, as amended, and Section 21E of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, as amended. Such forward-looking statements include, but are not limited to, statements regarding the anticipated benefits of the transaction, the expected closing date and other statements identified by words such as “may,†“will,†“intend,†“estimate,†“should,†“expect†or similar expressions. These statements are based on the current expectations and beliefs of AOL’s management, and are subject to uncertainty and changes in circumstances, including, but not limited to, the approval of the transaction by antitrust authorities, the satisfaction of the closing conditions to the transaction, the competitiveness and quality of our combined content offerings and significant competition in the media and journalism industries generally, our ability to timely and successfully integrate The Huffington Post’s operations into our operations, our ability to retain, hire and develop skilled employees and the parties’ performance of their obligations under the agreements. Any forward-looking information is not a guarantee of future performance and actual results mayvary materially from those expressed or implied by the statements herein, due to changes in economic, business, competitive, technological, strategic and/or regulatory factors, as well as factors affecting The Huffington Post’s and AOL’s operations and businesses. More detailed information about these factors as they relate to AOL may be found in the section entitled “Risk Factors†in AOL’s Annual Report on Form 10-K for the year ended December 31, 2009, filed with the SEC. AOL is under no obligation to, and expressly disclaims any obligation to, update or alter the forward-looking statements contained in this press release, whether as a result of new information, future events or otherwise.

 

About AOL

AOL Inc. (NYSE: AOL) is a leading global Web services company with an extensive suite of brands and offerings and a substantial worldwide audience. AOL’s business spans online content, products and services that the company offers to consumers, publishers and advertisers. AOL is focused on attracting and engaging consumers and providing valuable online advertising services on both AOL’s owned and operated properties and third-party websites. In addition, AOL operates one of the largest Internetsubscription access services in the United States, which serves as a valuable distribution channel for AOL’s consumer offerings.

 


Source: We Have A New Uber Boss, And She’s Greek: Aol Buys HuffPo For $315 Million

Prezi Launches A Precious Presentation App For The iPad

January 10th, 2011 01:59 admin View Comments

If you haven’t yet checked out Prezi, one of the most innovative presentation tools I’ve ever seen, you’re totally missing out. Today, the young company behind the amazing product is (finally) launching the highly-anticipated Prezi for iPad (iTunes link), enabling users to show stunning live presentations straight from the tablet computer.

Right off the bat: we all know the iPad doesn’t support Flash, so not all existing presentations can be viewed in full if they contain Flash material such as videos. Apart from that, all presentations that were made in the past should be flawlessly viewable on the iPad.

As you can tell from the video below, Prezi for iPad is a great way to show someone a presentation on a touch-screen device, and the typical Prezi style fits hand gesturing (pinching and panning) on the iPad perfectly. At launch, it isn’t possible to effectively create and edit presentations from the app, but I’m told that this will likely be coming later.

Prezi has many organizations using its product, from the World Economic Forum to Stanford University and at companies such as Facebook, IBM and Google. The startup has raised an undisclosed amount of funding from TED Conferences and Sunstone Capital, and counts Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey among its advisors.

The company, which has offices in Budapest, Hungary and San Francisco, has attracted over 1.85 million registered users since its launch in April 2009. The company boasts users from 220 countries, but the United States is the biggest market for them, followed by Europe and Asia.

Source: Prezi Launches A Precious Presentation App For The iPad

Pitch A Way To Close The Global Income Gap On YouTube, And Go To Davos 2011

December 10th, 2010 12:36 admin View Comments

Every January, world leaders, entrepreneurs, and journalists descend on Davos, Switzerland at the World Economic Forum to mingle and discuss the world’s problems. The guest list is usually limited to world leaders and CEOs (although a few bloggers somehow sneak in every year). But every year, the World Economic Forum partners with YouTube to host the Davos Debates, which broadens the debate by allowing anyone to upload a question for attendees. The YouTube channel is also used to select one lucky person to attend Davos and even be on a panel.

One theme this year is inclusive growth. The global economy is $70 trillion, but 3 billion people live on less than $2 a day. Pitch an idea on how to close that gap, and you could be on your way to Davos in 2011. Pitches must be one minute or less.

Here is a video with previous winners describing this year’s challenge:

http://www.youtube.com/v/He7d0_N4tBA?version=3

Source: Pitch A Way To Close The Global Income Gap On YouTube, And Go To Davos 2011

Intel Backs Three Startups From The Middle East: Nymgo, Jeeran, ShooFeeTV

October 27th, 2010 10:32 admin View Comments

Intel’s investment arm, Intel Capital, announced three new investments at the World Economic Forum on the Middle East and North Africa today.

The three startups that have received fresh capital from the investment organization are UK/Lebanon based Nymgo (which delivers cheap VoIP telephony services), Jordan-based Jeeran (social networking site) and ShooFeeTV (which operates a Web-based entertainment guide).

The size of the three investments were not disclosed, but I understand the investment comes from Intel’s $50 million Middle East and Turkey Fund.

For Jeeran and ShooFeeTV, this is actually the second financial boost provided by Intel Capital – both were originally funded in May 2009.

The investment in Nymgo, means Intel Capital firm has now expanded its portfolio in the ME region to a total of eight companies.

Nymgo launched in December 2008 and offers low-cost VoIP calling services. With over two million downloads, Nymgo says it serves customers in over 200 countries worldwide. Since its creation, Nymgo claims to have served over 300 million minutes of international calls.

With Intel’s help, Nymgo says it intends to accelerate infrastructure deployment, operations enhancement and global marketing.

Source: Intel Backs Three Startups From The Middle East: Nymgo, Jeeran, ShooFeeTV

Craig Mundie Wants "Internet Driver’s Licenses"

February 4th, 2010 02:50 admin View Comments

I Don’t Believe in Imaginary Property writes Craig Mundie, Microsoft’s Chief Research and Strategy Officer, called for the creation of an ‘Internet Driver’s License’ at the World Economic Forum in Davos, saying, ‘If you want to drive a car you have to have a license to say that you are capable of driving a car, the car has to pass a test to say it is fit to drive and you have to have insurance.’ Of course, there are quite a few problems with this. For starters, internet use cannot yet cause death or dismemberment like car accidents can; and this would get rid of most of the good of internet anonymity while retaining all of the bad parts, especially in terms of expanding the market for stolen identities. Even though telephone networks have long been used by scammers and spammers/telemarketers, we’ve never needed a ‘Telephone Driver’s License.’”

Source: Craig Mundie Wants "Internet Driver’s Licenses"

Mum’s the Word On Google Attack At Davos

January 31st, 2010 01:30 admin View Comments

theodp writes “BusinessWeek reports that the cyber attack on Google was the elephant-in-the-room at the annual meeting of world leaders in Davos. ‘China didn’t want to discuss Google,’ Josef Ackermann, CEO of Deutsche Bank AG and a co-chair of this year’s World Economic Forum, said in an interview. China’s Vice Premier Li Keqiang made that clear, he added. Even Google CEO Eric Schmidt didn’t bring up China, and Bill Gates was mum on the topic in an interview. The reluctance of companies to talk about China illustrates the pressure on them to protect their business in the country, while the U.S. government doesn’t want to upset Chinese investors, said Andy Mok of Red Pagoda Concepts LLC. ‘People have their commercial interests,’ explained Deutsche Bank’s Ackermann.”

Source: Mum’s the Word On Google Attack At Davos

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