My would-be answers to the OSMF board survey

Posted by imagico on 18 January 2021 in English (English). Last updated on 19 January 2021.

The OSMF board started a survey of the OSM community and in tradition from previous surveys i wanted to publish my answers here. However as the title indicates already i did not actually participate in the survey this time because in most of the eight main questions i did not feel like the form of the survey gave me the ability to accurately answer the question. And answering the questions is mandatory, i could not participate in the survey without answering them. Therefore i decided to refrain from submitting answers which would in the majority of the question not have correctly represented my view on the question.

I will explain why that is the case and what my answers actually are in the following.

Just to avoid any misunderstandings - just because i did not submit the survey does not mean i suggest to anyone else to not do so either. On the contrary, if you feel like you can articulate your view on the questions in the survey in a meaningful manner then you should do so.

For reference - the full survey in English can be read without registration on

Question F1:

I already commented at length on the so called Diversity Statement issued by the OSMF board and the Committee created in that context. But the question is not about the Diversity Statement (which is not even mentioned in the notes for the question) but about the creation of the committee and about tasking the LCCWG with recommending a response to a recently published pamphlet critical of the OSM community.

As i have written in my comment on the Diversity Statement i saw chances in the creation of that committtee but evidently the committee so far did not live up to these hopes. That however does not make the creation of that committee in itself necessarily a bad decision. Equally, i think the board asking a working group for advice on how to react to critique of the OSM community is not a bad thing to do. It is evidently not appropriate or wise as the main reaction to the mentioned pamphlet though.

I think the board has so far not made meaningful efforts to address the OSMFs own failure to adequately represent the OSM community in its full, in particular cultural, diversity in its internal structure and culture and even further has in the past year turned into a culturally more narrow organization focussing more on representing special interests in the OpenStreetMap project rather than providing a neutral supportive environment for the whole OSM community to profit from.

So i am definitely not neutral on the question, i have a strong opinion (and strong arguments) on the matter of diversity in the OSMF - yet as said i neither agree nor disagree with the specific measures the question refers to. Hence i can’t give an answer to the question as asked that properly represents my view on the matter.

Question F2:

The question is a bit difficult to parse because of the amount of partly ambiguous subtext contained. First it is centered about the framing of “increased costs of maintaining the platform”. That increase in expenses is of course the result of specific decisions made by the board. The question however frames these costs as a matter of fact not subject to discussion and asked for agreement or disagreement with the way these expenses are meant to be financed by large targeted donations.

The list of things included in the costs is also a bit weird and prone to misunderstanding. It separates ‘software’ and ‘personnel’. I strongly hope that the OSMF does not pay any singificant amount of money on licensing software and by ‘software’ in this context they mean paying developers for doing open source software development - which in my eyes is the same as ‘personnel’.

My answer to the question as i explained i understand it would be that i have a differentiated opinion on the decision of spending more money. In the way the OSMF board has approached this it is in large parts counterproductive because it massively interfers with the social dynamics within the project (and within the OSMF - see here and here for a discussion of parts of the problem). More generous spending for neutral infrastructure for everyone in the OSM community to use under their own initiative i would OTOH see rather positively.

The sourcing of money from external business interests i see very critically - so on that dimension i would be inclined in answering the question with a strong disagreement. But that critical view is not limited to the targeted donations, it in a similar fashion applies to the income received from corporate memberships. And i don’t think it necessarily has to be a problem to receive money from outside interests if the organization does not depend on it and has the structural robustness as well as internal checks and balances to avoid the money having an influence on policy decisions. Both the framing of the question and OSMF politics during the past year however indicate that the current board sees financial dependency on corporations (and therefore their economic influence on OSMF politics) as inevitable.

So again i have a strong opinion on the whole matter but again that goes in a dimension more or less orthogonal to the question asked.

Question F3:

In this case i do not only consider the framing of the question a bit weird but outright inaccurate. With the exception of Potlatch maybe the specific contracts made with the developers of the mentioned software products were on anything but small-scale, one-time, limited-scope, short-term projects, they were small-scale, short-term financial contributions to rather long term projects of extensive scope. Also i don’t think the statement that “these products had previously been maintained wholly by volunteers” is accurate. At least in case of osm2pgsql i think Jochen (and possibly in the past also Paul) have done osm2pgsql development as part of paid work.

I explained my thoughts on the decision to hand pick these three projects from multiple perspectives already and as said here while i consider it definitely valuable to support these three developers for their work on these projects i consider the way the OSMF board approaches this as an ad hoc decicion to support people “whose work we know and enjoy” highly problematic.

So in this case my anwer would have been quite clearly a strong disagree - though i see a serious risk that this would not be interpreted in the differentiated fashion it is meant.

Question F4:

Here the framing of the question is once again prone to be misunderstood - and in this case also strongly leading the respondent to a certain desirable answer. Historically at least two people (Bryan and Quincy) have been working on iD development while being paid by external interests. And putting into the foreground that control of iD maintenance is shifted from a third party to the OSM community (which still remains to be seen if that is de facto the case) is massively leading the survey participant to a positive answer.

My answer to this question is again more differentiated than the simple one-dimensional black and white “you are either for or against us” design allows me to formulate. I think the key here is - and this has been discussed at length in the past already - that the OSMF board did not look at the matter broadly enough to make a qualified decision considering how much influence this is going to have. The dispute about the dominance of iD in OSM editing, what problems this brings with it in the long term and how this can be dealt with is both older and broader than the narrow perspective the board took on that. And much of this problem will still exist after Quincy is being paid by the OSMF and will come back to us in the future in the long term.

So like with the previous question my answer here would be a strong disagree - which again however would insufficiently communicate my opinion on this matter.

By the way - i would like to mention in advance that it would be very interesting to know how the answers to this question correlate to the question if the respondent has ever used an editor other than iD and if they are even aware that such editors exist.

Question F5:

My spontaneous reaction to this is that based on what happened it seems that on multiple levels the board disagreed with their own decision here. I mean both the current board evidently disagreeing with the framework for the microgrants program as put in place by the previous board but not being willing to revise that framework as a result of that and the board disagreeing with the decisions of the committee they tasked with the decision to issue the microgrants to applicants as evidenced but financing some of the applications not chosen outside the program essentially overruling the committee.

But i am digressing. I think the microgrants program failed to live up to its potential so far by not sufficiently involving the overall OSM community in the whole process - which was largely caused by practical implementation being much less transparent than originally promised and by the fact that contrary to the original plans of taking inspiration from the FOSSGIS microgrants (Förderanträge) it was ultimately modelled mostly directly on the HOT microgrants program.

If no lessons are taken from this experience through an honest critical analysis of the failures of the first round (for which i see no indication so far) i think it will not have been much more than a waste of quite a lot of money in the long term. In principle however i think the concept of microgrants has a lot of potential when used well.

And i don’t see any way to enter this view into the survey as it is designed.

Question S1:

This question asked me to rank seven tasks for the coming year in their order of priority. I have two big problems with that:

  • First it implies that these are the only tasks of importance right now. Why don’t i have the possibility to specify other things that i think should have priority?
  • Second none of the tasks specified is actually a task in the sense that you can objectively determine if the task has been fulfilled or not. They are topics at best - and fairly vague ones in addition. Different survey participants will read very different things into each of them and they will end up ranking very different things which still get aggregated into the same survey result.

But none the less i will try to do my best briefly commenting on each of the topics here:

  • Stability of core infrastructure (hardware, software, human capital). If you read this together with question F2 it seems quite clear that the board views this as code for spending money. I don’t think that this should have priority. If i ignore this coded meaning i think core infrastructure in the narrow sense (i.e. the infrastructure necessary for the main OSM data pipeline API -> main database -> planet files + diffs) should have very high priority for the OSMF. But because of that this high priority work should also not be conflated with the other lower priority functions the OSMF covers although we do not depend on the OSMF for them.
  • Takeover protection. I stated my view on that already in the pointed way that the takeover has already happened. So it does not make much sense to focus on trying to protect against some external hostile takeover attempt. The important thing would be to restructure the OSMF to a more federated design with less centralized control over things to avoid special interests which are already fairly massively present within the OSMF to gain a lot of influence on key assets of the OSMF (data rights, contributor database, policy and other official public communication).
  • Outreach to Local Chapters and Communities. I am afraid this is fairly vague. What the OSMF board should invest much more energy in than in the past year is symmetric, two-way, open channel communication with the people from different parts of the community. Listening to what people have to say and engaging in open, argument based discourse with the community members. It seems however the term “Outreach” is indicative for a much more top-down, asymmetric communication and it is aiming at organized interests rather than talking to individuals.
  • Attribution Guidelines. Well - i summarized the problem here already. The OSMF board needs to decide if they want to follow the money that feeds them and clash with large parts of the OSM community as a result or if they want to decide representing the OSM community and risk an open conflict with economically powerful special interests. What you should not do is invest a lot of time in finding a way to do neither. That will not lead to a long term solution.
  • Recruitment for Working Groups. Again - i discussed that topic already at length. This is largely a home made problem. That fact that the board thinks about the need to recruit people for working groups which traditionally form and recruit themselves on their own is indicative of that. Like with the previous topic you need to decide if you want to view this as a numbers game and try to recruit people through external interests or if you want to address the problem that the OSMF becomes increasingly unattractive for large parts of the OSM community in substance by changing the OSMF to become more attractive again for hobbyist volunteers who are not motivated by external interests.
  • Fund-raising: I think framing this as a task on its own fails to see that the need for it stems exclusively from the declared need to spend large amounts of money. IMO an open discussion on the spending of money (which i think has not really happened yet) needs to preceed any plans for organized fund raising. Otherwise you will end up with a vicious circle of spending and fund raising that will detatch itself from the question what the overall justification for it is.
  • Brexit: Brexit itself is history so this very much depends on what problems exactly you want to address here. I have mentioned that i would consider the idea of moving the OSMF from the UK to the EU as a good opportunity for implementing important structural changes for a more resilient and more decentralized OSMF. If the board is willing to address that this would deserve to get high priority IMO.

Which leads me to the list of tasks that i find missing on that list:

  • serious corruption prevention that does not rely on the constant ability of everyone in the OSMF to recognize if they have a conflict of interest (which as evidenced multiple times in the past year does not work).
  • more transparency - essentially rolling back the roll-back in transparency that has happened during the past year.
  • actively breaking the English language and Anglo-American cultural dominance in the OSMF.
  • fundamentally restructuring the OSMF to decentralize the power structure and give local communities a substantial (and not just ceremonial) say in OSMF decisions.
  • moving back from seeing every decision as a negotiation between interests to having an argument based discourse and trying to find the best decision based on arguments and reason.

Question S2:

This question was one that made me really angry reading it.

As a general rule whenever someone starts a statement with “Some OSM community members…” i would say what follows is almost certainly incorrect. It implies that what follows is a common sentiment without being willing to specify who the purported community members are and what the arguments behind their view are. It also often, as also in this case, reduced a complex and multi-faceted question on which many community members have a differentiated views to a simplistic and one dimensional black and white decision.

What makes me specifically angry about this question is that i have pointed out the error of this simplistic look on the matter and that both the motivation of those pushing for automated data generation in mapping in OSM and those being critical towards these efforts (though typically not in general of use of computational methods in mapping) are not as one dimensional.

And then it gives you four options to answer or ‘no opinion’ and does not even have the courtesy to allow for a ‘none of the above’ option. That communicates that people have to have either one of the views on this matter the board has come up with or they have to have no opinion on it. Any other opinion is considered essentially invalid.

Like many community members i have talked to about the topic i see a lot of potential and in the long term a lot of room for increased efficiency in and better accessibility of mapping in use of more sophisticated computational methods in mapping (or in other words: Methods that allow mappers to document their local knowledge on a higher level of abstraction than placing individual nodes and tags and to use computer ressources to better support this). At the same time i am highly critical of attempts by organized actors in the OSM context to use the increasing demand for tools in that domain to increasingly try to proprietarize mapping technology as well as to abuse the influence control over mapping technology has to steer volunteer mappers in their interest. Despite the widespread openwashing corporate actors practice in that domain they universally keep training data and methodology proprietary. I am not aware of any practical cases where so called machine learning or artificial intelligence technology is used for mapping in OSM where the local hobby mapper has full control over the technology. That is the core of the problem - which the question does not even mention - not the technology itself.

So my answer to the question would be:

… inform themselves about the differentiated opinions on the subject within the OSM community and the motives behind pushes for these methods into OSM from outside actors in pursuit of their own short term economic interests and the long term risks these pose to OpenStreetMap in terms of control of mapping technology and based on that to consider regulating use of such methods (obviously after fixing the current non-effective regulation of organized activities in OSM in general).

Question S3:

After the previous question has already caused me getting upset this one is just the icing on the cake now. Like the previous it starts conspicuously with “Some OSM community members…”.

The question does not even show a hint of understanding of the cartographic or social challenges of community map design on the side of those asking the question nor does it indicate that such understanding is a necessary condition for giving a qualified answer. The way the question is posed indicates this to be purely an economic question - which completely ignores the technological, artistic and social reality of community map design.

Obviously you could write a lot on the whole matter (and me - and also others - have done so in parts already). Discussion on what the term ‘vector tiles’ could refer to alone is a very extensive question. But i will try to keep it brief. All of the options offered as answers would fail to address the issue the question is about - no matter what exactly that issue is.

As so often my anwer here would be the suggestion to start by having an open discussion. In particular in this case that discussion should start by establishing the difference between the map layers featured on and the map style(s) hosted on OSMF infrastructure (which the question as is simply conflates into one). For the latter the first aim of the discussion should be to determine what the goals of the OSMF hosting one or more maps actually are. In OSM-Carto i had after i became a maintainer created a document explaining what the purposes and goals of the style are and that document is still valid today. But it is us describing as independent OSM-Carto maintainers what our goals in style development are. There has never been a public discussion in the OSMF what the goals of the OSMF are in hosting this style on OSMF infrastructure (in the context of tile usage policies we have had plenty of discussion on what the aim is of the OSMF offering tiles for external use are but that is a different matter of course). If we in OSM-Carto would suddenly decide to pursue very different goals with our project or if a different style development project would approach the OSMF and request that their style is rendered on OSMF infrastructure instead of OSM-Carto it is not clear based on what considerations the OSMF would make a decision. And if, and only if there are clear goals established for the OSMF on hosting map styles on their infrastructure we could start discussing in a meaningful and productive manner what technological means are most suitable for serving these goals (which is what the question seems to ultimately aim at in substance) and if the OSMF can do something productive to support either technology development in that domain or use of existing technology by community map style development projects.

Question D1-D5:

I am a male OSMF and local chapter member (and also a ‘member’ of a commercial company using OSM data - or more accurately owner and manager) currently located in southwestern Germany. I occasionally map, communicate, use data, develop software and operate hardware and am involved in the project for 5-10 years.


As i have already mentioned on the talk mailing list the OSMF board evidently put quite a lot of work into this survey. Therefore it is particularly regrettable that no review happened on the survey design to iron out the wrinkles that i pointed out above. Relatively little work in tuning the answering options and rephrasing some of the questions to less ambiguity, to being less leading and more neutral and supplementing the provided background information to be less selective and maybe adding a few topical knowledge questions to gauge from what background respondents approach the questions asked, could have helped immensely to generate more valuable and meaningful results.

The most fundamental issue with the design of this survey is probably asking for an agree/disagree answer on specific yet complex and multi-faceted political decisions of the board. As understandable as it is that the board wants to know what opinion people have on these decisions it is doubtful that this will in this form yield meaningful results because (a) as illustrated above many people will have more differentiated opinions on these matters than a simple position on a one-dimensional agree/disagree scale and (b) because of this.

In any case - in conclusion i would like to point out again, and i hope my comments on the questions above illustrate that further, that even a very well designed survey is no substitute of actually arguing and reasoning with people from diverse backgrounds to determine the best course of action. As i have written in my survey comments back in 2019 already:

What you have to keep in mind […] is that a survey always exclusively transports wants and desires, it can by design never serve as an instrument of arguments and reasoning. Reducing communication to a survey cuts you off from arguments and reasoning and prevents you from understanding the underlying motives for people’s desires.

So maybe the survey can serve as an encouragement to people to engage in more open discussion on matters of OSMF politics because they realize that a survey like this alone does not really allow them to articulate their views on such matters nor does it allow you to understand in substance how others think about these things.

Comment from JBacc1 on 18 January 2021 at 19:00

Thank you for the long post. I have thought many of the things you have written here while answering the survey. At least 2 questions I have found far too misleading to answer spontaneously and agreeing with my own answers. Too bad the OSMF did not ask for an outside view on what they produced internally.

Comment from BCNorwich on 19 January 2021 at 08:47

I could not get beyond the first page because I was not prepared to give answers to questions that were open to almost any statistical interpretation.

Comment from gileri on 19 January 2021 at 10:26

Really thoughtful and complete analysis, thank you imagico !

Comment from imagico on 19 January 2021 at 10:45

@BCNorwich - misinterpretation of the results is a risk with any survey and i see no indication of intentions to do so upfront. On the contrary in many questions i see an honest attempt to gauge the sentiment of the community on the subject.

However as said i also think that drawing meaningful conclusions from the answers will likely be difficult due to the design of the survey. The first question is a good example here. If a large fraction of the respondents agree does that mean they think the board did good on the matter of diversity? Certainly not since that is not what the question was asking. If OTOH many respondents disagree, does that mean the OSM community is anti-diversity? Certainly not, because disagreeing with the specific actions of the board does not imply a specific sentiment w.r.t. the matter of diversity in the OSMF. If certain groups of people based on the demographics agree more frequently than others does this mean they are more tolerant and more pro-diversity than others? Certainly neither because again the question was on something much more specific and because of cultural differences in the way people tend to articulate disagreement more carefully and more strongly in different cultures.

As indicated in the diary i think if you don’t feel good about the survey what you should do instead of just sulkingly not taking it you should take the opportunity to formulate your views on matters the survey covers and this way give the board the opportunity to learn about how the community thinks about things despite the survey not allowing everyone to articulate that in a comprehensive manner.

Comment from Andy Allan on 19 January 2021 at 11:48

Personally I think the survey stinks. The questions are mostly two-topics-in-one and as you describe, the answers will be meaningless since they can be interpreted however the Board prefers. And the phrasing of the questions are so leading (towards supporting decisions already made) that the entire exercise becomes pointless.

The question about large donations to fund things is my prime example. “Do you support (subtly complex topic) in order to do (something that sounds great)”? Of course! We all support something that sounds great! Now the Board points at the survey and say that everyone supports making the OSMF dependent on large donations from corporate interests. Job done.

Asking questions about complex topics (like whether the OSMF should centralise software development funding, or the reliance on large vs individual donors) without providing any context or background is risible.

Comment from marc__marc on 29 January 2021 at 21:41

Thank you for the quality of your message, I fully agree with what you describe. I don’t think I will publish a list of my answers and suggestions for improving the questions, the answer to my previous message (despite my too direct tone) gave me an impression of “shut up and approve” instead of “thank you for the suggestions, we will discuss it again next time”.

about question S1, - dominant language: apart from the use of a neutral language (Esperanto or equivalent) which far too few people know, how do you see any concrete improvement ? - Western culture: how do you see an improvement given that each election is held “from 0”, inevitably limiting the election of people from under-represented cultures/countries, which in the end means that they are not represented at all

Comment from trial on 29 January 2021 at 22:02

Too bad the OSMF did not ask for an outside view on what they produced internally.

@JBacc1, not only that, they refused actively to do so!

@imaco, your diary entry was highly appreciated in France:, I would have prefer to disagree!

Comment from imagico on 29 January 2021 at 23:44

@marc__marc - keep in mind the OSMF board is not the whole OSMF and the OSMF is not in any way all the OSM community. Even if you have the impression that within the OSMF on one is interested in and some people might even have and articulate a distinct dislike for outside perspectives that question already formed opinions and assumptions (which is an impression that indeed you can get quite easily these days) that does not mean there is no value in sharing and discussing your thoughts publicly in the OSM community. Us discussing our views on the OSMF board survey for example has value independent of if the OSMF board will be interested in listening to it.

Regarding language dominance - i think the most important measure for the OSMF would be to actively embrace and support language diversity and explicitly stop treating English as the default for communication - no matter how inconvenient that might seem. Several times people have already suggested that everyone should start communicating in their native language and facilitating inter-cultural communication through (automated) translation this way making diversity and the difficulties resulting from it more explicit. And of course native English speakers need to stop judging non-native English speakers for their use of English language (because it is supposedly inappropriate, rude, insulting etc.) and stop steamrolling them in discussions.

Of course the ultimate goal should be that we can all choose to communicate in English when we consider it helpful to facilitate communication between people from different parts of the world with everyone having the maturity, restraint and critical self reflection to not use the language in those cases to project their cultural norms and values onto others.

Comment from imagico on 29 January 2021 at 23:48

@trial - glad to see there is inter-language communication resulting from this (which is of course helped by the OSMF board having organized translations of the survey which brought us a topic to talk about across language barriers)

Comment from Andreas König on 30 January 2021 at 19:14

I agree english as “mandatory” is nice for the native english speakers only (OSM was first created in UK I think…). But most people are not native speakers or not speak english at all….last week i was verbally attacked, because I dared to have the topic in a ticketing sytem (however vor JOSM) not in english language. Not motivating…. Maybee there could be even more contribution from non- englishspeaking countries? Last week I was quite astonished to be #5 of mappers in Portugal - i did only map for some months intensely on a tiny tiny acores island…. Possibly one could use deepl for automatic translations… The diversity question is even more difficult. Most activities in this field are started by people who perceive a “problem” in the first hand and intend to solve this their “problem” in their own interest. So the first question migth be mandatory: “do we have a problem or not”. If women are rather not interested in sitting nights long at the PC mapping so what? Is a mappers sexual orientation, skin color, religion…. important here at all??? Or is it rather a problem of single individuals to show this off and then pick out negative reactions and make a problem out of it. That is “activism” we do not need in my opinion.

Comment from stevea on 31 January 2021 at 03:56

OK, if this is where I go to die about this survey, here I am. I strongly suspect I’m exactly like thousands of others who DIDN’T comment here: the survey made me feel shackled and muzzled at once, led down a garden path of (I only got to the first six questions) what is so wildly open to interpretation (and MIS-interpretation) that I was forced to abandoned ship. These questions might have been politely and correctly translated into as many languages as time and resources allowed (good) and broadly (though quickly) told to “tell your friends about this far and wide,” (good again) but the entire design was shrouded in secrecy and “shoehorned” or “railroaded” (forced into) to be a sort of open-and-shut (essentially pre-dertermined) ammunition depot to be used against mapping volunteers like me. That’s bad. As Andy says, it stinks. I’m not proud of what I’ve seen happen here, it was poor planning and a deep lack of listening skills gone rampant.

Judging by the design (and rollout) of this survey, it seems Alan Mustard and Board want to have things “their way.” OSM is far, far more diverse and has far, far richer a conversation going on at thousands of levels that this survey simply isn’t listening to. It appears to be “wishing” to address the many concerns of OSM Contributors, yet it fails (me and I’m certain of others) miserably. I wish this weren’t true and I’d love to throw in both shoulders to the effort to remedy so very much about this, but the original author has made so many good points that are enough to get the ball rolling, well, continue to roll, it does. May good dialog continue. May listening skills at the OSMF improve, please.

Comment from cbeddow on 1 February 2021 at 06:58

What failures of the microgrants program risk making it a waste of money?

Comment from imagico on 1 February 2021 at 11:18

@cbeddow - that is a broad topic a bit outside the scope here. I had tried to briefly summarize the core problems above.

In 2019 the community has quite extensively discussed the board’s plans for the microgrants program and the considerations made there were integrated into the framework the OSMF decided on then. However in 2020 the practical implementation completely reversed many of the key points of the framework - ignoring almost all of the considerations derived from the wisdom and experience of the broader community on the matter that were partly integrated into the framework.

As a result community participation in the selection process was very limited, very little broader discussion of the individual proposals happened, committee deliberation on the decision was completely closed to the public, there was obviously an ensemble selection in the process (i.e. selection was not purely based on the merits of the individual proposals - like with SotM scholarships where i discussed this in more detail) but no documentation of the criteria used for that is available. Also no documentation of conflict of interest handling is available (and we already know that at least the board completely failed in considering this problem on their side).

Finally after the selection no follow-up or critical review of the whole process is visible. There seems to have been a complete communication blackout from the commitee afterwards, no information even on what funds have been paid, what benchmarks the projects might have passed, what kind of review and reporting might have happened. Most of the project pages on the wiki have no substantial edits after the acceptance, a few project made reports on their progress from their own initiative but no overall collection or review of them is visible to me.

At the moment this is at best a waste of money. But beyond that it could also have substantially negative effects as volunteers could easily get demotivated by seeing the OSMF handing out quite significant amounts of money based on unclear and questionable criteria without meaningful followups or public discussion on the merits of these projects and the reasons for financing them instead of others.

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