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Networking The Internet Technology

The Rise and Fall of the Gopher Protocol (minnpost.com) 225

An anonymous reader writes: Tim Gihring at MinnPost talks to the creators of what was, briefly, the biggest thing in the internet, Gopher. Gopher, for those who don't know or have forgotten, was the original linked internet application, allowing you to change pages and servers easily, though a hierarchical menu system. It was quick, it was easy to use, and important for this day and age, it didn't have Flash.
The article remembers Tim Berners-Lee describing the idea of a worldwide web at a mid-March, 1992 meeting of the Internet Engineering Task Force, at a time when Gopher "was like the Web but more straightforward, and it was already working." Gopher became magnitudes more popular -- both MTV and the White House announced Gopher sites -- leading to GopherCons around the country. Just curious -- how many Slashdot readers today remember using Gopher?
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The Rise and Fall of the Gopher Protocol

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  • by Eric Vanderburg ( 4677605 ) on Sunday August 14, 2016 @03:49AM (#52698777) Homepage
    I remember Gopher well. It was the early nineties and I would peruse computer networking and programming topics but I also stumbled upon so many Dungeons and Dragons resources in my Gophering. I don't know if the age of the memory is tainted somehow but it seemed like Dungeons and Dragons players were big early adopters of the technology. I am interested in what other people found on Gopher. Maybe it will help me put my own experience with it in perspective.
  • by hughbar ( 579555 ) on Sunday August 14, 2016 @03:52AM (#52698779) Homepage
    I remember it, at 65, actually I remember huge batch only mainframes. On a more serious note, I have a lot of time for Gopher, Lynx and all the 'simpifiers', I'd prefer everyone to have knowledge and communication at a low bandwidth rather than adverts, emojiis (whatever they are) and pictures of cats. My vision, going forward is goodbye port 80 and port 443, let's start again.
    • by AK Marc ( 707885 )

      emojiis (whatever they are)

      I don't know when the first emojis were used, but I remember them in the early '90s. Emotion-icons, emoticons, were tags to express emotions over the emotionless text. ;) :P :O and others. They became single graphic icons about the time they changed names to emoji. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/... [wikipedia.org]

      • I don't know when the first emojis were used, but I remember them in the early '90s. Emotion-icons, emoticons, were tags to express emotions over the emotionless text. ;)

        What you're describing are emoticons. AFAIK, emoji's originated later from cellphones in Asia; although they're clearly inspired by emoticons.

        With regards to the OP and his obsession with bandwidth, emojis use less bytes than a lot of emoticons...

        B========D~~~

      • No, you remember kaomoji; which are the textual (ASCII, originally) "faces" that Japanese created. Emoji are the graphical icons. As I understand it, kaomoji are always faces (right-side up ones, at that!) where as emoticons and emoji can be anything. Also "emoji" is not a abreviation of "emotional ji" ("ji"="character"), as some might think. It's a combination of "e" and "moji", not "emo" and "ji".

        • by Z00L00K ( 682162 )

          Usually just called smiley [www.abc.se].

        • by arth1 ( 260657 )

          Also "emoji" is not a abreviation of "emotional ji" ("ji"="character"), as some might think. It's a combination of "e" and "moji", not "emo" and "ji".

          The word "emoticon" preceded "emoji" by more than a decade, and "emoji" became the winning term because it resembles the word "emoticon", while at the same time referencing e- (in both meanings) and moji.

        • by AK Marc ( 707885 )

          As I understand it, kaomoji are always faces (right-side up ones, at that!) where as emoticons and emoji can be anything.

          The first emoticons were faces. The first emoji were faces. They expanded after that. That kaomoji didn't expand and gain popularity outside Japan doesn't diminish the start and original purpose of the others. Emoticon preceded kaomoji by a couple years, enough for someone to have seen it, adjust it, and had it gain a little popularity with the "enhancements". But the timeline is such that it looks clear that Emoticon was first, and the others are all derivative of it. Though the confusion of people w

    • Re:Yes, and maybe (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Registered Coward v2 ( 447531 ) on Sunday August 14, 2016 @09:23AM (#52699427)

      I remember it, at 65, actually I remember huge batch only mainframes. On a more serious note, I have a lot of time for Gopher, Lynx and all the 'simpifiers', I'd prefer everyone to have knowledge and communication at a low bandwidth rather than adverts, emojiis (whatever they are) and pictures of cats. My vision, going forward is goodbye port 80 and port 443, let's start again.

      It was pretty amazing how useful and fast, even at 1200 baud, the Internet was back in the pre-graphics days. Gopher, Fetch, FTP, Whois an Usenet, and Lynx as a browser that focused on information, not self loading videos, animated ads, and other bandwidth and resource hogs.

      • Re:Yes, and maybe (Score:5, Interesting)

        by jeffb (2.718) ( 1189693 ) on Sunday August 14, 2016 @10:27AM (#52699633)

        It's true. I even remember Nicholas Negroponte, at a CHI conference in the late 1980s, giving a talk about the future of high-speed network connections to the home -- he mentioned that fiber could gives speeds of more than a Gb/s, and went on to make the case (with a completely straight face) that no individual could ever use that much bandwidth.

        I suppose I can't give myself too much credit for laughing at the time -- I was thinking of the bandwidth necessary to ship high-resolution images at video framerates, without giving a thought to compression. But even that long ago, I knew that anybody saying "we'll never need more than X" of a computational resource was setting himself up to look very silly in the future.

        It's just a shame that so much of the demand for bandwidth (and computational power) is driven by the videos and ads we don't want.

      • Re:Yes, and maybe (Score:4, Interesting)

        by Lije Baley ( 88936 ) on Sunday August 14, 2016 @03:11PM (#52700661)

        No kidding, the days of Gopher were the peak of internet usefulness. Imagine what could have been achieved if images, videos, and the Army of Lamers had never come! The dystopia we got is now requiring us to watch 5 minutes of inarticulate video just to get information we could have skimmed in 15 seconds. And when there is no video, we have to get that same text spread across 3 pages full of ads that each take 15 seconds to load regardless of your ISP speed.

        • No kidding, the days of Gopher were the peak of internet usefulness. Imagine what could have been achieved if images, videos, and the Army of Lamers had never come! The dystopia we got is now requiring us to watch 5 minutes of inarticulate video just to get information we could have skimmed in 15 seconds. And when there is no video, we have to get that same text spread across 3 pages full of ads that each take 15 seconds to load regardless of your ISP speed.

          I blame it on AOL for creating eternal September...

    • So you don't like kittens??

      You cruel heartless bastard! We have a term for you all. You are called Ed users. Even Vi users like Kittens, but maybe not cats

    • Still use Lynx at times, it is amazing how much more relaxing it can be at times for actually absorbing information. Slashdot actually works pretty well with it, but I mainly use it for untrusted websites

      As for Gopher, I think I used it to "stalk" a girl I met when visiting another college on a roadtrip in 1991/2. That was basically finding her email address...that and Finger... call it anti-social networking I guess.

    • I'd prefer everyone to have knowledge and communication at a low bandwidth rather than ..*snip*.. pictures of cats.

      Can't we just have both? [asciiworld.com]

  • 1995 (Score:2, Insightful)

    by vikingpower ( 768921 )

    My first steps on the internet were divided between pages with hyperlinks, i.e. the internet as it is - more or less - nowadays, and gopher pages. Interestingly, I always failed to get the point of gopher, where "classical" hyperlinked pages made immediate sense to me. Same thing as with TCP/IP vs Token Ring: I instantaneously "got" TCP/IP, and only much later understood the point of Token Ring. So then - gopher: good riddance ? I guess so, yes. Along with set-top boxes, netscape, Flash, and VB script.

    • by AK Marc ( 707885 )
      Gopher was closer to the first Yahoo, and some of the first national ISPs (that were gateways, and not ISPs as we know it today). Indexes, and less free-form. WWW was designed to allow more freedom.

      I lived through both, and both made sense to me.
    • Re:1995 (Score:5, Informative)

      by DarkOx ( 621550 ) on Sunday August 14, 2016 @07:47AM (#52699169) Journal

      You realize that TCP/IP is a layer 3/4 protocol while token is a layer 1/2 protocol as such they have nothing to do with each other really. The first networks I installed were TCP/IP over token.

    • by arth1 ( 260657 )

      Interestingly, I always failed to get the point of gopher, where "classical" hyperlinked pages made immediate sense to me.

      Gopher was more about indexing the content than embedding links in the content itself.
      For some kinds of contents, gopher made quite a lot of sense.
      I still serve my e-book collection through gopher.

    • Well, if you "got the point" of TR, you are one of a select few :)
      (I was at IBM when it launched and we knew then that it would not fly).
      Ethernet ultimately killed-off TR, AppleTalk and sundry others.

      Kinda like the IBM PS/2 and OS/2; in theory (and also in reality in many cases) far superior, but too expensive, too complex, too late, too "propitiatory/closed"

      But still, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and Larry Asshole then took the IBM ball and ran with it....

    • My first steps on the internet were divided between pages with hyperlinks, i.e. the internet as it is - more or less - nowadays, and gopher pages. Interestingly, I always failed to get the point of gopher, where "classical" hyperlinked pages made immediate sense to me. Same thing as with TCP/IP vs Token Ring: I instantaneously "got" TCP/IP, and only much later understood the point of Token Ring. So then - gopher: good riddance ? I guess so, yes. Along with set-top boxes, netscape, Flash, and VB script.

      Your post is so full of stupid, I am at a loss where to to start unraveling it. There are gems of all kinds, there but I would point out the fundamental problem, apart your stupidity: you say you don't understand something, therefore good riddance. That's your entire argument - the fact that you are incapable to grasp a concept is reason enough to celebrate that concept's demise. That's a fundamentally bankrupt worldview.

  • by shanen ( 462549 ) on Sunday August 14, 2016 @04:13AM (#52698819) Homepage Journal

    University of Minnesota, wasn't it? I remember a story about the end of the last gopher server some years ago...

    I didn't actually use Gopher that much, though I knew about it. My main memory of Gopher was around 1995 when I was a research student again. I was interested in such search tools, and I remember searching on usenet for relevant groups. I was actually expecting a different one to be more important, though now I can't even remember what that system was called. However, what I actually noticed was that something called WWW seemed to be far hotter and more active than any of the systems I had heard of before that.

    The browser was the predecessor of Netscape that became Firefox, but I've also forgotten its name. What I remember was faking MathML with some version of Tex or LaTeX to create my equations as graphic objects so I could insert them into my first HTML webpages. Strange detail to remember after all these years, but the main hassle I remember overcoming was getting the background colors to be the same so that the graphic objects (equations) seemed to be part of the text.

    • by ColaMan ( 37550 )

      The browser was the predecessor of Netscape that became Firefox

      NCSA Mosaic?

    • by shess ( 31691 )

      I didn't actually use Gopher that much, though I knew about it. My main memory of Gopher was around 1995 when I was a research student again. I was interested in such search tools, and I remember searching on usenet for relevant groups. I was actually expecting a different one to be more important, though now I can't even remember what that system was called.

      Possibly WAIS and Z39.50.

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/... [wikipedia.org]
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/... [wikipedia.org]

      • by shanen ( 462549 )

        WAIS definitely rings a bell, but no recollection of Z39.

        However I was approaching the topic from the epistemological perspective even though I was supposed to be engineering electronic information at the time.

  • sigh (Score:5, Insightful)

    by phantomfive ( 622387 ) on Sunday August 14, 2016 @04:14AM (#52698821) Journal

    the internet was not yet open for business. It had been built on dot-mil and dot-edu, on public funds. Programmers shared source code; if you needed something, someone gave it to you. A dot-com address was considered crass.

    The internet was better then.

    • Re:sigh (Score:5, Interesting)

      by JaredOfEuropa ( 526365 ) on Sunday August 14, 2016 @05:10AM (#52698915) Journal
      The Internet was ours then, or at least it was the playground where we were top dog. Then clever nerds and businessmen ran with it and made billions, while ordinary people flocked to discover this new thing. That playground has grown to encompass the entire world, but our role in it hasn't grown with it, and we became largely irrelevant. The days of pioneering are over, it isn't ours anymore, and that's made some of us bitter. But I wouldn't call the old Internet better
      • Re: sigh (Score:5, Insightful)

        by brasselv ( 1471265 ) on Sunday August 14, 2016 @05:59AM (#52698979)

        I enjoy the spirit of your post, but I would disagree that the days of 'pioneering' are over .
        from a broader historical perspective, the internet is still very young, there is still an enormous amount of stuff to be invented and figured out around it, we are still grappling to fully understand what it means to humanity, and from a business perspective its still a place where clever guys with some ideas and good luck can go from zero to a billion in a couple of years - which isn't the case in the steel industry.
        its still quite pioneers time to me.

        • by wbr1 ( 2538558 )
          Arguably we have gone from retail pioneering, or being the first over the mountains, to niche pioneering. When the idiotslooking for gold and land rush in we invent a new niche to hide in. We circle the wagons around our new new aggregation service or chat protocol. And then the idiots come, with the government not far behind. First a trickle, then a flood.

          Then us cynical old neckbeards run off to a new playground.

          • by wbr1 ( 2538558 )
            Retail=real. Silly phone
          • from the tone of your post it sounds you are, like me, old enough to remember the days when Usenet, around the time of the Great Renaming and the introduction of the new hierarchies, were flooded with "newbies".
            you probably remember old timers back then declaring that "the good ol days are over" and proclaiming the intention to go offline. the ones who did, have certainly missed a lot of fun.

            • from the tone of your post it sounds you are, like me, old enough to remember the days when Usenet, around the time of the Great Renaming and the introduction of the new hierarchies, were flooded with "newbies".
              you probably remember old timers back then declaring that "the good ol days are over" and proclaiming the intention to go offline. the ones who did, have certainly missed a lot of fun.

              Yep, it was called the Eternal September [wikipedia.org] and it was when AOL decided to unleash their horde of clueless idiots onto usenet.

      • by Lando ( 9348 )

        I'd also disagree with the statement that ordinary people flocked to discover this new thing. At the time of gopher, before the web, ordinary people didn't have any interest in the internet. While some of use were listing to radio over the thing, chatting in chat rooms and using newsgroups, most of the rest of the world was oblivious to the internet. It wasn't until 93 when the web was launched the ordinary people started to join the internet and it became eternal September. I don't remember when AOL s

        • At the time of gopher, before the web, ordinary people didn't have any interest in the internet.

          How could they have? Ordinary people had no way to access the internet.

          • by Lando ( 9348 )

            There was public access to the internet starting in 1989. Gopher was created in 1991. Mosaic released in 1993. So people did have access in the time of gopher and before the web "launched". I was playing muds in 91 at the library, but there were several isp's available at the time growing out of the bbs era.

    • Of course, porn was showing as hexadecimal dumps on our screens. That was the good old time.
    • The internet was better then.

      No easy universal search,
      No wikipedia,
      No super simple online purchases,
      No content that didn't come with an interest of the incredibly nerdy who were capable of running a website.

      No it wasn't "better". It was different. No ads, no tracking, no corporate interests looking to sell you to someone. But also, compared to now, no content. I don't miss the old internet, borderline useless crap that it was.

      • Yeah, you're right. Maybe it was the rise of SEO that messed it up and made things impossible to find in the noise. Or maybe people actually like the noise.
  • by derinax ( 93566 ) on Sunday August 14, 2016 @04:16AM (#52698827)

    I recall having a soaring conversation with a tech friend in a Seattle back-yard party about this rumored "new thing" that was going to revolutionize the world. It was like Gopher, but had the ability to transparently serve all types of media and links were network-agnostic.

    Frankly it blew my mind, and I had some difficulty wrapping my head around the concept, but most interestingly, we both found Gopher as the common-ground existing paradigm to compare against the nascent Web.

    Then I threw up in a bush, but I think that was the Jim Beam.

    • Gopher was a step up from searching FTP servers. Using Archie to locate files on various FTP servers was a pain. Most FTP clients were not GUI, so you had to list the directories, cd down into a directory, read the READ ME to find out what the directory was for, list the files to find what you were looking for. Gopher was specifically designed to provide menus so you could understand what files were available and what they were for. The web basically did the same thing, but now you could have more than a me
  • I fondly remember Gopher from 1993. Used it, loved it. Actually used it a *lot*.

  • I remember designing Gopher sites in grad school... and during the course I asked my prof if he'd mind if I did some WWW sites. That was 94 and we'd had Gopher, Archies and Veronica servers around, oh, and wais. Everyone should check out ED Krol's the Whole internet, if you can get the 1992 edition. It is a beautiful description of everything that was out there. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/... [wikipedia.org]
    • by mccalli ( 323026 )
      My god - Veronica servers. I had completely forgotten them. WAIS also made it into academic courses and there were text/exam questions on what it was.
  • by 93 Escort Wagon ( 326346 ) on Sunday August 14, 2016 @04:49AM (#52698879)

    Mainly I remember it was often a pain getting to much of the information I wanted. The web was such a huge leap forward in terms of navigation - it's no wonder everyone quickly moved on from gopher.

  • by ewanm89 ( 1052822 ) on Sunday August 14, 2016 @05:22AM (#52698929) Homepage

    Some gopher servers still exists, I was too young when the protocol first became popular, however I wanted to learn about it so loaded up a gopher client to see what was still out there a few years ago, decided to repeat that a couple of months ago.

  • I used gopher on the university Macs. Not very intensive as the content was basically american centric, not sure how often I was using it.
    At the same time I was admin for a few Sun and Dec clusters in the university. There I was responsible for WAIS (Wide Area Information Services https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/... [wikipedia.org] -- btw. another great thing Apple was involved in when they where young) an other text based stuff, that felt more "normal" than clicking in a "browser".

  • I got my first Internet porn from Gopher. I had no access to Usenet then, but one University offered access to Usenet through Gopher and that included alt.* hierarchy and specifically alt.sex.* hierarchy.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday August 14, 2016 @06:24AM (#52699021)

    It's still around. There's a small but passionate community surrounding gopher right now. A good portion of them are doing it to move away from the Web since it's become so commercialized and the technology is becoming so large and unwieldy that security is a real concern. Some make a gopher hole to mirror their website, or vice-versa. OverbiteFF is an extension you can use in Firefox to access gopher, or you can use a gopher-to-http tunnel or use lynx (not links or elinks). Lynx will even automatically use UTF-8 so you're not constrained to ASCII when you browse gopherspace.

    I've considered creating an anonymous BBS or forum for gopherspace. The input links in gopher are largely under utilized; a piece of software that used those to accept input and handled linking in a smart way could get a nice, trimmed-down forum that still had much of the features you'd come to expect from community software. The best part is it's pure text and its limitations prevent a lot of the bullshit that's been tacked onto the Web.

    That said, the community is super small and may remain that way due to its relative lack of maturity in server software. As far as I know, there are no packages/zip files/whatever that you can extract to a gopher-controlled directory and get an extra feature tacked onto your gopherhole. Until we get some fun projects like that, gopher will remain small. imo the best types of projects are those that abstract the server entirely and guide the user to manipulate the file-system, which falls in line with much of the content that gets served: often text files that you have a script generate a gopher index for as needed.

    The cool part is you aren't constrained to a language at all. Serving Python over the web, for example, can be a hassle. Hooking a language up for gopher just needs the ability to process stdin (if needed) and returned either plain-text or valid gopher indexes to stdout. You could probably even write a gopher script in Brainfuck if you cared enough :)

  • Ask me a more difficult one, like

    "Do you remember using an acoustic coupler?"

    "Did you write the code for your final year project on an ASR33 teletype?"

    "Do you remember having to write the bootloader for the paper tape to the core memory, using the front panel switches of the computer?"

    "Remember when changing the font involved changing the golfball on the 2741 terminal?"
    • I'm not senile yet; these are not difficult questions. The answer to each of them is, "yes."
      • Ah, beat me to it!

        Also, do you remember knocking the box of punch cards off a desk and watching someone flip out?

        Do you remember core memory?

        Did you ever optimize code by laying instructions out on a magnetic drum so that the next needed instruction would be under the read head when needed?

        Did you ever use Karnaugh maps?

        Good times!

    • Yes, to AC, but not often as they were SLOW... and modems started their upward track soon after.

      I used teletypes several times, but not to write full projects. Those were on punch cards. I wrote a full box of Fortran IV to do a large physics computation for Duke's nuclear lab. So back at ya, did you ever use HASP and JCL to manage 360/370 jobs submitted on cards, loading disk packs and so on? Again, teletypes AND cards sucked, so like all sane humans I switched first to tty consoles and then to the IBM

  • >"It was quick, it was easy to use, and important for this day and age, it didn't have Flash."

    Flash? I never minded Flash. It was easy to disable. And with extensions, it was easy to delay or remove objects too. Restrict animated GIF, and life was good for many years.

    Now with all the Javascript animation, it is impossible to limit or stop useless and annoying animation that is incorporated into just about every website and all over it. And I am not talking ads.

    Some of us desperately want browsers to

    • by The Rizz ( 1319 )

      Now with all the Javascript animation, it is impossible to limit or stop useless and annoying animation that is incorporated into just about every website and all over it. And I am not talking ads.

      Some of us desperately want browsers to add some type of animation limitation or control.... if it is even possible.

      FlashBlock and NoScript on Firefox do a pretty good job of that.

    • Bingo! I much preferred it *before* Google started moving all their annoying animated ads to HTML5. Primarily because I was running Flashblock- i.e. click-to-play- and didn't have to see them if I didn't want to (which- spoiler ahead- I didn't!)
  • It was more a file sharing protocol. No html, but it was very easy to link resources of many sorts into a library a notch above FTP in ease of use. Oak Ridge, IIRC, had an awesome gopher site where one could get many tools and goodies.

  • 87 comments and not a single mention of University of Pisa in Italy and their large collection of <ahem> photos? For shame...

    • 87 comments and not a single mention of University of Pisa in Italy and their large collection of <ahem> photos?

      "My God... is that a leaning tower?"

  • by Jason Levine ( 196982 ) on Sunday August 14, 2016 @09:58AM (#52699535) Homepage

    Back in college, Gopher was my first introduction to the Internet. I remember excitedly clicking from link to link, amazed at the information at my fingertips. Then, I got to a link titled "Middle East" and suddenly got worried that I would get in trouble for incurring long distance charges for my college. I closed it down and left.

    The next time I went to the computer lab, I had a better understanding how networking worked (and why there wouldn't be long distance charges no matter what link I clicked on) and explored Gopher further.

  • I remember it, and it was pretty cool at the time. It had predecessors though - France had a system called Minitel that dates back to the year when I was born (1978).

  • Our university had a admission system and the library catalog that ran on gopher systems combined with telnet applications. It took many years before their new web-based systems were as good as the gopher ones were. In fact for a long time they ran the web site and the gopher server for the library catalog and the gopher side was faster and better for a long time.

    The main university gopher site was running for many years after the web took over. I think it was just forgotten about. It finally went away

  • Just yesterday some friends and I were talking about how much we miss Gopher. It had some useful advantages that nothing has replaced.

  • Gopher was okay, but I guess someone had the idea to add images and html was there within months it seemed. I like the internet we have now apart from the massive spying and viruses. Games are more advanced, and if you like older games, you can still play them. Wanna listen to some Bob Marley? Youtube is there.
  • I am not say that there wasn't anything cool, but that nobody I knew (all geeks) showed me something on Gopher that made me say "cool". Then I saw these guys looking at a dilbert cartoon on some browser thingy and I was sold.
  • Gopher Blue was the main one I used back then, even remember having to run a program to convert the 7bit ascii stream back to 8bit binary after receiving it from there! They had a large repository of AtariST utility programs! All part of running a Citadel BBS for the AtariST community in my area! I got access through our local university's dial-up system. Going from 300baud to 1200baud was a real treat back then!
  • I still have one gopher site bookmarked, although it's been dead for a while (and modern browsers no longer recognize "gopher://" as a valid URI prefix). I simply haven't got the heart to delete it. Of course, even at the time I added it, gopher was nearly dead as a protocol in general. I mostly only added it because I was astounded that I'd stumbled across a still-running site, and that my browser, at the time, could still talk to it.

    This story was simply posted to gather evidence confirming the fact that

  • > how many Slashdot readers today remember using Gopher?

    If you're too young to remember Gopher, what are you doing on Slashdot in the first place?

I haven't lost my mind -- it's backed up on tape somewhere.

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