SocialEngine Review

(December 6, 2011 23:57)
Last Version 4.1.8p1 (December, 2011). Released under Proprietary License.
Resources Website SocialEngine Website Download Download...
Price Standard License $299, $30-$40 / Plugin, $370 All Plugins.
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SocialEngine is the next generation of software, providing a great base you could extend with many plugins. Powered by the PHP Zend Framework, SocialEngine relies on a modern technology that gives it for free very important technical features like a cache management, ORM, database abstraction, well designed URLs and a protected environment (less chance to find SQL injection, opened restricted pages,... ).

SocialEngine's main goal is to allow its user to recreate their own social network, putting members in a central place and focusing on community features. When installing a standard SocialEngine, you will quickly see some similarities with the Facebook user stream, that lists all link shares, discussions, polls, games and events a member is writing and makes him/her interacting with friends. This is the first pillar of this product, that you could extend with official plugins (between $30 and $40 each) or third-party plugins (developed by the community).

If we had to compare SocialEngine with another software, I think Drupal would be a kind of competitor in the open source world. Note however that it would require much more configuration and tuning work for reaching what SocialEngine provides per default.

We have decided to review SocialEngine with the most common plugins you could find in an advanced forum software, including: a Forum (of course), a Blog, an Album Manager, a Calendar and a Poll module. It's time to detail SocialEngine now!

Review Updates:

  • December 7, 2011: First Review.

SocialEngine is recommended for Huge Community.

(and supports smaller communities perfectly as well.)

Server & Client Requirements

Server Requirements
Programming Language
Required Architecture and Versions.
  • PHP 5
Web Servers
How the forum is delivered to users.
  • Apache 1.3
  • Apache 2.0/2.2
  • Microsoft IIS
  • Lighttpd
  • Nginx
Databases
How Forum Data are Stored.
  • MySQL
  • Postgresql
Operating Systems
Systems Supporting this Software.
  • GNU/LinuxGNU/Linux
  • BSD UnixBSD Unix
  • Microsoft WindowsMicrosoft Windows
  • Apple Mac OSApple Mac OS
Browser & Client Requirements
Compatible Browsers
List of Compatible Browsers.
Mozilla FirefoxMozilla FirefoxInternet ExplorerInternet Explorer
Google ChromeGoogle ChromeOperaOpera
Apple SafariApple SafariKonquerorKonqueror
Mozilla SeaMonkeyMozilla SeaMonkey
Required Plugins/Technologies
Additional or Basic Requirements from Client Side.
HTML, Javascript, AJAX, CSS.
Localization
Languages supported by SocialEngine.
Yes.
Supported Languages:
Chinese (Simplified) German
Spanish French
Italian Dutch
Polish Portuguese
Romanian Russian
Turkish English (American)
Chinese (Traditional)

You can get the full list of Language Packs at Social Engine Mods page.

Zend Framework

Compatibility with Smartphones
Compatible SmartPhones
Compatible Cellphone Brands and Manufacturers.
  • AndroidAndroid
  • iPhoneiPhone
  • BlackBerryBlackBerry
  • Windows Phone 7Windows Phone 7
  • Symbian Phones <em>(Nokia)</em>Symbian Phones (Nokia)
  • HP WebOS <em>(ex-Palm)</em>HP WebOS (ex-Palm)
Application Distribution / Type
How it is distributed / App Store Availability
  • Native Support

Android and iPhone are supported natively with the SocialEngine Mobile Plugin. However, note that most smartphones supporting Web technologies will be capable of browsing a website based on SocialEngine.

Forum Threads & Posts

Forum Threads / Topics
Forum Style Flat Forum Organization
  • Forum Categories
  • Sub Sections
Thread Icons No Topic Tags No
Hot Topics Yes Unread Topics Yes
Hidden Topics No Sticky Threads Yes
Related Threads No Detect Duplicate Threads No
Announcements Yes
Posting Messages / Answers
Message Editing Form
How to Post Messages.
  • WYSIWYG Editor
  • Formatting Buttons
Post Editing Format
Supported Markup Language (HTML, Wiki, BBCode,...).
  • Plain
  • HTML
  • BBCode
Spell Checker
Checks typos on posts and topics.
No
Image Attachment
How Images can be Attached and Displayed in Message Posts.
  • Upload via Classic Attachments. Images are all at the end of the post.
  • Use BBCode or HTML. Need to type the URL of an already hosted image.
Embedded Videos
Videos and Media Websites Supported in Message Posts.
No.
Posting Features
Quick Reply Box Yes Smileys Plugin
Attachments Yes Syntax Highlighting No
Message Rating
No Message Quoting Yes

SocialEngine - Forum Post Topic

SocialEngine Forum plugin features are quite simple and basic, we can actually think about comparing them to the standard Drupal Forum module: it provides main required things but does not play in the same world than pure players like PhpBB or IPBoard.

Anyway, it's also because we have to see the Forum plugin as an additional component of the standard SocialEngine core product, which provides so many great features too.

Additional & Technical Features

Additional Forum Features
Poll Creation Plugin
Private Messages
Users Can Communicate using an Internal Messaging System.
Yes
Instant Messaging
Discuss with Visitors and Members in a Chat Window.
Plugin
Calendar
Topic, Member Birthdays, Events are available from the perspective of a calendar.
Plugin
Online Users List
Connected User List (Often Found in the Forum Footer).
Yes
Members List
Search and Consult the List of Members.
Yes
Technical Features
Bundled Software
Additional Software Available with the Forum.
  • Portal
  • Website Home Page
  • Blog
  • Pictures Album Manager
  • Gallery
RSS/Atom Syndication
Posts and Threads Exported to Feeds Aggregators Syndicate.
No.
Friendly URLs
URLs are clear and contain information about the topic (title, message,...). Highly recommended for SEO purposes.
Yes
Post by Email
Post Directly From your Email Box.
No
Remote Control
Remote Control from External Software/Websites.
No.
Cache System
Cache pages to optimize bandwidth and load times.
Yes
Template Engine
It is easier to theme a forum using a known template engine (more docs & examples,...).
No.

SocialEngine - Polls

Polls, Instant Messaging and Calendar are possible through the SocialEngine Polls plugin, Chat / IM plugin and Events plugin. Hence, they are not directly integrated into the forum itself, but as part of user stream. Note that the installation is really convenient, as you just need to download the desired archive files and upload them into your Administration Dashboard.

SocialEngine is really good at providing really well defined friendly URLs. This is particularly great for advanced users that look more at the browser location bar than any breadcrumb navigation item on the page itself.

User Profiles & Options

Some details about SocialEngine features regarding members.
Member Options & Features
Bookmark Threads
User Profiles Keep a List of Followed Posts and Topics.
Yes
Email Notifications
Receive Emails When New Messages are Posted in Followed Threads.
Yes
Export private messages
Private Messages can be Downloaded by Users.
No
Payment Subscriptions
Paying Membership Subscription.
Yes
User Profiles
User Profile
User Information and Settings.
Yes
Avatars
Pictures of Members, Useful to Easily Identify their Posts.
Yes
Signature
Signatures Added at the Bottom of Each Message.
No
Ranks
Tags and Labels Identifying the Members, based on specific criteria (Total Posts Count, Credits, Moderation Level...)
Yes

SocialEngine - Member Stream Updates

SocialEngine provides per default two Payment Gateways for paid subscriptions. This is particularly well done and nice to have that bundled with the software, because we always prefer having an official plugin when we talk about money (no spaces for bugs here). 2Checkout and Paypal are supported.

The user profiles and related features are part of the core module of SocialEngine: you don't need to buy the Forum plugin for allowing your users to publish their personal details on your network.

User Ranks can be customized using the several Member Levels SocialEngine provides. Note that you can create your own if required. In order to make it clearer, SocialEngines also provides a Network feature, which basically allows you per default to define a region in the world where a member will be set, and will limit his/her visibility to this particular region.

Note this geographical organization is not mandatory (if such, all users are part of the same network), or could be tuned to set it to the different layers or sections of your company or community (HR, IT Developers, Clients, Private,...)

Gallery of SocialEngine Themes

Moderation & Users Management

SocialEngine Control Panel - Forums Plugin

Moderation could be configured, setting different groups of moderation depending on the category or forum.

Moderation & Threads Management
Moderation
Post-Moderation The moderation is done afterwards, if an administrator notices a problem or if a member reports something wrong. Each message is therefore directly published.
Reactive Moderation By reporting any problems, members are reactive against moderation problems. Moderators' main objective is to regularly check user reports, without having to follow each threads.
Distributed Moderation By organizing the forum around moderators, who are usually power and experienced users, moderation is self-powered and only depends on the community.
Moderator per section Yes
Global Moderator Yes
Move Threads
Move Threads from Topics
Yes
Shadow Topics
When a thread is moved, the previous position is kept in order to inform users of this modification.
Yes
Close/Lock Threads
Close/Lock Problematic Threads
Yes
Users Management
User Groups
Organize and define groups of users, and apply different actions and settings on them.
Common Groups: Guests, Members, Moderators, Administrators,...
Yes
User Registration
  • Free Registration
  • Registration needs Approval
  • Confirmation sent by email for validation
Limit Features For New Users
Features are limited if a user has created a small number of posts.
No
Guest Posting No
Multiple Administrators Yes
Send Warnings to Users
Inform users by email or PM that they infringe the board rules, and could be excluded for such behavior.
No
Forum/Section Restricted Access
ACL could be use to determine if a user or a group of users can access (in read only, post message) to some sections and topics.
Yes
User Banishment Yes

SocialEngine Control Panel - Member Levels

SocialEngine Administration Panel is really convenient for administrating members and grant some of them to new groups.

Administration & Support

SocialEngine Control Panel - Layout Editor

SocialEngine is not only a forum software with a standard fixed layout but allows the administrator to manage the layout. This could be compared to Drupal Blocks that allows you, as well as SocialEngine engine, to entirely define and customize the layout and the content you are going to display on the different pages of your website (Front, Sign Up, Forum Main Page, Footer, Header,...)

Every additional plugins you would install will provide several new content blocks you can place on your pages, that also support up to 12 different layouts (2 sided-column, no columns, 2-footer layout,...). This feature is really well designed, perfectly usable and just mandatory when you want to tweak your website without putting hands in the code.

The first time I reviewed the SocialEngine Client Showcase, I was actually really surprised it was hard to guess SocialEngine was behind. This is really important to make your website not looking an umpteenth clone of whatever big known website.

Database Management
Backup Database
Backup forum datas that you could store somewhere else.
No
Prune Database
Remove old and unused datas from your forum.
No
Restore Database
Restore a backup of your database if the previous install crashed.
No
Administration Tools
Statistics
Statistics about posts count, users, traffic...
Yes Error/Notice Log Viewer
Forum Logs could be consulted.
Yes
Tasks Scheduler
Maintenance tasks are regularly launched and could be scheduled.
Yes Mass Mailing
Send an email (newsletters, advertisements, information,...) to all users.
Yes
Installation & Upgrading
Installation Method
How this forum software could be installed.
Installation Wizard
Upgrading Method
How this forum software could be upgraded.
Upgrade Wizard
Updates Notifications
The Admin Panel informs you when a new version is released.
Yes
Forum Migration
Convert an existing forum to SocialEngine.
Yes.

SocialEngine Control Panel - Performance and Caching

In terms of Performance and Cache features, SocialEngine is far away after its competitors. It provides support to the main PHP Accelerator (Memcache, APC, Xcache) and could use them within a click. I think the fact it uses Zend Framework definitely adds these kind of features per default and for free, which proves it's important to rely on a framework nowadays.

It's also great to see SocialEngine supporting CDN (Content Delivery Network) natively. Configuring the one you have subscribed for will be the only step to host your web content all over the world, on a cloud infrastructure, increasing the speed time of your website. The famous Amazon's S3 and CloudFront services are supported, but any CDN that uses FTP or SCP can be configured as well.

SocialEngine Control Panel - Import Tools

However, SocialEngine does not presently allow you to migrate the history of a standard forum to its format. However it supports the migration from SocialEngine 3 and from Ning.

Security & Spam Protection

Security & Spam Protection
CAPTCHA
Captcha protects your forum against spam bots.
e.g., Syndicate
Yes
Complexity: [++[ Normal
Abnormal Behavior Detection
Detect users or request strange behaviors, and try to process proactive actions.
No
Words Filtering
Offensing Words are automatically replaced.
Yes
User Blacklist
Prevent specific user accounts to register (based on email address, name,...) and disable potentially harmful members.
Yes
IP Blocking
Prevent access to spam robots and other scripts that could attempt DDOS or Brute Force attacks on your forum.
Yes

SocialEngine Control Panel - Spam and Banning Tools

As part of the SocialEngine core, the forum is very well protected against external threats, and this barrier actually protects all additional tools you would install on top of the core application. You will then have possibilities to ban, blacklist and filter bad words if necessary. Note that CAPTCHA are not enabled per default, which is nice when you start, but don't forget about enabling them after a while (see Settings / Spam & Banning Tools).

Vulnerabilities Advisories Criticality

Secunia Criticality

Secunia Advisories severity affecting SocialEngine.

Vulnerabilities Impact

Secunia Impact

Secunia Advisories impact affecting SocialEngine.

Customization & Social Networks

Customization
Plugins
Add new features to your forum installation.
Yes.
~356 Available Plugins. More info »
Installation: [++[ Easy
Themes
Modify the style of your forum easily.
Yes.
~108 Available Themes.
Custom BBCodes No Smiley Packs No
Custom
Thread Icons
No Additional User Profile Fields
Ask more about your members with custom fields.
Yes
Integration with Applications, Social Networks, Intranet...
Social Networks
Users can share information from their social network account...
CMS / Blog Bridges
Integration with existing Web publishing tools.
No.
User Accounts Integration
Do users be able to log in with their corporate, Google, Facebook,... accounts?
Content Aggregation
Forum allows to integrate news and content from other website, using an aggregation protocol (RSS, RDF, Atom,...).
  • Integrated in the Sidebar
  • Displayed on Front Page
  • In a Block
  • In a News Module

SocialEngine Control Panel - Facebook Integration

The integration with Twitter and/or Facebook is just awesome. It's a must-have in the present days, but this is not a feature we find everywhere. SocialEngine implements it the way it should be, and that's really perfect.

W3C Norms & Accessibility

Norms & Accessibility
HTML / XHTML Markup
XHTML 1.1 Strict.
XHTML 1.1 Strict
Click to see if it respects HTML norms.
CSS Stylesheets
CSS 2.
CSS 2
Click to see if it respects CSS norms.
Accessibility (WAI)
Web Accessibility ensures that the forum is usable by people of all abilities and disabilities.
Conformance to AA level.
AA
UTF-8 Support
Default encoding used to support all locales and countries.
Yes
Conformance to W3C Norms
Does SocialEngine correctly follow (X)HTML and CSS norms?
Yes.

Unique Features

Key points and major differences that make SocialEngine unique:

  • Single Powerful Platform, relying on big names in the PHP world
  • Many Available Extensions, all sharing the same users, layout, theme and ergonomy. Hard to accomplish such kind of integration with different software.

Final Words


Great!

From a global perspective, SocialEngine is an awesome product. It provides a great base, extended with many plugins and features. The idea of regrouping a forum around a social network, and the fact you can administrate by yourself your own network of communities, users, fans,... is such a great alternative against the big names like Facebook, Google+ and Twitter.

SocialEngine is really well designed, powered by a modern PHP language thanks to the Zend Framework, and the default bundle contains enough features to compete with a basic Facebook. Our main issue would however be that, from a forum software perspective, the Forum plugin lacks some important features, and could be a bit limited if you compare it to major software in this topic. The Forum is good, that's for sure, but look like a bit simplistic, which does not mean bad, but only that you could not expect advanced features included. Actually, you can see it more as a Social Network extended by a Forum than the opposite, which is, after all, nowadays a perfectly suitable alternative to the "Forum as a king of your web architecture".

To conclude, we could definitely consider SocialEngine as THE perfect platform, if you like PHP software, hosting your software on your own server, and do not mind to pay for this product. The review here was however more focused to the forum plugin, that's why we finally conclude to mark SocialEngine with this excellent score, but not a perfect one.

Additional Resources:

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Comments (14)

If somebody is interested in

If somebody is interested in this platform it will be useful to check unofficial communities for SocialEngine 4 developers:
SocialEngineCamp.com
http://socialenginebase.net/

Currently there are bots that can break default SocialEngine 4 captcha. So it will make sense to setup ReCaptcha (that requires ~10 minutes of time thanks to Zend Framework).

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Thanks for this great review!

Thanks for this great review!

I am currently looking for a social network creation platform and I was wondering if you had any other examples of Social Engine social networks that are not in the showcase?

Thanks again,
John

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lastnico's picture

Hi and thanks! No additional

Hi and thanks!

No additional networks known unfortunately, however I'm pretty sure the SocialEngine support will give you additional networks that were created using this product.

FSR Admin - Vote for 2012.

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Hi there, I am currently

Hi there,

I am currently using the trial version and everything works well except:

When I go to this page http://www.Mysite.com/admin/content
Click on Layout and then Layout Editor
Now click on any of the edit tabs in the Page Block Placement such as "Login or Signup | edit"

I get the following error message:

Internal Server Error
The server encountered an internal error or misconfiguration and was unable to complete your request.

Please contact the server administrator, admin@mysite.com and inform them of the time the error occurred, and anything you might have done that may have caused the error.

More information about this error may be available in the server error log.

Could someone please help me out with this. I know it has something to do with htaccess and permissions, but I am not sure what to change.

any help will be greatly appreciated.

Thank you.

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I work for a web development

I work for a web development company that has installed and managed several socialengine sites over the last few years.

Socialengine appears to be an awesome product when you first try it out. It looks great and in a trial with no members, it seems to function well above expectations. But once you start to use it and your site starts to grow and your members start to become more and more active, more and more problems start to crop up.

These problems are so obvious that it's mind blowing that the se developers either don't recognize how bad they are or they simply don't care.

For instance in their forums, and you were right to say the forums lack a lot of basic features that even free forums have. But for years when people typed messages in the forums Socialengine would take out all their line breaks. Or if they edited a post after they posted it, it would add triple the number of line breaks between paragraphs. They had many customers who complained about this, but it still took them like 2-3 years to fix it.

The company just seems completely oblivious to how end users experience the product. Another problem is the message notification system. Their message notification system is really crazy. When a user posts a comment to a blog for instance, they will get a notification when another user posts a comment. And they'll get yet another notification for the same blog if another user posts a comment. People can end up with a hundred notifications for the exact same content. What makes this even worse is that the notifications themselves give absolutely no indication what content they're referring to.

Again, this is a problem you wouldn't necessarily notice if you were just trying the product out. But once your site becomes very active, this starts to become a huge problem. It annoys users and it drives them away. Yet no matter how many times people have complained about this to them, they simply refuse to fix it. It's like they just don't care what kind of experience end users - in other words your members - will have. The notifications just say something like:

"Bob has commented on a blog you commented on"

with no indication whatsoever about which blog this is talking about. And instead of having a system that gave notifications that said something like:

"Bob and 5 others have commented on your blog 'Title of Blog'"

you get a separate notice for each and every comment with no indication of what the notification will lead you to. And you can literally have a hundred of these notices for just one blog. You comment on two blogs you'll have two hundred notices in no time! You keep clicking on the different notices only to be taken back to the same content you've already seen 15 times. It gets very annoying very fast.

Also, there is little consistency across their platform. For instance, if you get annoyed with all these notices form a particular blog, you can't unsubscribe from it. Once you comment once - you'll get a notice and an email for every single subsequent reply. However, in the Forums, you can unsubscribe. You can also subscribe to forums that you haven't commented in - if you want to watch the conversation. That's a nice feature, but why don't they extend it across the entire platform?

And don't even get me started on the nightmare that occurs for your end users navigating through the comments if you have a blog that gets 50-60 replies.

For us our final conclusion has been that it's a good starter system, but just hope you don't get too many members and if you do, just pray that they don't become very active. They're constantly adding new features, but never fixing the hundreds of annoyances and inconsistencies. It seems like they're more concerned about just selling it to people who want to run networks and to hell with the end user. In other words, they don't care if their platform is so annoying to the end user that it ultimately drives them all away. It seems they just want to be able to tell new potential buyers that it has a ton of features, make the sale and then on to the next sale.

It's a real shame that there is no Steve Jobs at socialengine. No one who really understands and cares about the user experience. No one who pays attention to all the little details that really make the difference. This could be a great platform, but from what I've seen over the last few years working with our clients who use it - they just don't have the talent on staff to actually make it into a great platform. It seems it will always be a "starter" platform.

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Hi ! Would it be possible to

Hi !
Would it be possible to know for which company you are working and also have some examples of your work?
I am looking for launching a Social Engine network.
Thanks,
John

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I totally agree with you. It

I totally agree with you. It has to do with Form VS Content. It seems like a cool platform, but if you use it for some time, you would see that it's not that efficient. Slow websites drive users away.

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Just checked out Social

Just checked out Social Engine on my friend's computer and thought it was pretty cool overall. The Job Post Plugin is a pretty cool add on.

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Social Engine is low quality

Social Engine is low quality and it sucks if you have a large social network. Use Zend or a custom made platform.

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I agree, but for small

I agree, but for small network I think is similar to drupal
For example i think this site would work better on SE than on WP: tlumaczenia.tv

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We get a lot of clients who

We get a lot of clients who couldn't deal with Social Engine and they decided hire us to custom build a Social Network from the ground up. Here are just a few custom built social networks you can compare which are not using Social Engine: www.weknow.com, www.flipdrive.com. If you are interested in having your own network, just search Google " Quality Web Development in New York City" and check out the 9th result.

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As someone who has built a

As someone who has built a thriving community with SocialEngine, I can say that the product itself is fair for the price. If you're experienced with PHP, or don't mind hiring somebody who is, you will be able to build a pretty good community for a relatively low price. If I were a professor, I'd give the software a "B-".

One MAJOR issue, however, is the lack of support. For one thing, SE does not so much as publish a phone number, so the only way to communicate with their internal support team is through a ticketing system which is pretty slow, and most of the time completely useless - their default answer in 95% of cases is to tell you that you'll need to hire a developer. And forget about any help at all if you've followed their advice and hired a 3rd party developer to add features to your community; at that point you are out of luck and better be prepared to hire someone for anything you can't do yourself.

SocialEngine is a good product with a lot of potential, but if you think you may need support I'd consider other options.

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The product does not yet seem

The product does not yet seem to be ready for release. The developer is adding new features, but the core functionality is inadequate. Unfortunately extra features are useless if the core is unusable. Social Engine has some major user interface problems that become evident as soon as the product is used in real life. You won't find these problems on a demo site, but only when you start using the product on a real application. Here are two major problems that make Social Engine discussion forums next to useless:

1. Discussions in forums become completely unnavigable once the number of replies increases past a certain level. For example if you have 40 pages of replies, it can take 20 mouse clicks to get to see the last reply. So if you see that someone has just replied to a topic you are interested in, you need to click a next button 15 times to see the reply. The navigation bar lacks basic navigation buttons like a first, last , and go to page. This makes Social Engine forums completely unusable over time as the number of replies to a discussion grows. Until this problem is fixed, any social network with ongoing discussions is basically unworkable. This is a very serious problem, that is as yet unresolved.

2. When you have a notification that someone has replied to a topic you are interested in, the notification does not take you to the actual reply, but to the first page of replies to that topic. So in effect, you are taken to a totally irrelevant reply that might have been made several years ago. At that point you run into problem number 1 as described above.

Until these problems are fixed, I would not recommend purchasing this product.

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