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Technology is Outrunning the Government…Now What?

February 14, 2011

Are we “cyber-intellectuals” who can only focus on why and if Twitter and Facebook facilitated the Egyptian revolution?

Egypt Revolution Day 15

Wallflowers at the Revolution” by The New York Time’s Frank Rich offers a relevant, yet generalized argument that due to selective T.V. news coverage and limited access to non-U.S. broadcasts, Americans don’t “really know” what is happening in Egypt.  Or, as Rich so poignantly explained, we can’t “distinguish Sunni from Shia.”

Additionally, Rich summarizes that Americans’ haste to classify social media as a vital or even functional role in Egypt’s revolution reinforces his aforementioned claim that narrow-minded Americans only understand what they are programmed to absorb.  He quotes Jim Clancy, a CNN International anchor, as stating that “the biggest demonstrations in Egypt to date occurred on a day when the Internet was down. ‘There wasn’t any Twitter. There wasn’t any Facebook.’”

Mr. Clancy, isn’t it possible that “the biggest demonstrations” occurred on those days because the Egyptian government unplugged itself (from the Internet) in an effort to silence opposition and stop online organization of anti-government activists, which only intensified the youth’s mission to revolt?  Think about it.

The recent New York Times article, “Wired and Shrewd, Young Egyptians Guide Revolt” settles this debate because the young revolt leaders reveal that they distributed a schedule that disclosed the “biggest” protest days. 

I’d argue that Twitter and Facebook are not the reason for the revolution but they certainly are a catalyst.

In Malcolm Gladwell’s recent New York Magazine article he concludes that “High-risk activism,” like the youth revolt in Egypt, is closely linked to a “strong-tie” phenomenon: “highly committed, articulate supporters” of the same goals and values with a “deep-rooted, emotional connection” to the cause. 

Gladwell’s article outlines the motivation needed to “change the status-quo,” but social media provided the vehicle to help accelerate the protestors’ action.

So, the question is not “did social media play a role?”  It did.  The bigger question is “what do government leaders do now?”  If a revolution of this magnitude can manifest itself almost overnight and individuals like Julian Assange, can legitimately publish “classified” government documents that people now feel entitled to read, then how does the U.S. government uphold its legal and ethical obligation to the first amendment, as well as its promise to “serve and protect?”

Technology will continue to evolve and influence the way people share, consume and circulate information.  Is it right for the government to monitor these actions?  Should the government have the right to “shut down” the Internet if it foresees, what it believes to be, unmitigated danger?  Or is complete transparency more important?  How much power and control should the government have over the dissemination of information?  And, if the government considers certain information privileged, how do we (the people) know if the government is making the “right” choices?”

Currently, technology is outrunning the government.  The government’s inability to keep up is not lost on the public.  So, what, if anything, should the government do?

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A New Semester begins…

February 14, 2011

So, I’m finally back in the swing of classes and look forward to discussing the latest topics on communication, social media and PR and how it relates to us as individuals and as professional practitioners.

This semester I am taking a course in ethics and communication law, which is extremely timely considering the events of the past few weeks in Egypt, WikiLeaks, recently-resigned Representative Chris Lee and so much more.   Additionally, I hope to engage in discussions concerning social media, current events, technology and anything pertaining to entertainment, the media and life in the big apple.

Wishing everyone a fabulous Valentine’s Day.

It’s a Social Media Merry-go-round.

December 8, 2010

Recently, I asked, “Does Technology Connect Us or Separate Us?”  Since then, I’ve read numerous blog entries and articles exploring similar observations and viewpoints including Dave Pell’s “The iPhone I Can’t Keep  in my Pants” and Newspaper to New Media‘s “Anti-Social Media ”  Interestingly enough, most of those writers disclose (upfront) their compulsive social media behavior, but still feel the need to question how technology is changing the way people communicate, interact and experience life. 

The ongoing discussion appeared as the cover story in last week’s issue of Time Out New York, asking the question, “Is Social Media Bad for NYC?”  This article, by Sharon Steel, suggests that the obsessive Foursquare check-ins, photo blogging and YouTube filming is changing “the way we consume our city.” 

In an earlier blog entry concerning the manner in which people choose to communicate with each other, I proposed that, “Yes, we live on an island, but has technology transformed us into islands unto ourselves?”  In a similar sentiment, Time Out New York, suggests that social media is transforming the way New Yorkers experience their city. 

“We’re shifting the focus away from the city’s culture and arts scene, and onto ourselves. We’ve become the stars of our own digital shows, in which keeping track of our hyperbolic NYC lives has become the hyperbole itself.”

 

How many check-ins needed (as of Time Out's press time) to be Foursquare mayor of...

Time Out New York’s article explains what it sees as drawbacks to the use of social media in the city.   A follow-up article, “New Yorkers on Social Media,” illustrates these drawbacks with some pretty surprising, but entertaining examples.  The following three struck the loudest chord.

  • The “mayor”of the restaurant Eataly’s reply to a request for comment:

“Thanks for reaching out.  Due to my busy schedule, I’m unable to answer your questions directly.  Please send your requests to my press officeeatalymayor.po@gmail.com. Thank you!” – Mayor Schwartz.

* A Foursquare “mayor” is a person who checks into a place more than anyone else in a 60 day period.

  • Observing six friends on a Friday night at The Living Room, it clocked 5 minutes of consecutive silence as the friends used their phones.
  • Owner of TraifBikeGesheft and Facebook enthusiast revealed that he used to swim every day, but because he doesn’t have access to Facebook, he now runs so he can always be connected. 

The article left me wondering: whose fault is it?  If it’s out of control or heading down the wrong path, who alters the course?  Us?  The innovators?  The businesses?

It’s a social media circle.

It’s a never-ending circle because as individuals, we thrive on innovation and participation, which fuels the pervasiveness of social media.  Simultaneously, businesses feed off social media’s numerous profit-making possibilities.  Once a profitable business is established in social media, there’s no turning back.  This, in turn, drives competitors to jump aboard the social media train for fear of being left at the station. This circles back to the users who are ready to pounce on the latest technology trends. 

Who is responsible, if anyone?  What is the future for social media and where do we fit in?

First, we need to accept that technology and social media are here to stay.  When working through the negative repercussions of social media, we need to remember the countless positive opportunities brought to us by advancements in technology.

For example:   Meetup.com uses technology as a tool to get people off the internet and into the real-world.  Facebook provides a place for us to connect and stay connected with friends and family. Yelp or other recommendation sites allow us to experience parts of the city we might otherwise not know existed.

The key is balance.  As technology advances and integrates itself into our everyday lives, we need to maintain a healthy balance between our physical and virtual interactions.

The controller is you.  Businesses, programmers or entrepreneurs are not responsible for how much of your time is spent in the virtual world.  As much as we’d like to pass the buck, we all know we’re responsible for our own actions.

So, my fellow check-in obsessed, smartphone-toting New Yorkers, might I suggest we toil with balance this holiday season.  Capture the moment, but spend more time enjoying it.  Be thankful for what’s important:  family, friends and the gift of spending time together.  (Not trying to be sappy – but it’s the truth!)  Happy Holidays!

Writing in Shades of Gray: 63 Days and Counting

December 2, 2010

I am knee-deep in hyperlinking, social media madness and New York City trends – what could be better? 

Sixty-three days ago, I associated blogging or bloggers with people who journal online about their life experiences, passions and/or opinions.  Little did I know that Huffington Post, Mashable and TechCrunch, to name a few, could be categorized as blogs.  I simply viewed them as another source of news, only in a less stuffy, more “I’m on your page” type writing style, which I love.  Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy and appreciate the WSJ and NYT, but sometimes it’s refreshing to read a story that makes me feel like I’m chatting with the author over coffee and bagels.  Consequently, this is, in part, why blogs are quickly becoming a reader’s choice for news, reviews and general information.

So, leading back to today’s topic:  63 days of blogging.  I’ve been asked to reflect on my blogging experience thus far: what’s been easy, challenging, surprising and fun.   So, rather than make it all about me, lets breakdown the questions and see how my experience can help you – whether you’re a novice, seasoned blogger, or loyal reader trying to understand this crazy blogosphere world we live in. 🙂

Challenges:

Initial Startup:  Just like with anything new, a blank slate is daunting.  Sure, I could whip up a template, name it Katie’s blog and write about anything, but where’s the fun in that for anyone, but me?  A personal blog is a reflection of you, what you stand for and how you want to be perceived.  As a professional looking for work, everything on the Web is fair game and a blog is a prime target on HR’s Internet road to “who is Katie Hutchinson?”  So, details count. 

Time:  Be prepared to invest time into a polished entry, which inevitably infringes on regular sleep time.

Mechanics:   In addition to finding your artistic expression and distinctive voice, just getting used to hyperlinking and adding pictures takes time and patience. 

Take-aways:

  • Formulate a distinctive niche, either with your title or subhead.  This will help guide your design, setup, layout, context and voice.  It also helps readers know what they can expect to read about.
  • Make sure the niche provides an opportunity to discuss a wide range of topics.  For example, you might choose Pizza, but by adding a subhead that includes “Pizza and All Things Italian” leaves room to develop the idea further. 
  • The best way to learn is by doing.  So, don’t wait to start posting until you have everything just right. 
  • Learn the mechanics in stages.  It can be overwhelming at first, so start by designing your template and posting, then add tags and categories and work your way into pictures, widgets and more.
  • Use your resources.  WordPress offers quick, easy “how to” videos, a support website and a “help” option or you can google your question – it worked for me!

Surprises:

During college and graduate school, students mostly write for an audience of one:  the professor.  This assignment integrates an entirely new dimension, because we’re not only writing for a grade, we’re writing for a larger audience.   

Something Bigger:  The scope of the online network is limitless.  It’s amazing the number of incredible writers, thinkers and motivators constantly pumping out information and crafting completely new and relevant viewpoints about current events, news and trends. 

People Do Read Blogs:  (and not just the  Huffington Post) It’s amazing how one comment or even one reader can make all the difference.  It’s fulfilling and encouraging to share your hard work with others and for them to acknowledge it and perhaps enjoy it or learn from it. 

Take-aways:

  • Enjoy other bloggers.  Take time to read what’s out there. It’s interesting and more importantly it’s helpful to see what readers like and don’t like. 
  • Get involved.  Part of blogging is commenting.  Just like you hope people will vote and comment on your entries, so do the majority of bloggers.  Don’t only post accolades, but add to the conversation; ask questions, post links, offer suggestions. 

Fun:

As a journalism major at Penn State, I’d write and write (usually an assigned topic and format) – but my favorite course (by far) was feature writing, which includes profiles, fly on the wall, behind the scenes and more.  Essentially, it let us write a “news worthy” story with a twist.  Feature stories rely on creativity and an out-of-the-box approach to stories.  Blogging lets me do this every week.  It gives writers the chance to be creative and innovative in a plaguing world of black and white.  These shades of gray inspire me and ultimately, make writing what it should be: entertaining for both the writer and reader.

Take-aways:

  • Enjoy what you’re writing about.  Or have an interest in learning more about it.

    Love is everywhere in New York! Thomas R. Stegelmann

  • Read your entry (out loud) to yourself.  Would you keep reading past the first paragraph? If the answer is no,  rewrite it.  Concentrate on writing something you would want to read or learn about.  The more fun you have writing and reading it, the more your readers will, too.
  • Don’t assume readers know what you’re talking about.  Write for a reader who knows nothing about the topic.  The first way to lose readers is to disengage them from the beginning by talking over their heads. 

And the final question:  Will I continue to blog?  Yes.

I hope to add a touch of gray to what generally can be a black and white workweek!

Is the “Social” Missing out of Social Media?

November 29, 2010

Beach with Daddy

Over the last year, what memories cause an impromptu chuckle or headshaking smile?  You  know the one; your head bobs, you close your eyes, and smile, simply recalling the moment.  Now, did this moment involve you and a computer?  An iPhone?  An iPad? 

 No?  It didn’t?  Shocking.  But, not really. 

I bet you envisioned accomplishing an individual goal or possibly, an everyday shared experience like baking apple pies and drinking wine or rebuilding a car engine from scratch or spending a day at the beach with family.

The bottom line is that personal contact and camaraderie are an essential part of what moves us as individuals.  It’s those moments that make us who we are.

I think most would agree, that the older we get, the busier we get, and the harder it gets to keep in touch with friends, let alone make new friends.  I recently moved to Manhattan for graduate school and even in a city of millions, it’s still difficult to meet people.

Difficult, you might ask?  But, what about social media

Well, let’s breakdown my social media options: 

  • Facebook:  Helps reconnect me with old friends.
  • LinkedIn:   Helps grow my professional network.
  • Twitter:  Helps keep me apprised of the latest news and trends.
  • I could continue with Flickr, forums, live chats etc.

 But, what about meeting new friends, in my new city…in person?

 Welcome to Meetup.com  

 Founded in 2001, Meetup.com is a social networking gateway that promotes offline gatherings in local communities around the world.  It lets people with similar interests, no matter how obscure, form groups and get together regularly.  The Internet is a resource for people to find each other, but not the primary channel of communication.  Instead, the platform is to get people off the Internet and into the real-world where they can gather together and improve themselves and the community.  Meetup’s mission is to “revitalize the local community and help people around the world self-organize.” 

 The site is quickly becoming the place for people of all ages and backgrounds to find or form groups, host gatherings and make friends.

 As of today, 11/16/10, Meetup.com boasts some impressive stats:

  • Monthly Visitors:  6 million
  • Members:  7.2 million
  • Monthly Meetups: 250,000
  • Cities: 45,000
  • Meetup Topics: 46,000 

Joining is simple.  You create an account and plug in your zip code.  Then, you can go to town typing in anything that interests you, from wine to yoga to scrabble.  With 46,000 topics worldwide, it’s doubtful that you won’t find at least one group that fits your expectations.  However, if you don’t find a certain group, you can sign up to be notified when one starts up or you can head up the group yourself and the party comes to you.    

Barefoot Runners NYC

Barefoot Runners NYC

NYC is home to five of the ten largest Meetup groups including “#1 NYC Social/Professional Networking” (8,146 members) andManhattan Social Wine Tasting” (5,347 members), as well as smaller more intimate groups like “Concert Goer’s over 30” (147 members),  “Downtown NYC Mom to Be” (31 members) and “Barefoot Runners NYC” (435 members).  There are no rules, per se, but all the groups share one common quality, a warm and welcoming atmosphere. 

This website is for anyone, whether you’re local and looking for new adventures or you just moved to town and are looking for new friends.  Most importantly it gets you off the Internet, out of house and into the real-world.

 In a previous blog entry, I raised the question:  “Does technology connect us or separate us?”  

“The question is not meant to assess the fundamental usage, rather the suggested message, which encourages people to use technology as the primary means for personal connection and interaction, instead of as the complement to connecting and staying connected.” 

 I believe and hope Meetup.com is the platform for the future.  I’m fascinated by technology and its constant improvements, but I also grew up playing cops and robbers and flashlight tag.  As technology advances, people can get caught up in the virtual world. Platforms like Meetup.com provide the perfect balance of both virtual and physical interaction.

Are You Getting Your Groupon?

November 23, 2010

Get Your Groupon: Click Above!

$28 mani & pedi (valued at $56):  Well, I did run about 30 miles this week.  CLICK 

$8 for 6 buttercream cupcakes at Butter Lane (valued at $16):  Again, I did run 30 miles this week.  CLICK

$38 for six movie tickets (valued at $84):  Harry Potter 7 debuted this weekend!  CLICK.

And that’s how easy it is to secure exceptional deals in NYC (or other select cities).  The attraction is two-fold because yes, Groupon offers significant deals, but more importantly it gives people reasons to buy the deal.  

Groupon is the best thing to happen to New Yorkers since TKTS.  Only, Groupon offers substantial discounts on everything from pizza to yoga to skydiving.  And it’s accessible anytime, anywhere, which is both convenient and dangerous.  The way I see it:  Who doesn’t want 50% or 60% off? 

So how does it work?

Each day, Groupon offers a daily deal on the best food, service, product or event in your local city.  If enough people buy the Groupon, “the deal is on.”  Groupon can offer huge discounts by guaranteeing merchants a minimum number of customers, which it defines as the “tipping point.”  Genius, really:  A win for the business, a win for customers and a win for Groupon.

So, with countless players, why did Groupon surge to the top when its competitors couldn’t get out the gate?

Let’s break it down:

  • Local awareness:  It’s a personal guide to your city’s hidden gems; a reason to finally try out the place around the corner.   Or it’s the reason to meet up with friends at your favorite hangout – for half the price. 🙂  
  • Timeframe:  With only 24 hours to buy, Groupon skips the “I have to think about it” phase, because “if you snooze, you lose” – so people are compelled to buy.
  • Networking effect:  The more people use Groupon, the more valuable it becomes to customers, merchants, and Groupon (the business platform).
  • Exclusivity:  One deal per day avoids “I’ll get it next time.”  For customers and businesses alike, the next time could be weeks away or possibly never. 
  • Social media:  Through one clear, consistent and tantalizing voice, Groupon harnesses all channels of social media and supports a community, both online and off. I personally love the daily tip from “Groupon Says.”

So, what does the future have in store for Groupon? 

Groupon is the fastest growing company in web history and exceeded a $1 billion valuation in 16 months, falling four months shy of the current record holder, YouTube (12 months).  It’s rapid growth and success is rumored to have caught the attention of some major media giants.  And the recent word on the virtual street is that Google is considering purchasing Groupon for “well above” $3 billion.  Other names being thrown into the ring are Yahoo, EBay and Amazon.

But, is this the right move for the company?  Will it remain a win-win for everyone:  the customers and its organic business base?  A portion of Groupon’s identity is rooted in supporting the local business community.  “We want to do for local e-commerce what Amazon did for normal consumer goods,” said Groupon founder, Andrew Mason, in a Forbes interview in August.  Not to mention, Groupon originated from Mason’s nonprofit startup, The Point.

But, in September, Groupon grossed $11 million in one day from its national Gap Groupon and today’s deal is for Nordstrom Rack.  On the flip side, a recent story surfaced about a local Arizona business that claims Groupon backed out of what the owner believed to be a contract at the last minute.  (Read about it here).  So, how long will it be before national corporations squeeze out the local businesses completely? 

It’s possible Groupon launched Groupon Stores in part to spearhead any backlash associated with offering more high-profile (and very profitable) deals.  Groupon Stores provides a virtual market space for businesses to set up shop and offer deals every day.  This new platform is generating a mixed-bag of reviews because it dilutes the exclusivity we discussed earlier and, since businesses now control their own websites, it breaks away from the effective “one voice” social media strategy.

For most consumers the huge discounts will probably outweigh any loyalty to    local businesses.  So, for their sake, let’s hope Groupon Stores enjoys the same success as its parent company. 

For the time being, we’ll just have to sit back, wait and see.  But of course, we can pass the time by taking advantage of Groupon’s annual holiday, Grouponicus, which kicks off this week and promises discounts of up to 90 percent off.

 Happy Shopsgiving, or for those of you who don’t watch HIMYM, have a great Thanksgiving.

12-3-10 Update:  Google and Groupon acquisition talks have ended. For the full story click here: WSJ or google it!

How NOT to Respond to a Communication Crisis: Brought to You by Cooks Source

November 17, 2010

Almost overnight an Internet firestorm erupted and the ashes have spread like wildfire across the globe.   What started as a blog entry about apple pie is now the center of copyright controversy on the Internet.

"Cooks Source"

A brief recap: (click here for detailed account)

On Nov. 4, a LiveJournal blogger, Monica Gaudio, discovered that her six-year-old copyrighted article, “A Tale of Two Tarts,” was published, without permission, in Cooks Source’s October 2010 issue under the title “As American as Apple Pie – Isn’t.”   She contacted the editor, Judith Griggs, and asked for an apology in the magazine and on Facebook and a $130 donation (ten cents a word for 1,300 words published in Cooks Source) to the Columbia School of Journalism.   That’s it – pretty reasonable, considering the circumstances.

Griggs’s response, in part, via typed email, after claiming “three decades” of editorial experience: 

But honestly Monica, the web is considered “public domain” and you should be happy we just didn’t “lift” your whole article and put someone else’s name on it! It happens a lot, clearly more than you are aware of, especially on college campuses, and the workplace. If you took offence and are unhappy, I am sorry, but you as a professional should know that the article we used written by you was in very bad need of editing, and is much better now than was originally. Now it will work well for your portfolio. For that reason, I have a bit of a difficult time with your requests for monetary gain, albeit for such a fine (and very wealthy!) institution. We put some time into rewrites, you should compensate me! I never charge young writers for advice or rewriting poorly written pieces, and have many who write for me… ALWAYS for free!”

Griggs’s embarrassing, unapologetic and legally questionable response catapulted Monica’s story into the Web and sealed the fate of Cooks Source.  In just days, #buthonestlymonica and #crookssource were trending on Twitter, while the once unknown Cooks Source Facebook page collected thousands of new “friends” so they could post mocking messages and disparaging remarks.  Through crowdsourcing, critics produced a Google spreadsheet comparing instances where Cooks Source and a different publication shared the same material – as of today it contains 160 entries, including articles from NPR, Hallmark and Food Network‘s Paula Dean.  (Please see the Wikipedia page for additional details .  Yes! A Wikipedia entry is already published.)

On Nov. 9, Griggs posted a lengthy response on the magazine’s webpage, including this short section: (cut directly from the website.)

“So let me say this now: Monica I am so sorry for any harm I caused you. I never ment to hurt anyone, and I think I did a nice job for you, but the fact remains that I took this without asking you and that was so very wrong. Please find it in you heart to forgive me. I sent the check  to the University and also, because so many people really need help, serious help, I am sending one to Food bank of Western Massachusetts (sorry, I got the name wrong the first time, even tho we did write an article on them).”

Judith Griggs, please stop making things worse – please stop and wait for the storm to subside.

So, let’s look beyond the copyright infringement issue and focus on how she could have handled the communication crisis and what can we learn from this tragic attempt in crisis communication.

A Possible Response:

Griggs should have immediately responded and stopped the fire before it started. 

Mistake number one, not responding quickly and mistake number two, choosing to address the matter in a condescending manner through email.  Any PR professional and most Internet users know that any written correspondence can and most likely will be posted on the Web, so, if Griggs wanted to respond by email, she should have composed a letter she’d want her subscribers to read.  (I would not have suggested written correspondence with a blogger, especially since Monica called first.)

To stop the crisis, Griggs needed to step back, put herself in the blogger’s shoes, as well as, the readers’ shoes.  She needed to disconnect herself emotionally and make sound business decisions, beginning with “know the endgame” and respond to the crisis accordingly.

The endgame is neutralizing the problem.  When there’s nothing to gain from prolonging the issue, the best move is to distinguish the fire as soon as possible.  This is not always easy, but lucky for Griggs, Monica spelled out her demands, and considering the overly reasonable request, the best course of action would have been to accept ownership of the mistake, genuinely apologize for the oversight and immediately print both apologies and donate the $130 to Columbia School of Journalism. 

If the incident persisted, Griggs should have additional solutions in place.

When the facts are bad, which is apparent in this case, a professional needs to be forthright, genuine and approachable.  Beyond the blatant copyright issue, what’s really troubling is Griggs’s childlike and unprofessional response to the situation.  Her attempt to blame mistakes and gain sympathy based on lack of staff, exhaustion and the “good thing she’s doing” is not suitable for an editor with 30 years experience.

Ten Points to Takeaway:

  1. Take action immediately:  A negative story gains speed considerably faster than any other news story.  And Internet users are always on the prowl. 
  2. Do not make excuses for mistakes.  Own up to mistakes and apologize immediately.  In both the email and letter posted on the website Griggs’s nagging attempt to make excuses is insufferably irritating.
  3. The power to defend “what’s right” overpowers any sympathy for a single individual’s feelings.
  4. Don’t underestimate the people’s power of forgiveness.  It’s your attitude and approach to the situation that can make all the difference.  Comebacks are inevitable:  Bill Clinton, Elliot Spitzer, Michael Vick, Alex Rodriguez 
  5. Do not respond in written form, unless prepared for your subscribers/customers to read your exact words.
  6. Do not underestimate the audience’s intellect and ability to assemble and participate.
  7. Social media insists a person or company talk in a clear, approachable and GENUINE manner. 
  8. Social media equals conversation, which requires listening, and acknowledging people’s opinions and feelings and not just reverting to a one-way communication in which you push your agenda and “side of the story” onto the masses.  They will revolt.
  9. A public statement is sometimes necessary.  Don’t let the Internet tell the story for you.  
  10. Be sure to have a competent PR person protecting your brand and managing your reputation.  Have a plan ready for how to handle multiple crisis situations and of course, be sure to know the rules of copyright.

I’m truly interested to hear your feedback, thoughts and reactions.  Feel free to leave a comment and/or add to the list of takeaways or email me to discuss the situation further.

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