Lightroom Plugin Development: What To Do When a Hobby Becomes Work
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I do a lot of Lightroom-related development. I don't get paid for it, but I'm a geek and I really enjoy it.

In case you're familiar with Lightroom, but not with what I've provided, here's a bit about what I've done...

First, I built and released my Lightroom Metadata Viewer Preset Builder, which allows you to create a custom metadata view so that you see just the items you want about each photo. Building it took weeks of intensive research, coding, testing, and tweaking. I didn't need this myself (I knew how to build templates by hand), but I spent so much energy on it because I thought it would be really helpful to a large segment of the Lightroom-using community.

Then I built and released my Lightroom Configuration Manager, which allows you to customize a bunch of things about Lightroom. It also took a long time, but this one involved a lot more trial and error, trying to figure out what knobs and buttons Lightroom had under its hood for me to configure.

Then came plugins. I was hired by Adobe for a period to help test and debug their plugin infrastructure, and so I became well acquainted with it. I put that knowledge to work and built export plugins for Zenfolio and for SmugMug. These are pro-level photo-hosting sites, and although I personally had no interest in using either, I knew that they matched Lightroom's demographics, and so I knew a lot of people would appreciate having such plugins.

There were quickly calls for more plugins, and I ended up making one for Flickr, one for PicasaWeb, and one for Facebook. The early versions of Lightroom's plugin infrastructure was severely limited, so I worked overtime to figure out a way people could get more out of my (and others') plugins, inventing the Piglet extension that perhaps served as the inspiration for post-process actions in Lightroom 2.

I've also done other plugins... for Geoencoding, metadata maintenance, proximity searching, and more... the full list is on my Lightroom Goodies page.

Well, that's enough of tooting one's own horn... you get the picture.

I don't actually use most of these personally, and I don't get paid for them; I work on them because I enjoy it. I enjoy creating useful stuff, I enjoy that people use the useful stuff I've created, and I enjoy the warm fuzzy feelings that people sometimes return when I give them useful stuff.

It'd be nice if it were as simple as that, but more and more, the unfun aspects of software development have been creeping in. It seems that the mere act of giving actually creates much more work than it took to make the thing in the first place. Some days the crush of email – mostly bug reports, feature requests, and complaints – is so overwhelming that I can't even get through them, much less actually fix something or add a new feature. As I write this, my inbox has 1,544 messages that I've yet to fully attend to. This is stressful. Why do I feel a responsibility to follow through on something I've done for free in my almost-nonexistent spare time? I don't know, but I do.

Some days, of course, I do have time to work on things, and so far, for example, I have pushed out 72 upgrades to the Flickr plugin, and that's just since Lightroom 2 came out. For Lightroom 1 there were 47 additional versions. And that's just for one plugins; I've so far written 10.

I've been working on these as a warm-fuzzy side project for over two years now, and it's come to a point where it's now work and I have to make a change, to decide to let them languish, or get more serious about making it more tangibly worthwhile for me to attend to the unfun parts.

I sort of took a step last year when I quietly added a “donate” button to the plugins and to my blog. I have received some donations, and I am grateful. Oddly, the largest donation (a hundred bucks!) was unrelated to Lightroom: someone in Denmark simply enjoyed my blog.

Anyway, I'm thinking of ways to carry this further, to make the time and effort I spend on plugin development and maintenance – the work – worthwhile in a way that justifies it to me and my family. This is the point where most people would start a business, and start selling their work.

But I don't want to run a business. I don't want to sell a product. I don't want to deal with marketing or irate customers.

What to do?

The approach that plugin-developer Tim Armes has taken has a certain appeal. His freely-available plugins are limited (in his case, to process only 10 photos at a time) so that you can at least try them out. However, by making a donation via PayPal – a donation of any amount you like, whatever you feel the plugin is worth – you can remove the restriction.

A lot of people have been using my plugins freely for a long time, and may feel “cheated” to be suddenly restricted and hit up for registration. Sure, they could do it with just one cent (or whatever PayPal's minimum is), but perhaps even that's more hassle than it's worth for some. Some people might have philosophical issues with it, not wanting to part with even one cent, on principle. I expect that having used my free plugins for so long, some may even feel a sense of entitlement for them. How much of that is my responsibility?

I'd like to hear your comments. If you're a user of one of my plugins, how do you feel about this? What kind of approach would sit well with you, feel reasonable to you? What about if you use more than one plugin, and/or do so on more than one computer?

You can leave a comment on my blog, or via email. Thanks.

(To head off one thing I'm sure some plugin-users will comment on: I'll likely remove plugin expiration, but at the cost of rejecting bug reports that aren't for the most-recent version.)

Continued here...

The 30 most-recent comments (out of 70; see all), most recent last...

Jeff –

I use your plug-in for SmugMug and I find it invaluable. Would I be willing to pay something to allow you to keep working on this and your other plug-ins, heck yes!


— comment by Rick Freschner on February 5th, 2009 at 11:54am JST (15 years, 5 months ago) comment permalink

How timely this is — case in point to the first commenter: on Sunday, I literally upgraded to LR 2.x just to utilize (play with, really) your geoencoding plugin. What really pushed me over the motivational edge to seperated me from $100 was your plugin (which also happened to be the first plugin I’ve installed). So, the way I see it, I too hope that Adobe paid you well for your time testing the plugin interface since their investment is certainly paying off.

While I’ve only now geo-coded all of 7 photos, I can see how it’ll be useful. Donation-ware works for me. Open sourcing it may also be another route, but likely, cause a wholly different set of problems (work) as well.

But, let me also say, “Thanks!”, not only for the great plugin, but, also for the hours of entertainment and general geek/tech/photo wisdom you have shared in your blog.

— comment by John on February 5th, 2009 at 4:03pm JST (15 years, 5 months ago) comment permalink

From reading your post it look to me like you have 2 choices really:

1) If you don’t want to devote that much spare time to the those software projects anymore but still would like then to grow and participate in this, the open source is the way to go in my view. Having setup project in something like Sourceforge will give you all the infrastructure and can invite other developers to participate in addressing bugs, implementing new features etc. All the requests can be handled in the mailing lists there or bug tracking system they have. So your burden with handling all of it on your own or having massive Inbox will be greatly reduced by this.

2) If you wtill want to retain total control of the software but feel that you don’t want to spend your spare time on these projects anymore, yet still wont to work on them, then in my view the only option here is to make them “paid for” kind of software. Here however there are a few options that you might need to consider with pros and cons of each model of how you sell it.

The donationware and shareware on one side require minimal committment from yourself as in both cases people share your burden in developing the software by providing some renumeration for your time already spent on it.

On the otherside is full fixed payment model per major release or per service request (as specified earlier by someone per number of uploaded photos). But this in my view require will place a more expectations on you since when people paying for each major upgrade or per-usage, their expectations of the service are higher – i.e. bugs fixed with little delays, their problems addressed in timely manner, some support provided if they can’t figure something out etc. With all this it may as well turn out to be a small business more than a hobby project and will demand even more of your time.

Since I don’t know exactly whether you’ll want to make it into this kind of business or have it as a hobby or whatever else you will decide to do, I can’t say what is best for you. But for me personally I’d respect either of your choices. Your Zenfolio plugin is the thing I use every day and it simplifies my tasks immensely and let my parents on the other side of the world see their granddaughter progress (via photos) regularly everyday. So for me it will be worth every penny. Personally though, I think that service-like payment per number of uploads is a bit too much and is similar to as if Adobe would charge for LR per number of photos processed but again it is up to you to decide.

Thanks for your contribution so far.


— comment by Alex on February 5th, 2009 at 10:06pm JST (15 years, 5 months ago) comment permalink

Your plugins are great and seeing regular updates that are easy to update is a very nice feature. I would be happy to pay a modest amount. I use the GPS, Facebook and the Flickr one.

— comment by Ian Butterworth on February 6th, 2009 at 6:58am JST (15 years, 5 months ago) comment permalink

I agree with some of the earlier posts.

If the burden is becoming too great then release the code as open source, try to get some other people involved in the development, and reduce your individual workload as a result.

If you are happy to stick with it then the donation approach is a good idea, though the current donation button in the plugin is too easy to miss and you need to be more a little less shy about seeking donations. The other aspect re donations is people can be confused about what might be an appropriate amount and get embarrassed about what they considered offering. I’ve considered combining donations and a “buy me a beer/coffee” approach because its much easier for people to relate to. Most people would be willing to buy a friend a beer/coffee in return for a favour, and by making their LR workflow easier isn’t that what you’ve done for them?

Another thought. If you use the plugins their development will continue because their useful to you and the burden issue should disappear. If you are releasing plugins because you think someone will find them useful (but that someone does not include you) then you will reach a point where this becomes a win/lose proposition with users effectively demanding custom development services for free. Sounds like you are at that point right now.

I’ve just started plugin development myself and while I have some ideas for novel code I think other people would appreciate, I’m starting out with those I will use. If nothing else I have a pretty good idea what the target market really wants in the code! And I get something tangible out of the time I invest.

Enough rambling. Thanks for all the effort you’ve put in, and the development guidance you have given me personally!

— comment by Matt Dawson on February 6th, 2009 at 9:08am JST (15 years, 5 months ago) comment permalink

It seems by now from what I’ve read here that there is clearly a consensus: (a) your plugins are a great convenience (and thus value) to many people and (b) you should have little hesitation about requiring a modest payment to assure their continued and unrestricted use. I’d personally have little concern for those who might have “philosophical” qualms about a payment or who feel a sense of “entitlement” about continuing free use.

As you know, I pushed the “Donate” button some time ago…for me it became a “no brainer” at about my 300th Lightroom-to-Zenfolio export. Keep up the good work, and (hopefully) the continued updates and fine-tuning.

— comment by Phil Rose on February 7th, 2009 at 1:44am JST (15 years, 5 months ago) comment permalink

Take your time – don’t let others pressure you. Thank you for the plug-ins.

— comment by DB on February 9th, 2009 at 10:32am JST (15 years, 5 months ago) comment permalink

I think some people are missing the point (or a point). I’m all for developers making money on their work. I’ve donated to Gallery, Launchy,, amongst others. I just worry that accepting payment from users, there will be an unspoken sense of obligation on Jeffrey which would make it a lot less fun and eventually EOL the plugins. As Joel Spolsky often points out, when you put a monetary value on certain things you would do for fun, you start thinking of it in a different way. And it does happen. Even if it is sub-consciously you start to calculate the “rate per hour” of your development time and unless it is a near full-time venture bringing in a substantial amount it won’t be worth it.

I don’t use any of the plugins but might use the flickr plugin in the future and wouldn’t mind paying. But it isn’t about me, or other users, it is more about Jeffrey.

One possible idea is to get a sponsor for the plugins. Some related company, like Adobe or Scott Kelby’s Site. Companies sponsor podcasts, and they do so as a form of advertising and to build up good-will amongst their potential clients so it could be a viable option. I wish we had the budget to be a possible sponsor. The amount would be more than donations (and regular) but there would be less pressure to churn out work. Also keep the donation button but have a monthly meter along with it. Good luck!

Finally I would just like to say a big thank-you for writing these plugins and especially the Mastering RegEx book.

— comment by Ian Cheung on February 9th, 2009 at 12:46pm JST (15 years, 5 months ago) comment permalink

I’m coming late to this party Jeffrey, mostly due to the posting coinciding with the death of my grandfater last week.

I’ve said it before, you should be charging. Not just for you, but for other developers. In the ‘free’ environment, there is no incentive for other developers to kick in and create a competitive and innovative market.

It might mean taking the step into a business, creating a dedicated website and perhaps something like e-junkie to manage initial full version delivery. I’m sure that the bandwidth cost from updates can’t be cheap.

With the sheer number of updates, I have to say: Stop.
Fix bugs and update features, but don’t be releasing a build per fix (I know it’s not that often, but you get my meaning!). Set longer time periods for releases to take stress off.

Take a break. I’d rather see you resting than giving up!

— comment by Sean McCormack on February 12th, 2009 at 6:18am JST (15 years, 5 months ago) comment permalink

That’s absolutely the best response to this question yet Sean!

— comment by Sean Phillips on February 12th, 2009 at 6:21am JST (15 years, 5 months ago) comment permalink

As one of those who has been known to beg at your feet, I’m embarrassed that I didn’t donate sooner. Thank you, Jeffrey.

— comment by Mark Sirota on February 12th, 2009 at 6:24am JST (15 years, 5 months ago) comment permalink

Another vote for the “Timothy Armes model”.
I paid for the Mogrify plugin, and would pay for some of your plugins.

— comment by René Damkot on February 13th, 2009 at 4:49am JST (15 years, 5 months ago) comment permalink

Can “we” help? If I knew… what is needed to make a plugin, how to make a plugin, how to test and fix a plugin, I would love to help. Unfortunately, I’m an “old school” programmer. I started out writing assembler code for the Intel 8086 chip set and have moved on from there writing accounting software. Therefor, I’m probably not the best helper you could get but I’m sure there are a million “new school” programmers that could help. Make a blog on how to make and improve Lightroom plugins and see what happens.
I’ll just donate to your cause.
Thanks for all you’ve done!!!

There’s a plugin SDK on Adobe’s site… anyone can make plugins. I used punch cards in college, so I suspect I’m more “old school” than you! 🙂 —Jeffrey

— comment by Ray Abel on February 16th, 2009 at 4:07am JST (15 years, 5 months ago) comment permalink

Jeffrey, I’ll echo Sean’s advice — reduce your release rate, and please feel free to charge for your work. I’ve already donated once, and I’d pay an annual fee for updates.

How about an export plugin for Mpix?

Thanks for your excellent work.

— comment by Quentin Fennessy on February 17th, 2009 at 1:29pm JST (15 years, 5 months ago) comment permalink

Ooh, great idea, I’d use an Mpix export plug-in. Do they have an upload API?

I think their upload API is called “Zenfolio“. —Jeffrey

— comment by Mark Sirota on February 19th, 2009 at 12:39am JST (15 years, 5 months ago) comment permalink

I’ll wanted to donate when the Flickr plug-in was working well, but somehow I was surprised that there was no donate link as some other free software. I admit I was a bit proscrastinating in trying to find your Paypal e-mail but now at least I will have no choice. Thank you again for this great work!

— comment by EnsH on February 21st, 2009 at 9:20pm JST (15 years, 5 months ago) comment permalink

Hello Jeffrey,

I can understand your approach, and I’m willing to donate.

Unfortunately, I closed down my PayPal account recently, as their security measures do not comply with my requirements.
So, would there be an alternative to a PayPal donation?

Besides this:
What about adding a forum. Many FAQ could be handled ‘automatically’ by the forum. What do you think?


A forum/FAQ are great ideas, but at the moment I’m overwhelmed. I don’t even have the energy to keep my “known bugs” up to date )-: —Jeffrey

— comment by Hendrik on February 24th, 2009 at 3:29am JST (15 years, 5 months ago) comment permalink

Hi Jeffrey,

It is nice to read your thoughts on this subject. You are much deeper into it as I am. I have only one plugin to maintain. You have dozens of high quality ones. I also choose the option of using a donation button, with a free of choice of amount to donate. With basically the same results as you have.
I am also contemplating on what road to take. I do feel that these plugins improve the workflow of photographers and that this should at least be worth something to them. My idea right now is some sort of “free” and “pro” version. But a concept like that is only possible if this pro version adds additional value. Unfortunately most upload API (if exist at all) are limited to just that.. uploading.

keep up the good work


— comment by Paul Kamphuis on February 24th, 2009 at 6:57am JST (15 years, 5 months ago) comment permalink

>A forum/FAQ are great ideas, but at the moment I’m overwhelmed. I don’t even have the
> energy to keep my “known bugs” up to date )-: —Jeffrey

The Forum would save you work, as users would contribute.
I know of software (open source and closed source), where the support is mostly/to a high degree done by users (for example idimager / VDR).


— comment by Hendrik on February 25th, 2009 at 2:56am JST (15 years, 5 months ago) comment permalink

I’ll recommend that users looking for community support for Jeffrey’s plugins ask on Lightroom Forums. It’s probably the best place online to discuss all things Lightroom.

Of course, it isn’t any sort of official support channel for Jeffrey’s plugins (unless Jeffrey wants to declare that it is), but I (and, I’m sure, the other gurus there) will be happy to provide what support we can, then direct users back here for more detailed support when only Jeffrey knows the answer.

Jeffrey, if you’re interested in formalizing this in any way, let me know. Or feel free to direct people there if you like.

— comment by Mark Sirota on February 25th, 2009 at 12:51pm JST (15 years, 5 months ago) comment permalink


maybe an own Section in LR-Forums for Jeffreys plugins would help.
If then Jeffrey would link directly to it, he’d save a lot of work.


— comment by Hendrik on February 25th, 2009 at 4:52pm JST (15 years, 5 months ago) comment permalink

Hmm, let’s see…you’re a smart and dedicated person so you should have known that over time this WILL take over your life (since you are a perfectionist and will not leave anything half-way). You SHOULD have warned users that this MIGHT come down the line before holding them hostage the way you are with your “donation” requests. Go read a dictionary to understand what the word donation means…means you don’t ask for anything in return. If you are going to hold people hostage until they pay, take the word donation OFF your software. This is not donation, this is plain old “give me $$ or else…” … call it blackmail.

If you really don’t have the time, advertise it on the Internet and let one of your fans take up the cause. The users of your software should not have to suffer. You will loose the faith of the people who trust in your leadership. You’ve just lost an ardent fan because of your lack of long term thinking.

— comment by James on March 10th, 2009 at 3:00pm JST (15 years, 4 months ago) comment permalink

“…call it blackmail” — that is an ignorant and thoughtless comment. That is no more “blackmail” than paying $3.88 for a bottle of milk at the grocery store. Jeff’s code is of value, and he does not require anyone to use his code.

For some strange reason, James, you believe that those of us who use Jeff’s software have a fundamental right to continue to do so, regardless of what it means for the person who creates and maintains it.

— comment by Quentin on March 10th, 2009 at 9:07pm JST (15 years, 4 months ago) comment permalink

Try looking up the definitiion of Blackmail”
” in law, exaction of money from another by threat of exposure of criminal action or of disreputable conduct”
– From

Perhaps you meant Extortion rather than Blackmail. I’ll leave it to you to look that one up yourself, but I’ll tell you here that either one of them requires an illegal act. Jeffrey is simply providing a service that you can choose not to take adavantage of. Furthermore, he is continuing to provide Free versions of all of his products, and you only have to “donate” if you want to upgrade them in order to get a little bit more functionality.

So while “Donation” may not be the perfect term for essentially paying for an upgraded product, Blackmail is far worse. The product is still freely available if you decide not to donate (although somewhat restricted in its use), and there are no negative repercussions to you if you choose not to pay.

If you are really trying to say “Gee Jeffrey, I’d really rather not have to pay to use your products” then say it. But don’t accuse him of doing something illegal. That’s just crazy.

I really don’t understand the confusion here. Anyone and everyone can use all the features of all my plugins, forever, without giving me any money. The only way I receive any money, at all, is if someone chooses to gift some to me. There is no quid pro quo. Those who kindly send me a gift, say, out of a sense of thanks or encouragement, get nothing over those who don’t, except the warm fuzzies of my appreciation. I don’t see how it could be more clear. It’s not “blackmail”, and it’s not “paying for an upgraded product”. Registration is required, but I get no money when you register…. unless you want to send me some. Many people kindly do, and I appreciate that. Some don’t, and that’s their right.

As for the anonymous James and his clever summation of my long-term thinking, well, it’s almost worthy of replacing the funniest email I have ever gotten. (which perhaps he wrote?)—Jeffrey

— comment by Sean Phillips on March 10th, 2009 at 11:24pm JST (15 years, 4 months ago) comment permalink

Oh no, that other email is far funnier!

— comment by Sean Phillips on March 11th, 2009 at 2:02am JST (15 years, 4 months ago) comment permalink

I have used four of your plug-ins: Flickr, Facebook, Smugmug & Zenfolio when I was trying out their service. All of your plugins are essential to users of both Lightroom and the associated photo sharing site.

To be honest,I was miffed when the frequent updates caused my installed copies to become donation/payware. I didn’t really mind paying a token fee but felt like I was not informed in advance that the software would soon become commercial in nature.

I do not believe that the Facebook plug-in should be commercial in nature because Facebook is a very low-end picture sharing site that ruins any pictures you upload to it. I like to use your plug-in for facebook uploads simply because it works well with my Lightroom workflow. However, I still paid for your facebook plug-in.

Like others have suggested, you need to work with the Owners of Flickr, SmugMug and Zenfolio to make sure that you are fully compensated for the incredible value you are adding to their services.

Fact is that Adobe should have provided build in exporters for the main picture hosting sites along with their software. They didn’t and I think they would have no problem fully funding your efforts to make seriously improve Lightroom’s export functionality.

Again, as others before me have said, as you start requiring donations, you may find that you are even more stressed with the demands of “paying” customers and the need to provide technical support. This may cause the cost/benefit assumptions you’ve made to go against you.

Anyway, good luck on your plug-ins and I hope that you will be able to keep on working on them in the future. Also, please help Adobe improve their export/plug-in hosting implementation so that better plug-ins and export features come in the box.

In particular I would love a feature that automatically (overnight, scheduled?) processes all my pictures that have not yet been exported or have been edited since last export to my traditional “My Pictures” folder so that I can grab my snapshots from the file-system always knowing that they reflect any cropping or post-processing I’ve done to them in lightroom. This is especially important when I’m shooting raw and cannot quickly grab pictures to email or copy to usb stick because they are still in RAW format and do not have the adjustments I’ve made applied to them as JPG.

— comment by Chima on April 20th, 2009 at 2:30am JST (15 years, 3 months ago) comment permalink

I agree with most of the other posts. Your plugins are simply awesome and you really should be fairly compensated for your work. I don’t think it unreasonable for people to donate $5-20 for most of these plugins.

On another note, have you ever thought of teaching others how to develop some of these presets. Certainly in all of your work, you’ve gained significant knowledge that would benefit other Lightroom developers. I’m not sure if the weekend workshop format would work, but anyway to share that knowledge (and help you get paid) would probably reduce your workload.

Haven’t thought much about it, but I do answer a fair amount of email from other developers, so that’s a start. But it’s important to understand that my “workload” is not “anything possible with Lightroom plugins” because others can and do write them. My workload is exactly what I choose to take on. The problem is that I choose too much… 🙂 —Jeffrey

— comment by John McClement on July 3rd, 2009 at 10:40am JST (15 years ago) comment permalink

Hi Jeffrey,

I donated for a few reasons. Firstly, I’ve found the stuff you make really rather useful. Secondly, I’ve just been been paid and think I must be feeling the fuzzy glow of being in the black and thirdly (probably the most important part) I liked you, your blog and the way you articulated your reasons for setting up the donations in the first place.

Best of luck with it all…

— comment by Si on September 27th, 2009 at 11:14pm JST (14 years, 10 months ago) comment permalink

They “pay what you think it is worth” might be an interesting experiment. But it is one that has done by others and before you commit to it you should ask some of the other developers with a similar payment approach how it has worked out for them. The audio program Ardour uses that model (though with a default, or perhaps minimum, amount of $60).

Once you start accepting money then how committed will you be to supporting the products? Will that commit you to tackling all the emails? What about phone support? How much does someone have to pay to get telephone technical support? If necessary, will you be willing hire someone to help with the support? And how will you handle all that if your average donation is only $4? If one customer donates more than another, does that give them any sort of priority for feature requests, beta access, support turnaround, and the like? How will you be able to take a vacation?

If you have a full-time job right now and aren’t considering a career change, then I guess you can go whichever direction you will. But if you are serious about making these plugins commercial and doing it full time, then you should figure out what you think they are worth to people, charge a little more than that, have consistent and “serious” pricing, and plan on re-investing some of that money into advertising, learning materials, employees, and the like.

I can’t guess what might account for the angst in your note, but your interchangeable use of “donation” and “payment” indicates that you clearly don’t understand my position. This is not a commercial endeavor and I do not accept payments. If someone wants to send a gift in appreciation for what they already have, that’s fine and I appreciate it, but you can’t purchase anything from me (a plugin, support, commitment, photos, etc.). —Jeffrey

— comment by Chris Perkins on May 4th, 2010 at 8:02am JST (14 years, 3 months ago) comment permalink

Jeffrey, In admiration of your success I’ve decided to try developing my own pluggins, or at least try to.

I am stuck however at the simplest of steps, I can’t seem to figure out how to install the Lightroom 3.0 SDK. I have the LUA pluggins in eclipse but can’t for the life of me figure out or find info on how to install the SDK. DO you have a link or any help you could provide?

The SDK is just documentation, and samples. There’s nothing to install. —Jeffrey

— comment by John on January 15th, 2011 at 8:01am JST (13 years, 6 months ago) comment permalink
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