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The Wall Street Journal recently reported that Stack Exchange has been sold for $1.8 billion.

What does this mean for the community as a whole? Are there any changes coming as a result? If so, can we expect any Meta posts from the new parent company's execs introducing themselves and/or discussing the changes?

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    Announced on the blog as well.
    – 10 Rep
    Jun 2 at 16:44
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    Just to have a reference/link, related post also made on MSO. Jun 2 at 16:49
  • 1
    The announcement says that Stack Overflow is being acquired, not Stack Exchange. So what will the relationship between them be in the future?
    – Barmar
    Jun 2 at 18:19
  • 25
    @Barmar "Stack Overflow" is the publicly-used name of the company - the entire company was purchased, not only stackoverflow.com. :) Nothing is changing in the regards to the rest of the network.
    – Catija StaffMod
    Jun 2 at 18:22
  • Why did you accept Shogs answer instead of the one by staff? Sep 28 at 17:46
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    @EkadhSingh-ReinstateMonica The checkmark is used to mark the answer that helped you to solve your problem or is the one you consider best.
    – Ollie
    Sep 28 at 17:48
  • @Ollie wouldn’t the staff answer be the solution? It is the only one garunteed to be correct Sep 28 at 17:49
  • 4
    Staff answer is not guaranteed to either be the correct one or the most helpful one. A staff answer is just that - a staff answer. If staff says "don't worry, everything is going to be all right", and a non-staff answer says "they are planning on deprecating everyone", and the latter turns out to be exactly what happens, which one is more helpful? Sep 28 at 17:54
97

A collection of thoughts on this:

  • Most of the history of Stack Overflow has been defined by a frantic search for "that one weird trick" that would bring, not profitability, but wildly inflated growth. Y'know; the sort of thing that gets a tiny company bought for a billion or so. That... Leads to some bad, short-term thinking. Led. Led to some bad, short-term thinking. Lots of other factors can also lead to bad, short-term thinking of course... But at least there's one less factor in play now.
  • This new owner is already involved in the software educational space. Which is sorta like saying they're in the "selling pickaxes to prospectors" space. That's not a bad fit for SO, or rather, it could be a good fit for SO... But, these sorts of things can easily become more parasitic than symbiotic. It is crucial to watch for that balance to tip. Be aware: it may tip for you, personally long before it tips for everyone.
  • No one is going to talk about changing plans right now. No one can change plans right now. Best for everyone if "stay the course" is the consistent message. This announcement is a start, not a conclusion. Expect plans to change significantly shortly after this finalizes, with more dramatic changes coming as current management cashes out over time. What will change is anyone's guess. Assume that there's a reason for the purchase, a rather significant and unique bit of value that the new owner sees and wishes to nurture. Probably also safe to assume it isn't Teams in its current form.
  • This feels obvious, but... Expect more discontinuity in the folks who work for the company as they interact with y'all. Lotta folks already left over the past few years, and that's been felt - well, change in ownership tends to not make that stop happening. This isn't just about who you talk to when you email support; it can have subtle and far-reaching effects on what gets done, how it gets done, and how that is communicated. Those effects can be good - I think we've all seen some positive aspects of some recent turnovers - but, there will be change.
  • More than anything, the site is now a Product. That's not a euphemism; someone bought it, it's a product, they bought it for a purpose and just as the man who buys a steak knife but needing a saw will see that 2x4 cut through even if it takes all night... The Product will serve its buyer's purpose. The site we saw spring into being 13 years ago, whose first and primary purpose was to facilitate communication between programmers... That's not what this is anymore. It might continue to serve that role - I sure hope so! - but that is officially, definitively not its defining reason for existence.

Stack Overflow is all grown up. Like CodeGuru, like LiveJournal, like GitHub, like so many others... Its adolescent innocence is gone, and what happens now must happen with intent and purpose. We'll have to see what that ultimately means...

Disclaimers

  1. I have no insider knowledge. This is just speculation and opinion
  2. There's a possibility that I'll benefit financially from this sale. So, y'know, take the positive stuff above with a grain of salt.
  3. There's a possibility that I won't benefit at all from this sale. So, y'know, take the negative stuff above as sour grapes.
  4. Whoah - did you see that flash in the sky? Was that a plane, or... A satellite?
  5. Trying to predict the future is always fun, and always pointless. Wars and rumors of wars.
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    "There's a possibility that I won't benefit at all from this sale. So, y'know, take the negative stuff above as sour grapes." :(
    – Journeyman Geek Mod
    Jun 3 at 3:54
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    First and foremost I do hope you can profit in some way of this sale, I can't imagine SE paid you nearly enough for all the hard work and long hours you put in. At the same time I think you're post is far more negative then it needs to be. Yes, change is eminent, not today, not next week but most likely before the end of next year, as they intend to finish the deal by Q3. They most likely will need a bit of time to see how the company is running exactly, and what needs to be changed, so don't expect anything major in this year to change.
    – Luuklag
    Jun 3 at 7:43
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    I see change as largely neutral. There is always some change even without change in ownership and if there wouldn't be it's not a good sign either in a constantly changing world. The new owner is big, so new plans will be more long term, as you said. I guess this is probably a good thing. But then they paid a substantial price, so the need to commercialize will be quite high. I guess this might be a more negative thing.
    – Trilarion
    Jun 3 at 9:56
  • LiveJournal is still around?
    – TylerH
    Jun 3 at 15:01
  • I was wondering, is it possible for Stack Exchange to go in Expert Exchange way (for the public platform)? Like pay/subscribe to read answers (for future Q&A and not existing one)? Jun 4 at 4:38
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    @HimanshuJansari Possible yes, but maybe not very probable. Expert Exchange is not really that popular. Why would anyone try to emulate it.
    – Trilarion
    Jun 4 at 12:22
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    @Trilarion: Due to a money squeeze or some internal performance metrics (even in the spite of the company's DNA/history - it has already been diluted - why wouldn't it continue?) Jun 4 at 12:45
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    I was expecting some wild outrageous prediction in this answer. Jun 4 at 12:47
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    re: "there's a reason for the purchase, a rather significant and unique bit of value that the new owner sees and wishes to nurture." So true, the risk for the platform is how they treat the parts which are not of value or do not merit nurturing.
    – Travis J
    Jun 17 at 19:46
68

The TL;DR is not much this year. We have our current strategy, roadmaps and plans for this year and continue to be focused on those. It’s business as usual, as it says in our blog post, we would be operating independently. The leadership team is staying, including me. Most of the company just found out about this today and many are in shock and excited about the future. Prosus is very community-focused and excited about what you all have built. As we start to plan for 2022, I think we will see more opportunities to invest in our public platform sites and community. I will be publishing my State of the Stack blog and meta post this month and will go into more detail there.

For now, if you want to know more, we have a bit more detail on our blog post

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    Can you tell us anything about who from the company knew ahead of time? Was it just folks on this page: stackoverflow.com/company/leadership who were aware? Or did only the board know?
    – TylerH
    Jun 2 at 18:42
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    @TylerH I assume you're asking about “knowledge of the specifics”. Many of us community members knew SO management was trying to sell the company.
    – wizzwizz4
    Jun 2 at 18:57
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    @TylerH That sort of thing (which people internally are involved in settling a particular business contract) doesn't seem like something the community needs to know. Jun 2 at 20:15
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    @BryanKrause That's not really what I'm asking. The community also doesn't need to know that the company was sold, for what it's worth.
    – TylerH
    Jun 2 at 20:41
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    @wizzwizz4 We suspected... There's a difference. I think the odds were on MS. I've never heard of prosus 😅.
    – Journeyman Geek Mod
    Jun 2 at 22:48
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    So someone just paid $1.8B for you to keep operating independently. That surely beats the notorious burning of £1M by the KLF back in 1994!
    – sunny moon
    Jun 3 at 6:18
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    Looking forward to the coming details, but saying that a selling is business as usual might be an understatement. It's probably the opposite. I understand the message that it's not expected to be a big change. It still might be though.
    – Trilarion
    Jun 3 at 9:42
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    "Many are in shock" and "excited about the future" tend to be moods that are quite far removed from each other. I might feel that way if I just won the lottery; not so much if the company I work for suddenly got bought by an investment juggernaut. Let me say that I hope the employees won't live in times that are too interesting. Jun 3 at 11:25
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    @JeroenMostert considering that Spolsky said something like "congrats to 61 newly minted millionaires"... it sounds like your lottery comparison might be apt.
    – Catija StaffMod
    Jun 3 at 11:45
  • Don't shoot the messenger: many promises from the staff weren't kept in the past, so don't be surprised if the community doesn't believe your claims. We'll see what happens. Jun 5 at 16:20
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    It doesn't feel honest for you to contend that "not much" will change this year, which to be fair is probably just naivety, but still, there is no way to tell what changes they will make after the first quarterly reports when they are full owners.
    – Travis J
    Jun 17 at 19:43
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The pessimist case goes something like this:

The new company spent a huge sum of money on Stack Overflow and wants results. That'll mean selling us back our answers, charging a membership fee or cranking up ads. Whatever they decide to do, it will prioritize making money over the community who made these sites valuable.

Obviously that could happen. If so, that would be disappointing to say the least. Still, the question is what does a company expect from a $1.8 billion investment?

Prosus is a holding company. Probably the best known holding company is Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway. (Disclosure: I'm an investor in Berkshire. I also have vested options in Stack Overflow from my time as an employee.) Joel Spolsky's blog post suggests Stack Overflow will be allowed to operate independently, which is not unusual for a holding company. The core competency of a holding company is allocating resources to the most promising subsidiaries rather than actively managing them.

Very likely Stack Overflow will go into the "Ventures" division which includes:

The company's annual report gives us some clues about their intentions:

Ventures is about building the next wave of growth for the group. We invest with a long-term vision in mind but make sure to tether that vision to short- and medium-term operating realities around risks, competitive dynamics, future capital needs, and other considerations. Our capital commitments are commensurate with this balanced assessment. Over time, as we build our understanding and expertise, the amounts invested may grow substantially. A good example of this approach is Food Delivery, which was nurtured as part of Ventures before becoming a standalone core segment last year.—Martin Tschopp COO, Ventures

Cutting through the business speak, this means the Ventures segment hopes to invest in subsidiaries so that they become profitable in future years. For the past few years, Stack Overflow investors have been looking for an exit. Now the investors are looking to build value. It's a real change in incentives that probably will be a net positive for people who benefit from the information bound up in the network. (That means us!)

It's important to recall that CC BY-SA contributions can be used by third parties. Anyone can download the data and create their own resource. So the $1.8 billion isn't about the content. Instead, the value comes from:

  1. the brand,
  2. proprietary code,
  3. employees who continue to work for the company and
  4. the connection to a community of contributors.

In my opinion, this acquisition reduces the odds that Stack Overflow will go dark. There's an incentive to keep the investment in play even if "short- and medium-term operating realities around risks, competitive dynamics, future capital needs, and other considerations" keep Prosus from increasing their investment.

Now there are still risks. For one thing, none of the announcements mention Stack Exchange. Nothing says the new owner will be any better at recognizing the potential of non-coding Q&A than the current owner. I'm also mildly worried about a line from the Prosus press release:

"There is an opportunity to connect more deeply with their community through our other education platforms to further fulfill their learning needs."—Larry Illg, CEO of EdTech at Prosus

Still, the influence is just as likely to go the other way. By coincidence, I interviewed a CM at Brainly a few weeks ago. As we talked I kept thinking there's a potential harmony between a site dedicated to homework help (Brainly) and a network that is suspicious of homework questions (Stack Exchange). Again, holding companies are better than most at allowing subsidiaries some measure of autonomy.

I suspect a large multinational corporation will be an improvement for non-US employees and international Stack Overflows. (Maybe be a little more friendly with China.)

Of all the options (IPO, buyout or status quo) this seems the best outcome. Management no longer needs to put lipstick on the pig. They won't need to spend time looking for investors. Their performance won't be tied to quarterly growth (at least not immediately). Nobody will need to worry about the company making payroll. I don't know a whole lot about Prosus, but it seems like as good a home as any.

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    Jon, I think your missing one point in your list of where value comes from. The commercial offerings such as SO for Teams. In regards to nothing mentioned about Stack Exchange, well they bought the entire company, not just the site SO. Stack Exchange does business under the name Stack Overflow, but this you were most likely aware of ;)
    – Luuklag
    Jun 3 at 7:37
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    "I don't know a whole lot about Prosus..." I read the Wikipedia article. It belongs to Naspers which got rich by investing in Tencent and is now slowly selling the Tencent investment to sprawl all other the world.
    – Trilarion
    Jun 3 at 9:47
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    @Luuklag: I had Teams bundled under "proprietary code", but I realized last night I should have added "customer relationships", which would include Teams and Enterprise. My concern with SE not getting mentioned is that it means the new company doesn't put a lot of value on it. Or, less pessimistically, hasn't formed plans or doesn't want to share its plans publicly. Jun 3 at 14:55
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    They didn't pay $1.8B for the employees. There might be some institutional knowledge there that they want to ensure continues, but at the end of the day the employees are replaceable.
    – anonymous
    Jun 3 at 18:52
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    @anonymous I disagree. Remember that while each employee is replaceable, it's not that every employee is repleceable. You can replace a few, but you need the culture, common brain, ... to continue to exist -- that's the value in "employees"!
    – yo'
    Jun 4 at 7:13
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    Why are you worried about the education part (not a rhetorical question)? Can you elaborate a little bit? Jun 4 at 12:35
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    @P.Mort.-forgotClayShirky_q: It's just that I don't know what "connect more deeply with their community" means. Not to say that Stack Overflow has it all figured out (it doesn't), but there's a risk of forcing ideas that don't work for SE/SO communities. It's more of a "mild" worry as I said and not very well defined at that. It's symbolic of the "when you have a hammer, everything is a nail" problem that happens when people don't understand a community as well as they might think they do. Jun 4 at 17:47
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    "I suspect a large multinational corporation will be an improvement for non-US employees and international Stack Overflows. (Maybe be a little more friendly with China.)" I'll file that under "I'll believe it when I see it"
    – Journeyman Geek Mod
    Jun 5 at 9:44
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    "Management no longer needs to put lipstick on the pig" - love it! But when someone buys a pig at the market, it's rarely to keep it as a pet. The best we can hope is that this particular pig is for breeding, but there's always the risk that the choicest cuts end up on display at the butcher's, and the SE communities end up as offal. Jun 12 at 7:31
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In addition to the information listed in Ekadh's answer: From Joel Spolsky's Kinda a big announcement (a small understatement), it says:

Prosus is an investment and holding company, which means that the most important part of this announcement is that Stack Overflow will continue to operate independently, with the exact same team in place that has been operating it, according to the exact same plan and the exact same business practices. Don’t expect to see major changes or awkward “synergies”. The business of Stack Overflow will continue to focus on Reach and Relevance, and Stack Overflow for Teams. The entire company is staying in place: we just have different owners now.

Which should ease concerns about this.

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    I am interested in how data collected and compiled about us (beyond what can be scraped from the outside) will be handed over to the new owner and what the new owner's goals with that data are. As in, who they are interested in selling it. And whether I can have a say in preventing it. (Btw. to which "YoU cAn StOp UsiNg ThE SerViCe anY MiNUte" does not seem to offer a remedy.)
    – Levente
    Jun 3 at 0:20
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    Even if such compiled data would not exist — which I would remain hard to convince about — given the shape of the world in 2021, I would expect from a company born from the blend of technology and a community to think about this aspect and to address it.
    – Levente
    Jun 3 at 0:26
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    I have submitted a question about it.
    – Levente
    Jun 3 at 4:34
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When I first saw this - the first thought that came to mind was....

"The avalanche has already started. It is too late for the pebbles to vote."

yes, I'm a Babylon 5 fanboy

While this is a very different context from its source - we've been in a time of fairly constant change, and this is a big... unexpected one. I've never heard of Prosus (so, this is a bit of an unknown).

Practically though - the only real way to tell, rather than speculation is to see the actual direction, through actions, not press releases, that the company takes over the next 6-8 months, and beyond.

Rather than speculate - I hope...

  • there's a few former employees I hope are done right by with this (and they got an unexpected (and well deserved) windfall :D )
  • that the 'broader' community isn't forgotten, we're more than SO
  • and that SE maintains its culture without 'good intentioned' meddling
  • We have the sort of stability that SE's sometimes lacked as a VC based firm.
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    This seems to be the best answer to a speculative question by focusing on what should happen instead of speculating what might happen. :)
    – Trilarion
    Jun 3 at 9:40
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    Talking about windfall, I wouldn't mind getting $1.8B * my_reputation / sum(all reputations). Should I send my paypal address to contact@prosus.com? Jun 5 at 11:25
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Not much, really

for now, at least

From the blog post

How you use our site and our products will not change in the coming weeks or months, just as our company’s goals and strategic priorities remain the same. As the acquisition is finalized, and we continue to partner with Prosus, I will keep you all posted through my regular quarterly blog posts and Teresa Dietrich, our Chief Product and Technology Officer, will do the same in her quarterly community blog posts.

So, for the next couple month at least, nothing is changing.

However...

The blog post also said

Once this acquisition is complete, we will have more resources and support to grow our public platform and paid products, and we can accelerate our global impact tremendously. This might look like more rapid and robust international expansion, M&A opportunities, and deeper partnerships both on Stack Overflow and within Stack Overflow for Teams.

Which might mean more SE ads, and an influx of new users. Or it might mean something completely different, It’s difficult to tell.

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    Unfortunately we probably still won't see any dev hours put into chat...
    – TylerH
    Jun 2 at 18:33
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    @TylerH that might be a blessing in disguise
    – Kevin B
    Jun 2 at 19:00
  • @TylerH what’s wrong with chat? Jun 2 at 21:33
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    @EkadhSingh You can't flag for room owner attention, you can't reply to specific messages, you can flag for all 10k users on the entire network, room owners can't kick users from rooms for useful/arbitrary durations or ban users from rooms, users can't attach images when text is already in the message input field, multi-line chat breaks formatting, and so, so much more.
    – TylerH
    Jun 2 at 21:42
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    @TylerH You can't reply to specific messages? There's a reply feature, which is a reply to a specific message, as I'm sure you know, so I'm assuming you mean something that I'm not thinking of.
    – Makyen
    Jun 3 at 2:09
  • @Makyen Sorry, I was mixing up Teams there with Stack Chat.
    – TylerH
    Jun 3 at 13:36
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It hasn't yet been mentioned in this thread, but the Prosus product that's likely to stand out for many European users is OLX which is the equivalent to craigslist - an online classifieds site. In some countries, OLX has near hegemony of online classified adds (with TV commercials) and being the "go to" resource if you're looking to buy/sell online (for anything, from a hamster to a house).

I've used it for over 10 years as a buyer, and recently all the small-time amateurs and professionals who had their shops online complained about sudden business rule changes that drastically reduced usability for them (over night they were limited in number of pictures and posts - imagine you could only host 10 screenshots at any given time - plus they had to frequently renew their adds manually which made them incur in losing unreasonable amounts of time just to maintain their adds).

So, one worry is if the "long-term investor" applies the same business model they used with OLX to SE where some years down the road functionalities will suddenly be limited to a level that renders participation nearly senseless without some kind of paid tier.

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    OLX would benefit a lot from a team of SO engineers reviewing/rewriting all their obnoxious web and mobile apps. Hopefuly the influence goes in this direction and not the other way around.
    – brasofilo
    Jun 4 at 18:06
4

Joel Spolsky, Stack Overflow's chairman of the board, posted "Kinda a big announcement" on his blog.

Quoting a bit from it:

the most important part of this announcement is that Stack Overflow will continue to operate independently, with the exact same team in place that has been operating it, according to the exact same plan and the exact same business practices. Don’t expect to see major changes or awkward “synergies”. The business of Stack Overflow will continue to focus on Reach and Relevance, and Stack Overflow for Teams. The entire company is staying in place: we just have different owners now.

Which seems very important. You're not going to see the people currently steering the ship forward going anywhere. You're not going to see overarching changes. What you will see (hopefully, anyway) are more awesome people joining Stack Overflow's workforce. This means we should be able to see developmental goals being met, as well as new goals being reachable in a more timely fashion.

I'm not worried about this acquisition, and I don't think you should be either.

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    Joel's is the kind of announcement I've heard from CEOs of corporations that were getting acquired (i.e., persons who were suddenly going to become very rich) several times now. Possibly or even probably I'm wrong, but in every case those who did not own stock fared rather less well. Time will tell in this case, but in the meantime I doubt I'll enjoy what Dr. Johnson called "a triumph of hope over experience."
    – Robusto
    Jun 2 at 17:30

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