Translating/Transcribing postcard messages

@Varn wrote repeatedly that he wants to “build a case” against the translation topic. He did it like preparing legal procedure or in a debate at a discussion course.

I don’t. My impression is that he’s in to win this. He tries to act like a moderator, by summing up some arguments, but unfortunately he did it in a subjective way: By dismissing, ignoring or twisting arguments which didn’t support his suggestions. He tried to fence the discussion to his liking and even made himself the judge, by curtly calling arguments invalid or not sound. And he implied things that weren’t written.

I voiced all this repeatedly, but his attitude didn’t change. Instead he continued to frame me in a way that I can only call inappropriate.

In my opinion acting like that can only mean that the person desperately wants to succeed.


After digesting posts #242 through #249, let’s see how the case can be refined.

Sticking point: Presumption of privacy versus publicity

One particular sticking point lies in presumption of privacy versus presumption of publicity for postcard writings. It must be noted that I’m not building a legal case here. Rather, it is about the Postcrossing concept or the kind of service Postcrossing provides and the kind of postcard experience that I expect Postcrossing to curate. It is not illegal to post one’s written messages in most cases. It is also not illegal for Postcrossing to implement the proposed ban, which is certainly only a rule not a law.

My proposed ban adopts the principle presumption of privacy. Postcard writings are private by default unless permission is granted. On the other hand, alternatives “Revise guidelines” and “Keep status quo” presume postcard writings are public.

This principle is pretty much black and white. Suppose “postcards are private except for translation”. As a sender, we have no idea whether our postcard will be subject to translation needs. However big or small the chances are, the guideline effectively presume postcards are public. In my opinion, this is not the spirit of Postcrossing.

On (allegedly) invalid arguments

I described some arguments as invalid when I spotted self-contradiction in the reasoning. I realize this may sound disrespectful. I regret my word choice. Those arguments mainly revolve around data storage. See #221, among others, and my interpretation #225. Consider these two cases

  1. Images posted in a public post temporarily but can be moderated and deleted
  2. Images exchanged in a private message permanently and cannot be deleted

The question is: Which is safer?

  • Would it actually be safer for us to exchange addresses in a public thread?

If one thinks 1 is safer for images, then one would also think 1 is safer for addresses. Obviously we don’t wish to publish addresses as in 1. So here we have a point of self-contradiction (see also #241. This is not to judge if alternatives are right or wrong, valid or invalid. It was only my rebuttal that these counter-arguments do not necessarily alter the logic of my argument.

So again, in this specific case, where exactly do we disagree? It seems to be again the presumption. Postcard writings are public so data security is no longer a concern in this case.

By the way, the delete function in private messages is a straightforward improvement for the forum. However, as noted in #234, it may not be easy due to the forum’s software architecture.

Below are again the three main positions that have emerged so far. Refer the OP for details. If you don’t agree with me, most likely you don’t agree with one or more of the principles/pros/cons listed in my recommendation, but instead, agree with those listed in the alternatives. Hope this helps us understand each other better.

Last but not least, even with the ban, the translation thread will go on with all the communication and mutual learning activities, such as postcard texts and captions. Only with postcard writings, I seek understanding that the inconvenience caused is for the sake of fairness (especially non-forum members) and the Postcrossing concept.

Recommended measure


  • Senders are the most vulnerable party as far as the message part is concerned
  • Presumption of privacy
  • Transparency: Exceptions (at least significant ones) to be made explicit


  1. Conforms to the community guidelines. No more exception within Postcrossing’s purview.
  2. Relieve workload of Postcrossing team to screen the content of postcard writings.
  3. Obviate the necessity to explain the official translation thread on the main site. Not all Postcrossers are forum members.


  1. More troublesome to get a translation/transcription.

Alternative 1: Revise guidelines


  • Recipients to be prioritized over senders
  • Presumption of publicity
  • Significant exceptions to be made explicit


  1. Community guidelines reflect current activities on the forum
  2. Easy to get a translation/transcription


  1. Difficult to explain on the main site
  2. Difficult to moderate the content of postcard writings

Alternative 2: Keep status quo


  • Recipients to be prioritized over senders
  • Presumption of publicity
  • Exceptions (at least some insignificant ones) to be kept implicit


  1. Easy to get a translation/transcription
  2. Decrease questionable posts outside of Postcrossing
  3. Safer to publish postcard images temporarily in a public thread than to store them permanently in private messages


  1. None
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@varn I don’t know if you’re letting arguments out by oversight or with purpose; perhaps it’s a language issue, and the topic is quite complex.

As this seems really important to you, and I don’t agree with your summary in many points, I’ll try to assist again. I really hope that the missing points will now find entry in your summary.

To "Sticking point":

You write that “the guideline effectively presume postcards are public”. This is not true. The guidelines say: “The addresses given to you are private information and can only be used for Postcrossing purposes. Do not share them with anyone or make them public on the internet. This also applies to what is written on the postcards you have received, so please do not scan it.”

The rule is: Don’t scan the backside of postcards. The translation topic is a tiny tolerated exception, made for a certain purpose: help for translation. The translation topic doesn’t make the rule obsolete.

To "Invalid arguments":

You suggest to share the pictures of backsides not in the topic, but in private messages. And you compare it with the exchange of adresses.

As I already pointed out, the comparison isn’t suitable, so why do you keep on mentioning it?

You can’t compare the exchange of adresses for swaps or forum games with the exposure of the picture of a postcard. Both may contain personal data, but:

  • The adress exchange is an agreement between two persons, sender and reciever. As an adress contains highly sensible data directly linked to a person, it’s self-evident that it shouldn’t be exchanged in topics, but in private messages.

  • The exchange of a postcard’s backside’s picture would occur between the reciever and a third person. The sender hasn’t agreed to this. The picture could contain data linkable to a person via research (postcard ID), or a name or place, or data about family or job (like married to, kids named, work at…). But we’re talking about less sensible data.

Comparing incomparable issues doesn’t strengthen a case, but makes it implausible. This comparison is invalid.

If you want to compare something, let’s stick to the relevant comparison “posting picture in the topic” or “sending the picture via PM”.

Btw, the missing consent is an important point here because this bothers you enormously concerning the topic, but strangely not concerning the PM. But it’s important for readers of this topic to find all arguments in your summary, isn’t it? So why are you leaving out this important point?

To "Recommended measure":

Your third principle is “Transparency: Exceptions (at least significant ones) to be made explicit”.

As I pointed out repeatedly, the exceptions are not significant. It’s about 1 in 10.000 cards (conservatively estimated). 0,0001% is not a significant amount which would require a change of the terms.

If you want to be transparent and objective, you should put a hint about the percentage in your summary to let readers decide if they find it significant.

And the point “relieve workload” in the Pros is questionable because with a ban there would be topics to delete where people ask for translation. This requires work too, especially explanations why they’re deleting it.

And in the Cons you’ve let out the risk mentioned by several members that users in search of translation get pushed to other platforms, outside the responsability of Postcrossing.

To "Alternative 1: Revise guidelines"

Same here: If you want to be transparent, you should put a hint about the percentage of 0,0001% in your summary to let readers decide if they find it relevant.

And you should mention under “Cons” that mentioning a theoretically possible, but highly improbable exposure of a postcard in the terms & conditions could scare away (new) members.

To "Alternative 2: Keep status quo"

The second principle “presumption of publicity” isn’t tenable, as I pointed out above. An exeption doesn’t make a rule obsolete. It’s about exceptional tolerance of publicity.

And I think you should mention in the Pros why the topic is assumed safer than a PM: Because a topic is under moderation by responsible persons, PMs not.

A last thought: I wonder why you don’t mention the possible 3rd Alternative in your summary, how the translation topic could be ameliorated to make it more safe. There were some good ideas written about this.


Comparing apples and oranges?

For avoidance of misunderstanding, indirectly quoting #252, let’s suppose someone named Gamma raised the following two points to compare the cases of exchanging addresses and postcard writings:

  1. The address exchange is an agreement between two persons: the sender and the recipient. As an address contains highly sensitive data directly linked to a person, it’s self-evident that it shouldn’t be exchanged in topics but should be exchanged in private messages.
  2. The exchange of a postcard’s backside would occur between the recipient and a third person. The sender hasn’t agreed to this. The picture could contain data linkable to a person via research (postcard ID), or a name or place, or data about family or job (like married to, kids named, work at…), but the data are less sensitive than addresses.

What does Gamma really trying to say here? One explanation is Gamma thinks it is impossible for a postcard message to contain personal data that requires the level of delicate treatment as addresses. To confirm this, let’s assume Gamma acknowledges a postcard message happens to contain address-equivalent personal data. Then according to Point 1, it should be exchanged through private messaging. This contradicts Point 2. So these two points are compatible with the presumption of publicity that Alternatives 1 and 2 have in common.

To directly compare posting postcard writings in a public thread versus exchanging through private messages too, let’s begin like this.

  • Posting postcard writings in a public thread is safer than through private messages
  • Then, posting addresses in a public thread is also safer than through private messages
    • Obviously it is not. Then, posting postcard writings/addresses through private messages is actually safer.

Now we realize that in this case, safety cannot be used as a justification for Alternative 2 – Keep status quo. Otherwise it amounts to saying one is fine with their addresses being published. It is not about data safety, but again, it returns to the presumption of publicity.

If missing consent is an issue in public posts, then it is an issue with private messages too?

Next, as with one’s position on whether consent is needed for public posts and for private messages, there are 4 combinations.

  1. If missing consent is an issue in public posts, then it is an issue with private messages too.
  2. If missing consent is an issue in public posts, then it is not an issue with private messages.
  3. If missing consent is not an issue in public posts, then it is an issue with private messages.
  4. If missing consent is not an issue in public posts, then it is not an issue with private messages either.

However, in some cases, it makes little sense to infer one from the other. Similar to #252, Gamma claims that 1 is true. How did Gamma come up with this statement? How can one infer A from B? Perhaps like this.

  • If consent is missing in public posts, it is an issue.
  • Private messages are more dangerous than public posts.
  • If consent is missing in private messages, it is also an issue.

Now we’ve found one plausible implicit condition in Gamma’s statement which is

  • Private messages are more dangerous than public posts.

In other words,

  • Public posts are safer than private messages.

Then, to respect Gamma’s perception, we should post in public thread not only postcard writings of a third party but also Gamma’s address because in general Gamma thinks Private messages are more dangerous than public posts.

Screening before posting

Depending on what to screen, it is compatible with my recommended measure or Alternative 1/2 because the overarching principles in each case remain unchanged,

  • Only remove address and ID. This means postcard writings are presumed to be public.
    • Revise guidelines :arrow_forward: Alternative 1
    • Do not revise guidelines :arrow_forward: Alternative 2
  • Screening includes the message contents to ensure no privacy concerns.
    • By the time the admin/moderator approves, there will have been a transcription/translation because in order to screen the contents, one has to read it first.
    • The poster gets a transcription/translation, no need to publish.
    • :arrow_forward: Compatible with the proposed ban. The difference is that instead of the recipient looks for a translator by himself, the admin/moderator does it for him.
    • Eventually this means Postcrossing will provide a transcription/translation service, which I don’t think is necessary or practical. So I only propose a ban.
1 Like

Quod erat demonstrandum - what was to be proven is proven.

I find that @varn’s answer to my summary of missing points illustrates well that he is in to win this.

If @varns goal was to build a case, by spreading his problem in the forum to discuss it with others and put together all collected Pros and Cons, he could have used my and other’s input to make his case more objective and complete.

Instead he focuses only on my critic that his comparison isn’t plausible. (Sigh.) I can’t follow his logic anymore. I’m tired of reading lengthy essays instead of precise arguments.

This kind of discussion isn’t useful.


Is this useful discussion? It’s just your opinions. Nothing about this topic.

So no matter how good points is taken up, have you too decided to disagree just to disagree?

He has. Please read the first post in this topic.
It’s edited many times. Suggestions that did not get support have been “taken out of the focus” but left there still to read (not all are here every day, or reading everything when they are, but might be interested later).

My impression is, if he answers to you, it’s called he repeats it. If he doesn’t, he ignores. If he replies and tries to put it to an example, it’s “lengthy essay”, if he doesn’t reply to what is replied earlier, he ignores. To me it seems you try to corner him, by focusing on the way he answers, not what he answers.

I support the total ban.

If every suggestion has disadvantages, this ban would be in line with the guidelines, and therefore the best option.

Telling openly about the risk, they may not put too much info to their cards, it serves as general safety warning, and also will help they in their decision if they join.

I don’t think Postcrossing needs to lure members by leaving out the important information that messages, possible containing private information, are published in a place where anyone can see them and that their privacy is not valued as one is given impression of, when now joining.

The situation now can scare away new members if/when they see the ignorance to their privacy, and reality being different than guidelines. It can also scare away old members.


As I already wrote, I’m tired of re-re-reading all of this. Why should I control whether he’s edited his former posts? Wouldn’t it be just polite to write a quick reply that he has added some of my points? That’s what normally happens in threads like this.

I invested time here, especially into the summary of missing points. But varn has (again) decided not to answer; editing posts instead of replying isn’t a discussion.

It seems that you didn’t read my posts. I added lots of content by going into varns arguments. I also commented the way he led the discussion because it angered and annoyed me.

I accept that your perception is differently, but I won’t change mine.


This is getting ridiculous. “Luring members”? You can’t be serious. “Important information” if it might concern 0,0001% of official cards? On busy days it goes down to 0,00006% and further.


The information in this case doesn’t turn to less important, even if doesn’t concern every situation.
Because there is no way to tell or choose if my message will be published or not. And how many times. Do you agree? Then everyone who thinks of joining should be informed about this, that the publishing of their message is allowed in the forum, open for anyone to see, even outside of Postcrossing.

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I understand.
But you also have written:

So seems to me you assume people searching what you have answered.
To me it’s good idea to keep the information in the first message, which is easy to find. Varn has also linked to the messages where is more information about what he writes.

But this is off topic. I just see that people think something @varn does, wrong, but they do it the same themselves.

If you feel something isn’t answered, maybe ask it shortly again.

(Like if I remember correctly, the translating happening in public message vs private message. When you asked more clearly, it was answered at once.)

I have read.
And I have actually a question, because at least one part I understood it differently. I will shortly add it here. :hourglass_flowing_sand:

Related to this thread and the frustrations expressed here, I’d just like to mention that I figured out how to block users and it has made my life better. I highly recommend it.


(This was to varn, but my example how we understand (I think) the situation differently).
The presumption of postcards being public comes from the fact, that the publishing happens randomly.
Sender has no control over if their message is published.

The situation now, that allows any random postcard being published, comes from a presumption that a postcard is public, hence allowed to be published.

(About “allow” - “tolerate” which seemed to be also different to you, and you didn’t like the use of “allow”.
I admit, language might mean something here.

In a situation, where is possible to choose (publish or not).
Allowing happens before tolerating.
I don’t like drunken people in my house.
My boss is drunken in my house.
I tolerate it.
But I have allowed him to come to my house or get drunk.
I can: not to allow him come, and I don’t need to tolerate it.

So we can: not to allow message publishing, and we don’t need to tolerate it.

Edit: I forgot the question (I won’t add it to the earlier post, because hint about forum usage possibility was added after it):
If the presumption of publicity is not true, how is it allowed to publish any random postcard without permission of the sender, or information about it can happen?

Now, even the fact that my address will be given to the one who sends me a card, is separately told.
Following this principle/impression of wanting to specify what part of information is shared, it would be presumable, that I will be informed beforehand if my message is allowed to be randomly published and if I agree to that.


I’m closing this topic for now as I don’t think there’s anything productive being added anymore and now it has become mostly a place of friction (and some disrespect) between some members.

I will follow-up here on this in a few days when we are not so overwhelmed with some late work for the World Postcard Day.


I finally have read through the topic and we have given it some thought.

TL;DR summary
There is some merit to what is being pointed out here. However, we consider the current approach to already be a balanced one. The translation topic has been useful to the community throughout the years (with no issues that we know of) and the proposed alternatives would essentially negate that going forward, or have other problems of their own. Hence, we are not going to change the Community Guidelines and the translation topic will not be removed, but we are making some small changes to it.

Now for the slightly longer answer.

In over a decade that the translation topic existed, we received no complaints about a postcard posted on it. Granted, a decade is a pretty long time and we handle dozens of issues every day, so don’t ask us to swear on that — we forget things, like everyone. But to the best of my knowledge, there was never an issue on the translation topic with a particular postcard that would put in question the existence of the topic itself (which, btw, predates the existence of the Community Guidelines in Postcrossing). It’s important to state this upfront because the way this subject has been framed — and the magnitude of the discussion — make it look like it’s a much bigger issue than it actually is in practice. I’ll come back to this at the end.

It also needs to be clarified that the translation topic is not “run by Postcrossing”. Took me a bit to understand where this was coming from. We started the translation topic on this forum because we tried to make sure that useful or interesting threads from the old forum would continue on this one too. The translation topic was one of them, which on the old forum had been started by someone else, and could just as well have been another person to start the corresponding one here too, hadn’t we gotten to it first. What is relevant is that, yes, we are aware of it — but Postcrossing doesn’t run it nor is the Forum team necessarily helping there to translate things: it’s the community that does it. The topic is moderated like other topics on the forum and the forum team acts whenever they spot something wrong, a post is flagged or otherwise brought to their attention by the community itself.

Changing gears: privacy is important, but is also a loaded term and that sometimes causes some confusion. The context where it is used can change what it means. By the definition of a postcard, it travels naked (without envelope), so not exactly the place to write something that was meant to be very private and for exclusively the receiver to see. In Postcrossing, most postcards carry friendly greetings to random strangers; it’s not unheard of that mail-carriers read — and even comment on — the postcard messages when they deliver them to postcrossers, and there’s even reports of staff at the post office counter sometimes reading the postcards in front of the customer (albeit that is really awkward to say the least, /cc @missmelbourne). Then, the mail sorting equipment of at least some postal operators photographs (and stores) all the mail they process (for various reasons, not judging as that’s not the point here) and postcards, with their messages, obviously go into that too. Then, once delivered, postcards are often shared with family, friends, co-workers, other postcrossers at meetups, collectors, etc — all without an explicit consent from the sender. Sometimes postcards are offered, sold or even inherited by people who may or may not know about Postcrossing. All of this should be expected when we mail a message written on a piece of cardboard, specially to someone across the world that we don’t know much about.
What may not be expected is that the message ends up being published on the internet for an indefinite period of time for the world to see — which is why we have the request on the Community Guidelines to not do that, even if, realistically, Postcrossing has very limited control over that outside of the project.
The point I’m trying to make here however is that privacy can be a gradient as it very much depends on the context. And the expectation that a greeting sent to a stranger will always be kept absolutely private in all scenarios is not well calibrated, even if some privacy is requested. In sum, the privacy of a message on a postcard is not the same as privacy that a business must have on personal data they keep. There’s expectations of privacy on both, but they are not the same.

Moreover, a postcard sent to a stranger, written on a script, language or manner that the receiver won’t understand, should in general have less expectations that the message will be seen only by eyes of the receiver. In this scenario, they are unlikely to understand it and thus it will need to be shared, at the very least with an online/machine translator, but possibly with other people too. This is an important point that has lead us to allow this topic on the forum for over a decade now. Yes, there’s some assumptions in this argument, but we consider them to be reasonable ones and that they cover the vast majority of the scenarios. That, along with the fact that we make sure that the text to be translated is automatically removed from the topic not long after makes this a reasonable approach in our view. It is not correct to compare these short lived posts of a postcard text for the sole purpose of getting translation help from other postcrossers, with the different scenario where someone could be systematically and indiscriminately publishing both image&written sides of all postcards they received, for the world to see for an indefinite amount of time (think personal blogs, social networks, etc).

It should be said also that an approach where everything needs consent, regardless of context, can lead to paralysis or unreasonable complexity. For example, for many years Postcrossing helps find Postcard IDs that are unreadable or missing. For that, we receive the information about what is written on the postcard (as that often helps identify the sender). Does anyone expect we request consent from all the senders of postcards the person is expecting, to be able to read what they wrote, and only then try to determine the Postcard ID? Would that be more correct? Maybe, but also quite confusing and impractical. Are we going to update the Community Guidelines to include a reference that we do this? No.

Having said all this, there are some relevant points brought up by this discussion. It is true that when posting a postcard on the translation topic, names or Postcard IDs could be posted too which may somewhat identify the sender, and that is not necessary for the purpose of translating the message.
Moreover, it’s been pointed out that someone could use the translation topic as an excuse to post the written side of postcards elsewhere. Personally I find that to be a very unlikely justification someone will use and it is something we have never seen in 16 years, but it could happen.

So, we are making some small changes on the first post of the translation topic:

  • We are now requesting that any posted image hides any element that may trivially help identify the sender, such as their name or a Postcard ID. This does not aim to make it impossible to determine the sender, but should minimize the possibility of identification for most cases. The message/text, of course, will still be visible (temporarily) as that is what needs to be translated, but for most scenarios it will essentially be anonymous.

  • We are adding text to make it clear that the topic is only for the purpose of helping translating text that otherwise wouldn’t be understood by the receiver, but that the Community Guidelines still apply otherwise, both on other parts of the forum and as well as outside of it. This is only making more clear what has already been the case so there are no practical changes for the topic.

  • Lastly, we are now suggesting to consider tools like Google Translate, DeepL and Yandex Translate as possible alternatives for doing the task. It may sound obvious to some, but many don’t remember they can do that and all it may take is a nudge.

The translation topic has already been updated with these changes. Now, to wrap up.

Our approach regarding the translation topic has been and continues to be a pragmatic one, with what we think is a balanced approach. Considering that postcards travel naked, are primarily friendly greetings sent to strangers, that the posted messages are written by senders who likely expect that the message will need to be shared in one way or another for the receiver to understand it, that the text to translate is automatically removed not long after, and that it has been very useful throughout the years… we find this to be acceptable compromise to allow the translation topic on the forum. We think the additional tweaks we just did further justify the existence of the topic and we won’t be making any further updates. We may, at some point in the future, move the topic into a category that requires login to see it — this is currently not possible without some restructuring on the forum that we won’t be doing now, and we also don’t think it is crucial, nor urgent, for all the reasons above.

Having spent quite a few hours to go over this discussion, and to reply to it, I must say I’m not a happy camper.

Being a tiny and always overwhelmed team, time is something we constantly lack and we can’t allow ourselves to be pulled into lengthy discussions or else nothing gets done. There are not enough hours in our days, or hands in our team. In our view, the turmoil created here is not in proportion to the issue being brought up and I will not be engaging further into this discussion as it already took an unreasonable amount of time from us. I’m reopening this topic so it can wrap up, but I’m setting it to automatically close in a week.

I’m all for the community discussing issues that Postcrossing has and working collaboratively in finding solutions – in a friendly and respectful way. We can’t possibly implement everything that is suggested, but we always try to take suggestions into account. But it’s a bit disappointing that from all the much more important issues affecting both Postcrossing and many postcrossers on a daily basis, that this one had such a disproportional amount of energy and commitment put into — specially being something that we never had a real issue about and has been useful for many years now.

In particular, the unusual way this has been done has been quite disconcerting to say the least. The discussion was done as if it was a court argumentation, except the arguments have been curated together by the most fervent defender of one of the sides, an approach that is hardly free of bias. This angered quite a few people on the process due to how their opinion was being received. This unusual process lead to a heated discussion not just about the suggestion itself, but about the way it was being discussed… This is not the friendly environment we want to promote here, nor is it a good system for how suggestions for Postcrossing should be discussed. We hope to not see more of this needless conflict over a suggestion.

In the end of the day, we all want the best for Postcrossing. I hope going forward all this passion and energy is steered mainly towards finding solutions to problems that are affecting many members and, specially, that that it is done in a different format that doesn’t cause the level of animosity we saw here.


(I reply here instead of starting new topic, because it is about this change.)

Could it be considered to add a pop-up box when one posts to that topic, where they could see what is allowed to post, like please cover the sender’s name and id?

And should we flag posts showing name and id, or only reply to the sender? (There is already now ID’s and name visible.)

Like this part from the edited first post on that translation topic could appear in the pop-up box:

" Please make sure you hide any identifying details from the image, such as names or Postcard IDs.

Keep in mind that you can use tools like Google Translate, DeepL, Yandex Translate for a quicker result."

(from Need help translating a postcard you've received?. )

Please flag those posts.


I’m afraid there’s no functionality in Discourse to add a pop-up to a specific topic. The degree of control we have on the main website is not the same as the forum, as it is not a custom made website done by us.

We will temporarily update the title of the topic to call more attention to the updates so that more people become aware of it. Please do flag any new posts that don’t follow the requests. Thank you!


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