New Wikipedia interface in development

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New Wikipedia interface in development

Ovidiu Sabou
Dear Wikipedia developers,

We are team 921UBB, from "Babes-Bolyai" University of Cluj-Napoca. We will
represent Romania at the Software Design invitational, at the Imagine Cup
2007 <http://www.imaginecup.com/> finals in Seoul this August. This year's
competition theme is all about education, specifically how technology can
make a positive impact.

In summary, we are developing an interactive desktop interface to Wikipedia.
We believe we can make encyclopedic information more accessible to everyone
by providing a virtual character in a 3D world that improves the user
experience with the encyclopedia.

*Scenario*: one asks a question in natural language (currently only English)
and the virtual character gives a short answer and provides more information
(the entire Wikipedia article from which the answer was extracted) on a
virtual screen. We use voice recognition and speech synthesis in order to
offer a natural way of obtaining information.

*Challenge*: since the 3D world of our application can offer more than
displaying text and pictures, we want to integrate 3D objects and animation.
We could use the virtual 3D world and the character as a presentation
platform. The problem we face is the lack of 3D content. Wikipedia doesn't
support 3D models and we believe supporting them would be a big win for the
users because there are many types of objects that can be visualized much
better in a 3D environment with support for rotation, pan, zoom, etc. than a
simple 2D static picture. Movies might be a solution but movies are not
interactive and take much more bandwidth than the 3D data.

*Your support*: we would like to know if you are interested in reviewing
such an application, make an opinion about it and, if possible, share some
of the plans regarding the support for 3D content in Wikipedia - if and when
are you going to provide support for this and what can we do in order to
speed up the process. We understand there are many technical and
compatibility issues, but we are willing to discuss them if you are
interested.


Regards,
Ovidiu Sabou

921UBB

Babes-Bolyai University
Cluj-Napoca, Romania
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Re: New Wikipedia interface in development

Platonides
Ovidiu Sabou wrote:
> In summary, we are developing an interactive desktop interface to Wikipedia.
> We believe we can make encyclopedic information more accessible to everyone
> by providing a virtual character in a 3D world that improves the user
> experience with the encyclopedia.

Does the 3D world actually do something (eg. you "walk" to "Greece" to
view its article) or is it just a "3D Office assitant"?

> *Scenario*: one asks a question in natural language (currently only English)
> and the virtual character gives a short answer and provides more information
> (the entire Wikipedia article from which the answer was extracted) on a
> virtual screen. We use voice recognition and speech synthesis in order to
> offer a natural way of obtaining information.

Could be interesting.

> *Challenge*: since the 3D world of our application can offer more than
> displaying text and pictures, we want to integrate 3D objects and animation.
> We could use the virtual 3D world and the character as a presentation
> platform. The problem we face is the lack of 3D content. Wikipedia doesn't
> support 3D models and we believe supporting them would be a big win for the
> users because there are many types of objects that can be visualized much
> better in a 3D environment with support for rotation, pan, zoom, etc. than a
> simple 2D static picture. Movies might be a solution but movies are not
> interactive and take much more bandwidth than the 3D data.

Wikipedia is based on a browser. How do you expect the users to such 3D
data? Note that Wikipedia will refuse it if it's unfree.



It is er.. terrific.


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Re: New Wikipedia interface in development

Rob Church
In reply to this post by Ovidiu Sabou
On 10/07/07, Ovidiu Sabou <[hidden email]> wrote:
> *Scenario*: one asks a question in natural language (currently only English)
> and the virtual character gives a short answer and provides more information
> (the entire Wikipedia article from which the answer was extracted) on a
> virtual screen. We use voice recognition and speech synthesis in order to
> offer a natural way of obtaining information.

Voice recognition, eh?

Damned if I wasn't thinking about this sort of thing a couple hours
ago while washing up...the vision I had was a device in the home which
would respond to queries, so one could ask, "Wikipedia, how long is
the Great Wall of China", and get an audible response within a
reasonable response time.

That is more or less the extent of the thought, and while there are a
lot of questions and issues to be resolved around it, I see no reason
it couldn't become a reality within a few years.


Rob Church

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Re: New Wikipedia interface in development

zetawoof
In reply to this post by Platonides
On 7/10/07, Platonides <[hidden email]> wrote:

> > *Challenge*: since the 3D world of our application can offer more than
> > displaying text and pictures, we want to integrate 3D objects and animation.
> > We could use the virtual 3D world and the character as a presentation
> > platform. The problem we face is the lack of 3D content. Wikipedia doesn't
> > support 3D models and we believe supporting them would be a big win for the
> > users because there are many types of objects that can be visualized much
> > better in a 3D environment with support for rotation, pan, zoom, etc. than a
> > simple 2D static picture. Movies might be a solution but movies are not
> > interactive and take much more bandwidth than the 3D data.
>
> Wikipedia is based on a browser. How do you expect the users to such 3D
> data? Note that Wikipedia will refuse it if it's unfree.

And, more importantly, where does all this new 3D content come from?
Users can take pictures with digital cameras, but generating 3D models
and animations is distinctly beyond the abilities of most
contributors.

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Re: New Wikipedia interface in development

Thomas Dalton
In reply to this post by Rob Church
> Damned if I wasn't thinking about this sort of thing a couple hours
> ago while washing up...the vision I had was a device in the home which
> would respond to queries, so one could ask, "Wikipedia, how long is
> the Great Wall of China", and get an audible response within a
> reasonable response time.
>
> That is more or less the extent of the thought, and while there are a
> lot of questions and issues to be resolved around it, I see no reason
> it couldn't become a reality within a few years.

SemanticWiki would be a key feature in making that idea a reality.
Parsing the plain text articles can only provide very limited data for
answering such questions.

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Re: New Wikipedia interface in development

Judson Dunn-2
On 7/10/07, Thomas Dalton <[hidden email]> wrote:

> > Damned if I wasn't thinking about this sort of thing a couple hours
> > ago while washing up...the vision I had was a device in the home which
> > would respond to queries, so one could ask, "Wikipedia, how long is
> > the Great Wall of China", and get an audible response within a
> > reasonable response time.
> >
> > That is more or less the extent of the thought, and while there are a
> > lot of questions and issues to be resolved around it, I see no reason
> > it couldn't become a reality within a few years.
>
> SemanticWiki would be a key feature in making that idea a reality.
> Parsing the plain text articles can only provide very limited data for
> answering such questions.

Yep, google is already doing some complex parsing now.
http://docs.google.com/support/spreadsheets/bin/answer.py?answer=54199&topic=11318

Couple this with goog-411 and this could happen in months really. I
hope we can move forward with semantic mediawiki also so that this
kind of innovation happens in the free software world and isn't tied
only into the google silo.

Judson
[[:en:User:Cohesion]]

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Re: New Wikipedia interface in development

Stephen Bain
In reply to this post by Rob Church
On 7/11/07, Rob Church <[hidden email]> wrote:
>
> Voice recognition, eh?
>
> Damned if I wasn't thinking about this sort of thing a couple hours
> ago while washing up...the vision I had was a device in the home which
> would respond to queries, so one could ask, "Wikipedia, how long is
> the Great Wall of China", and get an audible response within a
> reasonable response time.

Let's hire Majel Barrett to do the voice.

--
Stephen Bain
[hidden email]

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Re: New Wikipedia interface in development

Phil Boswell
Stephen Bain wrote
On 7/11/07, Rob Church <robchur@gmail.com> wrote:
> Voice recognition, eh?
> Damned if I wasn't thinking about this sort of thing a couple hours
> ago while washing up...the vision I had was a device in the home which
> would respond to queries, so one could ask, "Wikipedia, how long is
> the Great Wall of China", and get an audible response within a
> reasonable response time.

Let's hire Majel Barrett to do the voice.
Why not get Ms Dewey to do the whole thing?
<http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ms._Dewey>
--
Phil
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Re: New Wikipedia interface in development

Magnus Manske-2
On 7/11/07, Phil Boswell <[hidden email]> wrote:

>
>
> Stephen Bain wrote:
> >
> > On 7/11/07, Rob Church <[hidden email]> wrote:
> >> Voice recognition, eh?
> >> Damned if I wasn't thinking about this sort of thing a couple hours
> >> ago while washing up...the vision I had was a device in the home which
> >> would respond to queries, so one could ask, "Wikipedia, how long is
> >> the Great Wall of China", and get an audible response within a
> >> reasonable response time.
> >
> > Let's hire Majel Barrett to do the voice.
> >
> Why not get Ms Dewey to do the whole thing?
> <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ms._Dewey>

And use [[Doctor (Star Trek)|the doctor]] as a newbie welcome
template! If he can't annoy people away, they're strong enough for
life on wikipedia :-)

Magnus

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Re: New Wikipedia interface in development

Ovidiu Sabou
In reply to this post by Ovidiu Sabou
Thank you for your replies.

I want to clarify a few things.

The purpose of the human avatar in our program is to provide a more natural
way of navigating through Wikipedia and not to be an all-knowing bot. It is
supposed to answer simple questions and offer the full article. And no, it's
not an office assistant; talking to a humanoid virtual character is
certainly more natural than talking to an edit box. The program that we are
developing is a 3D platform that can be used for organizing presentations in
a manner that exceeds the abstract GUI that is present in today's software.
The problem we face is the lack of 3D content. If we could obtain written
information and 3D models/animations(scenes, objects, processes etc.) linked
together then things could get really interesting. Of course it takes time
and technology isn't yet ready(speech recognition has more to go) for
talking to computers the same way as talking to humans, but we can already
develop software, based on existing speech recognition engines, that should
be usable in a few years after the speech technologies mature.

I am perfectly aware that a technology has to be free in order to be
accepted by Wikipedia. Our program has nothing to do with the extra types of
information that Wikipedia could have attached to it's articles; we'd just
like to have the possibility of attaching 3d content to articles(and we'd be
willing to help accomplish this).

The concerns related to the number of possible contributors are realistic,
but we have to take into consideration that more and more people get to know
free software like Blender(thus the cost of creating 3d models is the time
spent by eventual contributors) and I am sure that some of them would spend
some of their time sharing 3d models. Building simple 3D models is not that
hard; Google SketchUp is easy to use even by someone who has never used a 3d
modeling program before.

There are many free 3d model repositories online, but they are very
fragmented, store multiple types of files and the models have all kinds of
licenses. I am sure a lot of people use pictures from Wikipedia and the same
could happen for 3d models.

I also believe that having this feature with few 3D models is better than
having no 3D content at all. I don't want to write more about the usefulness
of 3D content because it should be obvious.

The technical part is the real problem here. The only way to do it in the
current technological context is to have users install a plug-in for their
browser. Static models can already be visualized with existing plug-ins(some
of them free/open source) or Java applets(Java will be free soon). In order
to make this type of content optional(because it would require extra
software installed by the users), the web pages generated by Wikipedia
should contain a static 2d image if the browser doesn't have the required
plug-in installed or the actual content otherwise. This way nobody could get
upset. At first, only static 3D models should be supported(because it's easy
and it's possible to do it in a short time). If it proves useful(imagine 3D
visualization of molecules for chemistry articles) it could be extended with
animations, interactive presentations and so on.

What do you think ?


Regards,
Ovidiu Sabou
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Re: New Wikipedia interface in development

Jay Ashworth-2
On Wed, Jul 11, 2007 at 10:38:00PM +0300, Ovidiu Sabou wrote:
> supposed to answer simple questions and offer the full article. And no, it's
> not an office assistant; talking to a humanoid virtual character is
> certainly more natural than talking to an edit box.

That assertion, and assertions similar to it, are made fairly often.

I'm not sure it's valid as a response here on two fronts:

1) I don't know that it's actually *accurate*: do you have user
studies that back it up?

2) Who said that computer program user interfaces *ought* to be
"natural", whatever 'natural' quite means?

Optimizing for the wrong thing is a common failing in all types of
design; just ask Alan Cooper.  (Though he and I would probably differ
on which instances are the errors...)

Cheers,
-- jra
--
Jay R. Ashworth                   Baylink                      [hidden email]
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Re: New Wikipedia interface in development

Robert Stojnic-2
In reply to this post by Ovidiu Sabou
On 7/11/07, Ovidiu Sabou <[hidden email]> wrote:
>
>
> and technology isn't yet ready(speech recognition has more to go) for
> talking to computers the same way as talking to humans, but we can already
> develop software, based on existing speech recognition engines, that
> should
> be usable in a few years after the speech technologies mature.
>


Don't get carried away by the progress. There is an in-principle reason why
speech recognition will (probably) never work. In particular: to resolve
sound and meaning ambiguities, you need to be able to understand humans. To
understand them, you need to know about how humans are, how do they react,
what their intentions are, how do they feel, what they possibly mean or
want, what are their cultural practices and so one.. Sure, you can make a
toy system that could respond to some fixed questions in some fixed-pitch
voice and accent or such, but I would guess it would be more frustrating
having a ignorant avatar, than having a normal edit/search/text box.

Robert
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Re: New Wikipedia interface in development

Aryeh Gregor
In reply to this post by Jay Ashworth-2
On 7/11/07, Jay R. Ashworth <[hidden email]> wrote:
> That assertion, and assertions similar to it, are made fairly often.
>
> I'm not sure it's valid as a response here on two fronts:
>
> 1) I don't know that it's actually *accurate*: do you have user
> studies that back it up?
>
> 2) Who said that computer program user interfaces *ought* to be
> "natural", whatever 'natural' quite means?

I would tend to agree.  Certainly in the case of speed, reading is
much *faster* than listening, for anyone comfortable with reading.
Does it require, e.g., more attention or whatever?  Maybe, I don't
know.  But essentially everyone using a computer uses a completely
graphical/text interface if at all possible, despite the existence of
voice control and screen readers.  That implies to me that for most
people, it's superior, whether or not it's "natural".

Of course, for things like OLPC or the blind, users might not be able
to read.  Then synthesized voice becomes useful.  And certainly it's
useful for games and so on, for immersion.  It's likely more
comfortable for communicating with one or two real people (witness the
continuing popularity of telephones despite the prevalence of IMs).

On the other hand, sound is intrusive: you have to wear headphones to
stop others from hearing it, and even those often don't work properly.
 It's slow, which is bad by itself and I suspect amplified
considerably for multitasking.  You can't easily skim through it to
get to the relevant parts (although that might be somewhat rectified
with appropriate interfaces).  It can't convey spatial information.
Also, did I mention it's slow?

For general-purpose automated provision of information to those able
to read, you just have to look at the evidence: nobody uses it.  Sound
appears to be considerably inferior to text in that regard, if perhaps
nice as an occasional alternative.  People have voted with their feet,
so to say.  I'd have to say I'm skeptical of there being any mileage
in an information service being primarily rather than secondarily
sound-based.  But that's me.

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Re: New Wikipedia interface in development

Thomas Dalton
> Does it require, e.g., more attention or whatever?

I'd say listening requires far more attention. If you miss a bit when
listening, you have to somehow rewind and listen to it again.
Rewinding is usually quite imprecise. When reading, you are in
complete control and it is largely impossible to miss a bit (although
I'm sure we've all experienced the annoyance of reaching the end of a
paragraph and realising you weren't paying any attention and having to
go back - it happens much less often than with listening, though).

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Re: New Wikipedia interface in development

David Gerard-2
In reply to this post by Thomas Dalton
On 10/07/07, Thomas Dalton <[hidden email]> wrote:

> > Damned if I wasn't thinking about this sort of thing a couple hours
> > ago while washing up...the vision I had was a device in the home which
> > would respond to queries, so one could ask, "Wikipedia, how long is
> > the Great Wall of China", and get an audible response within a
> > reasonable response time.
> > That is more or less the extent of the thought, and while there are a
> > lot of questions and issues to be resolved around it, I see no reason
> > it couldn't become a reality within a few years.

> SemanticWiki would be a key feature in making that idea a reality.
> Parsing the plain text articles can only provide very limited data for
> answering such questions.


Infoboxes and so forth are very popular on en:wp - Google already uses
{{coord}} like this, but the other infoboxes are a pretty good source
of this sort of parseable data. Note that infoboxes are not entirely
consistent as yet.


- d.

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Re: New Wikipedia interface in development

Phil Boswell
David Gerard-2 wrote
On 10/07/07, Thomas Dalton <thomas.dalton@gmail.com> wrote:
> SemanticWiki would be a key feature in making that idea a reality.
> Parsing the plain text articles can only provide very limited data for
> answering such questions.
Infoboxes and so forth are very popular on en:wp - Google already uses
{{coord}} like this, but the other infoboxes are a pretty good source
of this sort of parseable data. Note that infoboxes are not entirely
consistent as yet.
It would be very nice if we could move towards making them usable in this fashion. The {{PERSONDATA}} template does not seem to be used as widely as it could be: it would be nice if it were possible to incorporate this into an appropriate infobox to avoid needless duplication and possible contradiction.
--
Phil
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Re: New Wikipedia interface in development

Markus Krötzsch
In reply to this post by David Gerard-2
On Thursday 12 July 2007 01:56, David Gerard wrote:

> On 10/07/07, Thomas Dalton <[hidden email]> wrote:
> > > Damned if I wasn't thinking about this sort of thing a couple hours
> > > ago while washing up...the vision I had was a device in the home which
> > > would respond to queries, so one could ask, "Wikipedia, how long is
> > > the Great Wall of China", and get an audible response within a
> > > reasonable response time.
> > > That is more or less the extent of the thought, and while there are a
> > > lot of questions and issues to be resolved around it, I see no reason
> > > it couldn't become a reality within a few years.
> >
> > SemanticWiki would be a key feature in making that idea a reality.
> > Parsing the plain text articles can only provide very limited data for
> > answering such questions.
>
> Infoboxes and so forth are very popular on en:wp - Google already uses
> {{coord}} like this, but the other infoboxes are a pretty good source
> of this sort of parseable data. Note that infoboxes are not entirely
> consistent as yet.
Note that the general input parsing of Semantic MediaWiki is rather simple
(using a special markup for data items) -- most of our work went into storage
systems, diverse UIs, querying, and data export. It would be easy to use all
of this with alternative/additional input methods, if you have any. You can
also add Semantic MW markup to templates to directly work with existing data
just as you suggest (given that your template data turns out to
be "parseable"). You can also add new parsing methods if you encounter
syntactical forms of data that are not understood by our current datatype
parsers. Most of this should work in quite a modular way without requiring
internal changes in Semantic MediaWiki.

-- Markus


--
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Institute AIFB, University of Karlsruhe, D-76128 Karlsruhe
[hidden email]        phone +49 (0)721 608 7362
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Re: New Wikipedia interface in development

Thomas Dalton
In reply to this post by David Gerard-2
> > SemanticWiki would be a key feature in making that idea a reality.
> > Parsing the plain text articles can only provide very limited data for
> > answering such questions.
>
>
> Infoboxes and so forth are very popular on en:wp - Google already uses
> {{coord}} like this, but the other infoboxes are a pretty good source
> of this sort of parseable data. Note that infoboxes are not entirely
> consistent as yet.

That's what I mean by limited: you can only get data that is in
infoboxes. SemanticWiki would allow the parsing of far more data.

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Re: New Wikipedia interface in development

David Gerard-2
On 12/07/07, Thomas Dalton <[hidden email]> wrote:

> > > SemanticWiki would be a key feature in making that idea a reality.
> > > Parsing the plain text articles can only provide very limited data for
> > > answering such questions.

> > Infoboxes and so forth are very popular on en:wp - Google already uses
> > {{coord}} like this, but the other infoboxes are a pretty good source
> > of this sort of parseable data. Note that infoboxes are not entirely
> > consistent as yet.

> That's what I mean by limited: you can only get data that is in
> infoboxes. SemanticWiki would allow the parsing of far more data.


Although the SMW extension isn't live on WMF servers, we can at least
gather the data in a parseable form like this. The various infoboxes
are slowly converging and becoming more consistent in their fields;
they may conceivably supersede or incorporate {{PERSONDATA}} on en:wp.
(The consistency usually works by a process of people making them
consistent then doing a bot run to fix the articles.) Then the data
will easily be converted to SMW form.

So we'll get there, but slowly :-)


- d.

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Re: New Wikipedia interface in development

Ovidiu Sabou
In reply to this post by Ovidiu Sabou
And what do you think about adding support for 3D content in Wikipedia ? I
haven't received comments on that :)


Ovidiu Sabou


On 7/11/07, Ovidiu Sabou <[hidden email]> wrote:

>
> Thank you for your replies.
>
> I want to clarify a few things.
>
> The purpose of the human avatar in our program is to provide a more
> natural way of navigating through Wikipedia and not to be an all-knowing
> bot. It is supposed to answer simple questions and offer the full article.
> And no, it's not an office assistant; talking to a humanoid virtual
> character is certainly more natural than talking to an edit box. The program
> that we are developing is a 3D platform that can be used for organizing
> presentations in a manner that exceeds the abstract GUI that is present in
> today's software. The problem we face is the lack of 3D content. If we could
> obtain written information and 3D models/animations(scenes, objects,
> processes etc.) linked together then things could get really interesting. Of
> course it takes time and technology isn't yet ready(speech recognition has
> more to go) for talking to computers the same way as talking to humans, but
> we can already develop software, based on existing speech recognition
> engines, that should be usable in a few years after the speech technologies
> mature.
>
> I am perfectly aware that a technology has to be free in order to be
> accepted by Wikipedia. Our program has nothing to do with the extra types of
> information that Wikipedia could have attached to it's articles; we'd just
> like to have the possibility of attaching 3d content to articles(and we'd be
> willing to help accomplish this).
>
> The concerns related to the number of possible contributors are realistic,
> but we have to take into consideration that more and more people get to know
> free software like Blender(thus the cost of creating 3d models is the time
> spent by eventual contributors) and I am sure that some of them would spend
> some of their time sharing 3d models. Building simple 3D models is not that
> hard; Google SketchUp is easy to use even by someone who has never used a 3d
> modeling program before.
>
> There are many free 3d model repositories online, but they are very
> fragmented, store multiple types of files and the models have all kinds of
> licenses. I am sure a lot of people use pictures from Wikipedia and the same
> could happen for 3d models.
>
> I also believe that having this feature with few 3D models is better than
> having no 3D content at all. I don't want to write more about the usefulness
> of 3D content because it should be obvious.
>
> The technical part is the real problem here. The only way to do it in the
> current technological context is to have users install a plug-in for their
> browser. Static models can already be visualized with existing plug-ins(some
> of them free/open source) or Java applets(Java will be free soon). In order
> to make this type of content optional(because it would require extra
> software installed by the users), the web pages generated by Wikipedia
> should contain a static 2d image if the browser doesn't have the required
> plug-in installed or the actual content otherwise. This way nobody could get
> upset. At first, only static 3D models should be supported(because it's easy
> and it's possible to do it in a short time). If it proves useful(imagine 3D
> visualization of molecules for chemistry articles) it could be extended with
> animations, interactive presentations and so on.
>
> What do you think ?
>
>
> Regards,
> Ovidiu Sabou
>
>
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