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A Website and Weblog about Topics and Issues discussed in the book
Smart Mobs: The Next Social Revolution by Howard Rheingold

A host of lessons on the web, with room for admiration
June 13th, 2012

[ cross-posted from Zenpundit — Farrall and McCants, online debate and discourse]


There’s a whole lot to be learned about jihad, counter-terrorism, scholarship, civil discourse, online discourse, and social media, and I mean each and every one of those, in a debate that took place recently, primarily between Leah Farrall and Will McCants.

Indeed, Leah still has a final comment to make — and when she makes it, that may be just the end of round one, if I may borrow a metaphor from a tweet I’ll quote later.


Briefly, the biographies of the two main agonists (they can’t both be protagonists, now, can they? I believe agonist is the right word):

Dr. Leah Farrall (left, above) is a Research Associate at the University of Sydney’s United States Studies Centre (USSC). She was formerly a senior Counter Terrorism Intelligence Analyst with the Australian Federal Police (AFP), and the AFP’s al Qaeda subject matter specialist. She was also senior Intelligence Analyst in the AFP’s Jakarta Regional Cooperation Team (JRCT) in Indonesia and at the AFP’s Forward Operating Post in response to the second Bali bombings. Leah has provided national & international counter terrorism training & curriculum development. She recently changed the name of her respected blog. Her work has been published in Foreign Affairs, Foreign Policy, The Atlantic, and elsewhere.

Dr. William McCants, (right) is a research analyst at the Center for Strategic Studies at CNA, and adjunct faculty at Johns Hopkins University. He has served as Senior Adviser for Countering Violent Extremism at the U.S. Department of State, program manager of the Minerva Initiative at the Department of Defense, and fellow at West Point’s Combating Terrorism Center. He edited the Militant Ideology Atlas, co-authored Stealing Al Qa’ida’s Playbook, and translated Abu Bakr Naji‘s Management of Savagery. Will has designed curricula on jihadi-inspired terrorism for the FBI. He is the founder and co-editor of the noted blog, Jihadica. He too has been published in Foreign Affairs, Foreign Policy, The Atlantic and elsewhere.


Gregory Johnsen, the Yemen expert whose tweets I follow, noted:

Watching @will_mccants and @allthingsct go at it, is like watching heavyweights spar for the title about 17 hours

Daveed Gartenstein-Ross commented on the civility of the exchanges:

it was an excellent model of argument within this sphere. Competitive analysis is important, and it is generally best when conducted in the open, as this has been. Further, the exchange has been respectful and collegial, something that is atypical for today’s debates.

Between those two comments, you have the gist of why this debate is significant — both in terms of topic and of online conduct.


The debate started with a blog post by Leah, went to Twitter where the back and forth continued for several days, was collated on Storify, received further exploration on several blogs, turned sour at the edges when an article on Long War Journal discussing Leah’s original blog post draw some less than civil and less than informed drive-by remarks in its comments section, and continues…

And to repeat myself: all in all, the debate is informative not only about its topics — issues to do with terrorism and targeting — but also in terms of what is and isn’t possible in online dialog and civil discourse on the web.


Leah Farrall’s Some quick thoughts on reports Abu Yahya al-Libi has been killed was the counter-intuitive (but perhaps highly intuitive) blog post which began the debate, and perhaps her key paras were these:

And if he has in fact been killed, I wonder if those who think this is a victory (and those supporting the strategy of extrajudicial killings more generally) have given ample thought to the fact that he along with others who have been assassinated were actually a moderating force within a far more virulent current that has taken hold in the milieu. And yes, given his teachings I do note a certain irony in this, but sadly, it’s true.

What is coming next is a generation whose ideological positions are more virulent and who owing to the removal of older figures with clout, are less likely to be amenable to restraining their actions. And contrary to popular belief, actions have been restrained. Attacks have thus far been used strategically rather than indiscriminately. Just take a look at AQ’s history and its documents and this is blatantly clear.

I say, “counter-intuitive” because, as Leah herself notes, this is not the received opinion — “Right now you’re probably scoffing at this” she writes. And I say intuitive because Leah may be the one here who whose insight comes from herself not the crowd, who sees things from a fresh angle because she has a more wide angle of vision, who is in fact intuiting a fresh and revealing narrative…

Not that she’s necessarily right in this, and not that it would be the whole picture if she was — but that she’s challenging our orthodoxies, giving us food for thought — and then, having read her, we need to see how clearly thought out the response is, how strongly her challenge withstands its own challenges… how the debate unfolds.


I am not going to summarize the debate here, I am going to give you the pointers that will allow you to follow it for yourselves.

It is very helpful indeed for those who are interested in this unfolding debate, that Khanserai has twice Storified the initial bout of tweets between Farrall and McCants.

Khanserai’s second Storify is the one to read first, as it offers the whole sweep of several days of tweeting. That’s the full braid. Khanserai’s earlier Storify is worth reading next. It concerned itself solely with Leah’s significant definitional distinctions regarding discriminate vs indiscriminate targeting and targets vs victims.

There’s a lot to read and even more to mull right there, but the persevering dissertation writer for whom this is the ideal topic will then want to read a number of significant posts triggered by the debate:

Jarret Brachman was among the first to comment on al-Libi’s reported demise, in a post titled In a Nutshell: Abu Yahya’s Death. I don’t know if his post appeared before or after Leah’s, but his comment is congruent with hers:

The cats that Abu Yahya and Atiyah had been herding for so long will begin to wander. They will make mistakes. They will see what they can get away with. Al-Qaida’s global movement cannot endure without an iron-fisted traffic cop.

I look forward to Brachman’s comments on al-Libi’s “other important role: that of Theological-Defender-in-Chief for al-Qaida”. Another day…

McCants’ On Elephants and Al-Qaeda’s Moderation posted on Jihadica first paraphrases Farall:

Leah argues that the US policy of killing senior al-Qaeda Central leaders is wrongheaded because those leaders are “a moderating force within a far more virulent current that has taken hold in the milieu.” Leah compares these strikes to the practice of killing older elephants to thin a herd, which leaves younger elephants without any respectable elder to turn to for guidance as to how to behave. By analogy, killing senior al-Qaeda Central leaders means there will be no one with enough clout to rein in the younger generation of jihadis when they go astray.

He then argues that while there “might be good reasons not to kill al-Qaeda Central’s senior leaders with drones but their potential moderating influence is not one of them” — and proceeds to enumerate and detail them. His conclusion:

It is hard to imagine a more virulent current in the jihadi movement than that of al-Qaeda Central’s senior leaders. Anyone with a desire or capability of moderating that organization was pushed out long ago. AQ Central may have moderated in how it conducts itself in Muslim-majority countries, but it certainly hasn’t moderated toward the United States, which is what has to be uppermost in the minds of US government counter-terrorism policymakers.

Other responses worth your attention — and I know we’re all busy, but maybe this is an opportunity to dig deeper something that shouldn’t only concern those in search of a dissertation topic — would include:

Daveed Gartenstein-Ross’s The Strategy of Targeting al Qaeda’s Senior Leadership posted at Gunpowder and Lead contains the most thoughtful counterpoint to Leah’s point that I have found:

contrary to Farrall’s argument, a strategic opponent actually seems far more dangerous than an indiscriminate opponent

Clint Watts should be read and pondered, too. His post, It’s OK to Kill Senior al Qaeda Members in Pakistan, tackles Leah’s position from several angles, one of which focuses on her “law enforcement” perspective on terror:

I am with Leah that in an ideal world, it would be great to capture, convict and imprison terrorists. This approach only works when there are effective criminal justice methods for implementing it.

I wonder how he views military vs law enforcement attempts to corner Joseph Kony, but that’s off topic. To return..

Bernard Finel, too, posted a thoughtful piece on The Unsatisfying Nature of Terrorism Analysis, and wrapped up his post with the words:

In short, I’ll keep reading Farrall, McCants, and GR because they are smart, talented folks. They know a lot more than I do. But I can’t help by feel that there just isn’t enough there to make their arguments convincing on a lot of scores.

Those are the heavyweights weighing in, as far as I can see — feel free to add others in the comments section. But then…


But then there’s Andrew Sullivan in The Daily Beast, asking Are Drones Defensible? in what I found to be a lightweight contribution. As I read it, Sullivan’s key question is:

if you’d asked me – or anyone – in 2001 whether it would be better to invade and occupy Afghanistan and Iraq to defeat al Qaeda, or to use the most advanced technology to take out the worst Jihadists with zero US casualties, would anyone have dissented?

as if such a hypothetical — asking about popular opinion rather than ground realities, which are a whole lot more complicated either way — was the right question to be asking. And his conclusion, interesting but unsubtle: “drones kill fewer innocents”.


Oh, lightweight is more or less okay in my book, as is the strong affirmation of a strong position.

The editors at Long War Journal clearly feel strongly about Leah’s suggestion, and make no bones about it in a post titled US killing moderate al Qaeda leaders, like Abu Yahya, says CT analyst — which I don’t think is quite what Leah was saying — and opens with the sentence “This is one of the more bizarre theories we’ve heard in a while.”

That, you’ll notice, is a pretty bluntly phrased attack on Leah’s ideas, not her person. But what follows is interesting.

In the comments section at LWJ we see comments like “I assume this young lady is paid for her thoughts. If so by whom? Is she the ACLU lawyer? If so when was her last interview with Abu Yahya al Libi” and “Leah Farrall is one of these many Peter Panners who form a loosely knit confederation of self identified intellectuals with little or no understanding of violence & of those presently arrayed against ‘us'”…

You don’t see comments like those on the other sites I’ve mentioned, and to my mind they show surface ignorance of the deep knowledge that informs the main participants on both sides — and perhaps as a corrollary, the absence of the civility that characterizes the debate as a whole.


My own interest in terrorism / counterterrorism is explicitly limited to the ways in which theological drivers manifest, and while I read a fair amount about the broader issues into which theology enters, I’m no expert, humble and (inside joke) for the moment at least, more or less clean-shaven.

I am waiting for Leah Farrall’s response to the debate thus far, but have no expectation of being the best proponent of any of the positions or nuances involved: I leave that to the experts, and am glad they are on the case, every one of them.

Two broad context pieces that have caught my attention:

Francine Prose, Getting Them Dead in the NY Review of Books
Patrick B. Johnston, Does Decapitation Work?

For myself, then, the main point here is to acknowledge the knowledge and insights of those who know what I can only guess, or perhaps catch out of the corner of my eye. The second lesson: that there’s much to be found in Joseba Zulaika‘s book, Terror and Taboo: The Follies, Fables, and Faces of Terrorism.

Even a brief glimpse of the book when Leah mentioned it has convinced me once again that Zulaika’s is a voice worth attending to.


But wait, I am a Howard Rheingold friend, I’m concerned with dialog and deliberation and decency in discourse, not just terrorism and CT — and here I have no need for disclaimers.

What I learn here is that attentive listening to all (the folks in the comments section included) brings knowledge, that incivility frequently accompanies ignorance, and — I hope you will forgive me going all aphoristic here — that nuance is an excellent measure of insight..

This is a debate to admire and follow.

Better Meetings
June 7th, 2012

Posted by: Bernie DeKoven
June 08, 2012

Meetings: For a time (a goodly time, actually; actually, more than ten years, starting around 1985) I explored how what I had learned about games and play could be applied to business and work. I had always thought of games as a kind of, well, meeting. This had a lot to do with Marty Buber and a book he shared with me called I and Thou. (So, OK, so it’s not that I knew Marty or anything, or that I actually called him “Marty” and not “Martin,” or that he personally leant me a copy. But, you know, it was like I knew him, like we had been in, well, dialog, finding his book. And it wasn’t like I actually read it, but more or less dipped a conceptual toe in it, from time to time.) It reached me deeply, this little, very profound book. And in it he used the term “meetings” to describe something very much like what happens when people play with each other. “All real living,” said Martin, “is meeting.” And yes, I said to myself, yes, when we are playing together, it’s more like real living than anything else we do together. And it’s very much like meeting each other, entirely, deeply, totally.

And, for me, the connections between work and play were made everywhere evident by watching kids playing at work, or working at play.

And I had, in fact, experienced some meetings that were, at least ostensibly, all about play. They were called teambuilding meetings. And, for the most part, they were fun, and games were played.

And about this time, when I was reading Buber and playing with kids and attending teambuilding meetings, I was also play/working with a software tool, now known as an “outliner,” using it to play with ideas for games, doing something very much like brainstorming and then making connections between the various flashes, assembling them into bright ideas, so to speak – a process I came to know as “collect, connect, correct.”

It seemed obvious to me that if I could somehow share this process with people who were working (not building teams) together, I could do for them the very thing I was doing for myself. So I found a computer projector (I think at that time there was only one available), called a Limelight), and had my Mac 128 modified so that I could use the projector, and started making the rounds. I lived in Silicon Valley at the time, where many meetings were going on, and many of them were actually for the purpose of getting things done (a distinction that took me several years to make clear to myself), so I got to try this idea out a lot, and in some happy cases, it worked, and in some happier cases, I got paid the big bucks for making it work. And in 1986 I published Power Meetings, and in 1990 an expanded version called Connected Executives.

I learned a lot. I learned that I could help people play with their ideas, together, just like I could help people play together. And that the idea of doing so was just as radical in the business world as it was in the worlds of education and recreation.

I facilitated meetings of all kinds, and, lo, I helped make many of them more productive, and caught the eye of people of significance, and learned all kinds of things about businesses and meetings, and wrote some more articles about what I learned, and then, and then, in a meeting with myself, I finally took into account the fact that the fun I was having wasn’t the kind of fun I wanted to be having or sharing or bringing into the world. Just like the kind of fun that comes from winning the Super Bowl isn’t the kind of fun I particularly want to be sharing or bringing into the world.

I like the kind of fun that isn’t quantifiable, that can’t be calculated in terms of score or stock value or action items accomplished. I like the I/Thou kind of fun that happens in a business meeting when we get so together that we experience each other as unknowable, undefinable, unlimited beings. Or in some silly game of tag, where everyone and no one is IT.

© Bernie DeKoven

Twitter chief meets with US secretary of state
April 28th, 2012

(AFP) – 1 day ago

SAN FRANCISCO — Twitter chief Dick Costolo met on Friday with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as Internet age technologies play growing roles in world affairs.

Pleasure to meet with Secretary Clinton and the @statedept team today,” Costolo said in a “tweet” he fired off at the popular one-to-many text messaging service.

San Francisco-based Twitter did not provide details of what Costolo discussed with Clinton during their meeting in Wasington, D.C.

Twitter has become a powerful tool for political activists around the world, giving people a way to coordinate protests and quickly spread word of setbacks, victories or other developments in campaigns.

The US State Department in February held its first Twitter briefing in Spanish, as part of its policy of using new social media to reach out to the international community.

The State Department has Twitter feeds in 11 languages: English, Arabic, Turkish, Chinese, Farsi, French, Hindi, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, and Urdu.

“These social media accounts are conduits for the US Department of State to inform and engage individuals around the world on American foreign policy issues,” the department has publicly stated.

“They also support the department’s 21st Century Statecraft efforts, complementing traditional foreign policy by harnessing the digital networks and technologies of an interconnected world,” it added.

How participatory cultures in healthcare are transformational
April 12th, 2012

This article is based upon real world issues with the UK health service (but it an organizational problem many healthcare systems have) and the stories are taken from No Straight Lines: making sense of our non-linear world (open access book and participatory reading)

Designing and co-creating the best possible future for the National Health Service

The bitter public battle now being fought over the future of the NHS looks set to continue. Its future shape uncertain, and the mounting resistance that is so visceral is based upon fear, uncertainty and crucially a genuine lack of trust in those that claim to be guiding us to the best possible future the NHS.

The Lancet in January 2011 agreed that the current system stifles innovation and that although vast sums have been invested in the NHS we have not seen the benefit delivered as valuable frontline services. So we need transformation.

But the question is how do we get to that best possible future? How do we create a more sustainable NHS? Here are a couple of thoughts.

Participatory healthcare for chronic disease

Patients Know Best is a platform, that enables patients and clinicians to engage in individual and collective diagnostic practice, that allows for patient sovereignty and patient empowerment (where patient data sits at the very epicenter) and for clinicians to provide more accurate and dynamic healthcare assessment and advice. Patients can interact in full confidence with the clinical team online, uploading information about their medical history, patients can also read and interact with other clinical information inputs. This means patients are empowered, they are engaged in the process. Appointments can be made online within 24 hours – everyone has full access to all relevant data, which has proven significant benefits for everyone involved. Clinicians now have the right information with the right time to consult, reflect and properly advise. They can discuss with their patients and decide together next best steps.

In this process everyone learns with deep knowledge translating into meaningful action. The insight is that patients know a great deal, they are curators of their personal histories, and all to a lesser or greater degree possess uncommon combinations of common conditions in unique personal circumstances. Clinicians can them combine that unique knowledge with their own knowledge blending together unique and relevant programmes for chronic disease care.

Founder of Patients Know Best Mohammad Al-Ubaydli says it is not only significantly cheaper but a greater degree of comprehensive accuracy is achieved in one to two orders of magnitude.

Participatory leadership in healthcare

Nova Scotia was facing significant challenges in how it was going to evolve its healthcare system. In 2006 the Government asked Nova Scotia’s public health practitioners, to ‘articulate and be guided by a collective vision for the public health system.’ This is a complex challenge, and how does one go about articulating a collective vision?

Large-scale organisational change of the healthcare system that is happening in Nova Scotia, is being enabled through a process described as ‘Participatory Leadership’, whereby it is the participation of the people that are the true actors (nurses, clinicians, patients, etc.) within that healthcare system that are being hosted (guided) into co-designing, and co-creating how they are going to find the answers to their difficult and challenging issues.

In December 2008, a group of practitioners and partners in public health from across the province took on this challenge. They initiated a search to find a process that would bring people together to seek new solutions for the common good. They also knew the process would have to take into account the complexity of public health. And they also felt that any attempt to address the current challenges of public health demands the collective intelligence of all stakeholders. They sought a process that would launch Nova Scotia into a new beginning, an approach that would foster leadership and innovation.

The real insight was that the answer to such a complex problem lay in the minds of the many, that the way forward was held collectively in all the stakeholders that worked in the current system – not in the PowerPoint charts of highly paid specialist management consultants.

The benefits of participatory learning and leadership in healthcare

Patients Know Best and Nova Scotia are stories that are real world – they are serious and they represent two simple ways in which a best possible future for our healthcare service could be delivered, that can cost effectively meet the needs of many millions of people.

They are cost effective because ‘we’, become part of the process, we have co-created it. We begin to build a shared narrative around the people’s NHS. This is entirely different to the ideology and language of markets and privatization.

They are also demonstrative of the agile organization. Agility is related to what Otto Scharmer describes as an evolved geometry that devolves power from hierarchies to evolving networks of relationships, these are organizational models in which people, patients, physicians, clinicians, support services connect with each other in more meaningful ways in which they are all part of the process. So we move from the language of economies of scale to human centered ecologies of scale.

Explicitly, the thing that joins the dots is that Patients Know Best and Nova Scotia are both designed around the needs of humanity. Participatory learning and leadership are both constructed from the understanding that seeking change for the common good calls for involvement, collective intelligence and co-creation to discover and illuminate new solutions and wise actions.

John Berger wrote, ‘what we see is shaped by what we know’, and what we make is shaped by the language we have available to describe a new reality. If that language is lacking or deficient then so will be the outcome. And that is why Andrew Lansley’s Bill is in such disarray, as his framework for reformation is not based upon the language and literacy of social innovation, participatory cultures and leadership, it is based upon a language that has ultimately done so much damage to us.

What is missing is a literacy that defines a new form of leadership relevant to today’s world: the capacity to collectively shape and create our best possible future, and to release us from the cul-de-sac of our ‘industrial free markets are best’ view.

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Mobile data growth and what it means for us
April 9th, 2012

The research team at iStrategyLabs have produced and launched an infographic for Mobile Future that highlights the exponential growth in mobile data traffic — and what this subsequently means for the individual data consumer.

The infographic charts the exploding and varied ways mobile devices are now being used to connect:
•792 mobile apps are downloaded each second.
•29 million mobile users streamed music in 2011.
•Video content accounts for 52% of all mobile data traffic.
•Facebook hosts 1627 mobile status updates per second.
•Twitter boasts 13 million mobile users.
•Instagram reported a 1,900% increase in the number of photos posted in a single year

Teens, Smartphones & Texting
March 24th, 2012

A late Pew Internet study tells us how much and how teens text.… ‘Texting on a cellphone’ examines the tools teens use to communicate, with a particular focus on mobile devices, and then places the use of those tools in the broader context of how teens choose to communicate with people in their lives. Texting volume is up while the frequency of voice calling is down. About one in four teens say they own smartphones. Read the full report by Amanda Lenhart on Pew Internet.

Texting is the dominant daily mode of communication between teens and all those with whom they communicate. The volume of texting among teens has risen from 50 texts a day in 2009 to 60 texts for the median teen text user.

Overall, 16% of all teens have used a tablet computer to go online in the last 30 days and smartphone owners are also the most likely to be tablet users. Some 30% of smartphone users have used tablets to go online in the past month, while 13% of regular phone users and 9% of those without cell phones have done the same. Fewer smartphone users have used the internet on a desktop or laptop computer in the last month than regular phone users (85% vs. 93%.)

Digital natives lacking interpersonal skills
March 19th, 2012

John K. Mullen started in The HBR Blog Network a series about The New Rules for Getting a Job. Mullen warns digital natives to be aware that the internet may have partially rewired their brain in such a way that when they meet people face to face, they’re less capable of figuring out what others are thinking.

Research indicates that because there’s only so much time in the day, face-to-face interaction time drops by nearly 30 minutes for every hour a person spends on a computer. With more time devoted to computers and less to in-person interactions, young people may be understimulating and underdeveloping the neural pathways necessary for honing social skills.

Are digital natives lacking the interpersonal skills necessary for certain types of jobs? Mentioned are some points to consider for digital natives looking for a position in a field that requires human interaction.

Mobile revolution changing the world
March 19th, 2012

A new mobile world order will emerge, with leaders being created by entrepreneurs and disruptors. Three trends are shaping these opportunities.

The key to the mobile era is that it’s all about delighting and empowering the end user. The end user interacts with technology the way he/she interacts with the world around them“.

BYOD, Bring Your Own Device: With the ubiquity of smartphones and tablets, individual employees are literally taking the power in their hands, bringing the devices to work that they are the most productive on. These devices create complex problems for companies involving data security, personalization, provisioning, and more.

Appification: Users today are trained and expect to do one thing with each product or service they use.

Cloudification: The mobile experience really gets powerful when it leverages back-end cloud-based services, combining mobile device capabilities like touch, location and personalization with cloud-based capabilities like streaming, social networking, push notifications, updates, scalable data storage and computing.

Read on Forbes Navin Chaddha s full article about the mobile revolution

Howard Rheingold at #SXSW : Net Smarts: Essential Skills for Thriving Online
March 12th, 2012

In order to thrive online as individuals — and for the health of the online commons — we need to understand literacies of attention, crap detection, participation, collaboration, and network awareness. Howard Rheingold believes that the critical uncertainty about the future value of the Web depends on whether a sufficient proportion of the population learns these skills. So he has written a book that he wants to be well-received by the knowledgeable and given as a gift to the less knowledgeable. Slated for Spring 2012 publication by MIT Press, Howard Rheingold launches Net Smart today at SXSWi. SX scheduled a book signing session. (table of contents, pdf)

In Net Smart Howard Rheingold shows us how to use social media intelligently, humanely, and, above all, mindfully. (book description)

Questions Answered

1. Is the Web making us stupid, or do we need to learn how to use it effectively?
2. How do we balance multitasking and focus?
3. How do people assess the accuracy of information online?
4. What are the key collaboration skills necessary online today?
5. What do people need to know about networks & social networks to thrive online?

Also notice this recorded session about Net Smart on YouTube and read at Mediashift this interview Roland Legrand had with Howard about Net Smart.

Homeless Hotspots: a charitable experiment at SXSWi
March 12th, 2012

The New York Times : “Getting a decent data connection at SXSW can be a challenge, given that it attracts what may be the most data-hungry crowd in the world. With a project called Homeless Hotspots, a marketing company is helping out with this, while helping the homeless and promoting itself. Homeless people have been enlisted to roam the streets wearing T-shirts that say “I am a 4G hotspot.” Passersby can pay what they wish to get online via the 4G-to-Wi-Fi device that the person is carrying. It is a neat idea on a practical level, but also a little dystopian. When the infrastructure fails us… we turn human beings into infrastructure? — David Gallagher”

also check out: BBH Labs Saneel Radia

Wired’s backstory Behind “Homeless Hotspots” at SXSWi

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