Tag Archives: MySpace

MySpies

America’s intelligence agencies rip off social media to improve communications.

The FT reports today that America’s intelligence agencies are about to launch ‘A Space’, an internal communications tool modelled on social networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace. Thomas Fingar, the deputy director of national intelligence for analysis for the Director of National Intelligence (DNI), believes that the site will help dismantle the agencies’ siloed mentalities and help process increasing amounts of information where the number of analysts is limited. He told the FT, “Burying the same number of analysts in ever higher piles of hay would no more increase the number of needles.”

Of course, this story has rather handily come out the day before ‘a systemic failure’ was blamed for the CIA failing to predict the 911 terrorist attacks.

The DNI has also built an internal collaborative site called Intellipedia, based on Wikipedia. The CIA recently used Facebook to recruit and has created a version of del.icio.us, the social bookmarking site, for members of the intelligence community. Another tool is an intelligence library which can be accessed via A Space.

The big lesson here is even the intelligence community is beginning to recognise the importance of opening up flows of communication and information. Mike Wertheimer, the senior DNI officer for analytic for transformation and technology (we are LOVING these job titles) said that, “We are willing to experiment in ways that we have never experimented before. It breaks a lot of traditional senses that people’s lives are at risk, and how can you take any step that increases that risk.” Spies — like big corporates — have issues with sharing stuff. But maybe for better reasons. Wertheimer says, “They ask ‘well can we have access (to the intelligence library)?’ I ask them back if you want access, what services are you willing to put in, have you thought through your risk/profit scenario? They kind of stand back because that is not normally how we talk to them. It is a new day.”

All those organisations busily banning Facebook and other new tools of collaboration and communication should take heed.

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The MySpace/FaceBook Class Divide

Young Americans’ choice of MySpace or FaceBook says a lot about their place in the offline world…

While that’s hardly a revelation in itself, danah boyd’s latest essay gets down and dirty with the manner in which the FaceBook/Myspace communities reflect or present (American) class divisions… boyd goes to pains to point out that this is subjective research, but it’s provocative reading independent of any cold hard facts… do you know your “subaltern” from your “hegemonic” teens?

Her summary thoughts:

It breaks my heart to watch a class divide play out in the technology. I shouldn’t be surprised — when orkut grew popular in India, the caste system was formalized within the system by the users. But there’s something so strange about watching a generation splice themselves in two based on class divisions or lifestyles or whatever you want to call these socio-structural divisions.

We challenge you to slip some of this concern into your next social media client presentation, you FaceBook-fetishising media hegemonists, you. At least, please, keep it in mind when you have client money to throw at online communities. There’s an opportunity here to make the world a little less closed for a whole generation of socially-excluded digital natives. If you aren’t part of the solution…

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Not Everyone’s a Fan

Has the MySpace backlash begun?

myspace.jpg

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Share Your Dream on iMeem

As in ‘real’ life, social networking starts to split into cliques.

science of sleep.bmpIs social networking clique-ifying? Cult director Michel Gondry has chosen iMeem (which touts itself as providing ‘the best of social media’) to market his upcoming film instead of using the ubiquitous (read mainstream) and amateur-looking (read ugly) MySpace. In a rather nice device, users can contribute their own dreams to promote The Science of Sleep. The site is the work of a collaboration between iMeem and lovely magazine RES.

[Via Protein Feed]

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Henry Jenkins: On Convergence Culture

Henry Jenkins’ new book tells the story of emergent participatory media. He kindly granted BigShinyThing an exclusive email interview.

For a while now, we’ve been paying great attention to the writings of Henry Jenkins, Director of the Comparative Media Studies graduate program at MIT.

Over the last few years, he’s argued that the participatory creation led by fans and gamers heralds a transformation in creative media. His new book, Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide ties together many of the threads of his research, and was recently published to rave reviews from all sides.

While impatiently waiting for our copy to arrive, we caught up with Jenkins via email to get our readers the lowdown on his persuasive arguments about fan culture, collaborative production, and the social networking site backlash.

BST: We’re still waiting for your book to turn up in the mail! Can you tell us a little about its premise?

JENKINS: We live in an age where every story, image, brand, relationship will play itself out across the broadest possible array of media channels. This convergence is shaped top-down by decisions made in corporate boardrooms by companies wishing to tap their cross-media ownership and bottom-up by decisions made in teen’s bedrooms as they want to consume the media they want where they want it and when they want it.

Consumers are gaining a new power as they learn to operate within the knowledge cultures emerging within a networked society and as they learn to share media they’ve produced with each other.

Right now, they are acquiring and mastering these skills through their play with popular culture, but soon they will be applying them towards other powerful institutions. And Stuff.

You are a fan of fans, and argue that fans have long been ahead of the convergence curve, with their understanding that the ‘text’ of the stories they care about is open to engagement, involvement, transformation. Now a much wider community is participating in cultural creation. Is there an essential difference between fan-created content and other content contributions from the ‘former audience’?

Fans have been and are likely to continue to be the shock troops in this transformation of our culture — highly motivated, passionately committed, and socially networked. They are early adopters of new technologies and willing to experiment with new relationships to culture. (We might also throw into this category other highly motivated groups such as bloggers and gamers.)

There are signs that fan culture practices and products are spreading throughout the culture. Recent statistics from the Pew Center of Internet and American Life found that more than half of teens online produce some form of media and many of them shared what they produced by others. They are part of the participatory culture I am describing. So are people who join discussion forms or sign up for RSS feeds to get more information about their favorite band or television program.

As writers like Will Wright and Raph Koster have suggested, there is a pyramid of participation. Not everyone will want to spend massive amounts of time generating new content — some will simply want to engage with content others have produced. Not everyone will write fan stories — some may share critical responses with the authors. Not everyone will want to spoil reality television programs — some will simply enjoy the new relationships to the program the spoiler community helps to create for them. But the expansion of this participatory culture changes the context in which media content gets produced and distributed and thus it impacts all of us one way or another. Given this, I would imagine fans may still enjoy a privileged status in participatory culture but more and more people will benefit from the once invisible cultural work of fans.

As you define it, is ‘convergence’ an historical event, which has already occurred, an epoch (like the Renaissance), during which we are living, or something experiential, which is happening to different groups of people at differing times, in different ways?

That’s an interesting question. In some ways, each of these would be accurate.

In the book, I challenge those who think of convergence as a technological process and feel that we are a long way from integrating our communications technologies. I suggest we are already living in a convergence culture if we take advantage of the many kludged together ways that content travels across media platforms right now.

But I also see convergence as an ongoing process — not an endpoint — so it doesn’t make sense to read it as a historical event that has already occured, even if some aspects of the change have been building over an extended period of time at this point. I do think convergence is going to define our relationship to media for an extended period of time forward so it is in some ways an epoch.

But I also think the transitional nature of the present moment, as well as the uneven distribution of media technologies, means that we are not all living in convergence culture in the same ways or the same degrees. If it is an epoch, then, it is one that is just beginning and the long term consequences of these shifts are going to play themselves out for years and years to come.

The ‘Renaissance Man’ was a new creature, in that ‘his’ identity was open to invention, construction, reassembly, interrogation. What defines the ‘Convergence Person’, if such a person exists as a type? Who exemplifies this, and why?

The Renaissance Man was someone who sought to contain within their own individual intellect as much as possible of what anyone on the planet at that time knew.

Today, with the explosion of information we are all experiencing, it is simply not humanly possible to know everything. Most of us alive today know more about a broader range of topics than most of the people living in the Renaissance but we know a much smaller portion of what could be known that the idealized vision of the Renaissance Man suggests.

This is where Pierre Levy’s notion of Collective Intelligence enters the picture. Today, we see knowledge as dispersed across social networks. Everybody knows something, nobody knows everything, and what is known by any member is accessible to the group on demand. The Convergence Person thus knows how to tap that network to get the knowledge they need and knows how to make meaningful contributions back to the group in return. The Renaissance Man was a creature of hierarchy and expertise; the Convergence Person is a creature of adhocracy and pooled information.

Do you feel that converged culture offers specific opportunities to — or imposes particular obligations on — the ‘official’ creators of fictional worlds (open-endedness, unresolved story arcs etc)?

In the book, I offer two terms to refer to the aesthetic goals of convergence culture.

First, works seek to be cultural attractors. If consumption is now social and communal, then certain works will attract together people of similar interests so that they can begin to pool knowledge together. To do that, they often must tap existing cultural references in the way that Lost or The Matrix or Harry Potter can be said to do.

Second, works seek to be cultural activators. They give audiences something to do — some activity, some roles and goals, some meaningful form of participation. This can be literally the case in terms of the mechanisms of participation that surround reality television or computer games. Or it can simply be the show embeds lots of secrets and thus opens itself up to a prolonged process of decryption, as seems to be the case of Lost. There are plenty of shows that achieve the first, far fewer which achieve the second.

Once you’ve designed a cultural attractor and activator, the next step out would be to provide raw materials which fans then want to recombine in new ways and thus generate new forms of cultural expression. And the final step in this process may be to find ways to monitor and amplify the creative energies of these fan communities to sustain popular interest in your program.

To achieve the first two, you need the skills and creativity of professional creators. To achieve the second two, you have to create a context where grassroots creativity is respected rather than shut down.

Lost would seem to be a show which does very well by the first two criteria: a decade ago, Lost would be a cult show like Twin Peaks was in its time. Now, it is one of the highest rated shows on American television despite the fact that, as Steven Johnson has pointed out, it is also one of the most intellectually demanding shows on American television (or more precisely because it is so demanding.) It is designed in a way to generate constant secrets which we want to uncover and thus providing fuel for the participation of large scale knowledge communities. The map which was flashed across the screen for a split second in a single episode is, as Jason Mittell has noted, emblematic of that new relationship with the consumer.

As of this summer, the Lost Team has pushed this one step further by creating an alternate reality game that will generate new opportunities for participation and socialization around the series. There has been some suggestion that the Lost writers also monitor online communities and reshape the story in response to their speculations.

There has so far been fewer signs of audiences recreating Lost or creating the next generation of Lost on their own. This may be because the series is so demanding and people are still so unsettled in their expectations about what is actually going on there. In that regard, Lost may generate more new culture once it is finished than it has so far. This was certainly the case with Twin Peaks which only really started to inspire fan fiction once it was off the air. It is spectacular though to recognize that Wrapped in Plastic, a fanzine produced when the show was first aired, is still being produced and read — and if anything, it has more subscribers now, a decade plus later, than when the series was first broadcast. This is a classic illustration of the ways that fans can help extend the shelf life of media products.

With the advent of weightless digital media, we’ve anticipated some global crossover hit from somewhere other than the ‘first world’, but so far, it’s not happened — music in particular seems to exist in tight local (spatial or cultural) ghettos of genre. Any thoughts on what it would take for a truly converged global music culture and if/when it will happen?

I think you are measuring success by the old standards — looking for mega-hits — whereas the greatest impact of globalization in media content so far comes on the other end of Chris Anderson’s long tail. Global media in the West remains niche media.

Indeed, you can argue that it is the most vivid example of the potential of niche media for market success. Music is, as you note above, in general, defined right now by ever more precise niches or “ghettos of genre” to use your term. While music can be a shared resource within subcultural communities, there is very little music we listen to as a culture at large.

The Nichification of music is suggested by something like MySpace which emerged initially as a vehicle for helping people to find music that they liked by tapping their social networks. The massification of music might be suggested by something like American Idol — which has self consciously sought to generate music that will appeal across a broad demographic (though in reality, the best Idols have turned out to be second run performers on the show who then get pulled into specialized niches once they depart it.)

Right now, I see people consuming more and more media from other parts of the world — global fusion music, anime and manga, Bollywood films, Latin America soaps, Nigerian horror films, etc. but in fairly localized communities of interests. We are seeing this culture brought into the western market by a mixture of Otaku (fans) and Desi (immigrants): fans seek out difference where-ever they can find it in the world; immigrants seek to maintain ties back to the mother country which they left. Both contribute to a cultural landscape where global media is more readily available. And the results can take off dramatically.

Do you think that the diversification of modes of media consumption (iPod, PVR/DVR, home cinema, mobile phone) makes for a fundamental challenge to creators of ‘content’? If so, what’s the challenge, and where do you see this challenge leading?

Ok — there are two potential challenges — one a dead-end, the other a new possibility for gifted entertainers.

The dead end is the idea of developing content that simply gets reconfigured easily across all of those platforms. This is an idea that’s been kicking around for a while and this practice shows little to no appreciation of the aesthetic and social dimensions of those various media.

The result will be something like the pan and scan prints of films which have been reconfigured to fit our television screens as opposed to the letterboxed prints that reflect a recognition of the aesthetic practices that shaped the original product and seek a meaningful compromise as it is moved into the new medium.

To create media content that is mechanically reconfigured across all of those platforms is to produce content that really exploits the potentials of none of those media. We’ve seen this in cinema where the expressive uses of cinemascope found in the 1950s when films were designed for the big screen have given way to the pretty limited use of the frame edges that characterize current filmmaking practice. However big the screen looks in the theatre, the significant action has to play out within the boxed window which will be visible on the television screen.

There will of course be some content that moves easily from platform to platform but in general, I think one has to develop strategies appropriate for each space. We are already seeing that there are television series that do spectacularly well on video iPod that are not ratings champs on broadcast and other shows, sitcoms, dramatically under-perform in these new contexts.

The alternative is what I am calling transmedia storytelling or more broadly transmedia entertainment. This is a system where each medium makes a distinct contribution to the media franchise, each is left to do what it does best, and the reader is able to expand on their experience of a favorite story by pulling together bits and pieces of information from various sources.

I discuss this in the book in terms of The Matrix where the films, animation, games, and comics each made unique and integral contributions to the whole. This is similar to the “media mix” culture that has emerged in Japan, for example. I believe that transmedia storytelling represents the most compelling way to use convergence to expand the canvas on which our most creative entertainers work.

We are convinced that the current proliferation of hardware and software is but a moment ie netflix, PVRs, chargeable film downloads, before content moves entirely online (reaches convergence). However, the media industry at large appears to be in denial about this — do you agree?

I am much more interested in predicting where our culture is going than predicting where technology is going. My hunch is that we are going to see a variety of delivery mechanisms for the foreseeable future and indeed, that there will be no steady state of media convergence, no fully integrated technological infrastructure.

We are seeing that divergence as demonstrated by specialized devices is part of the process by which convergence operates. I don’t happen to like the idea of my cell phone as a media appliance, for example, and I find that I prefer to watch dvds on a portable dvd player rather than my laptop. These are probably idiosyncratic choices but then, the point is that every consumer wants their own unique mix of media appliances because they like certain affordances each offers in specific contexts.

My hunch is that as soon as some media functions get integrated, someone else will offer a new appliance that seperates them out again for consumers who want a different relationship to media content. This goes back to what I say about convergence being a process rather than an endpoint. We are going to see ever more complicated configurations of media, ever more complex integrations of media content, but we may never reach a technological steady state.

This doesn’t mean that all of the stop gap measures you are referring to above are here to stay. They will only last if they are seen by consumers as serving necessary functions or if they serve a clear niche in the new media infrastructure.

Nobody I suspect imagines the video iPod say is the best possible way to watch television. It simply came along at the right moment to provide an infrastructure to support television content on demand. And we will see a better solution emerge. We are already seeing Netflix and other services experiment with new ways to get movies into the hands of consumers besides mailing dvds. On the other hand, there are signs that people still want to buy books even where they can download the content for free on the web.

danah boyd and yourself seem to have become (reluctantly) the most visible defenders of young people’s rights to explore and create identity using emergent media. We remember when ‘learning-though-doing’ with technology and media was at the core of education, but it seems that the young people growing up now have to reclaim reedoms that have somehow subsequently been lost without a fight — any thoughts on what went wrong with the relationship between children and tools/media, and what we grownups can do to help them maintain and/or win back their right to play (with technology, identity, etc)?

In a way, each generation of young people across history have had to fight their own battles for expressive freedom and for the right to play with technology and identity. Young people have always been on the cutting edge of media change as they search for ways to escape the surveillance of their parents and define their own space in the world. They gravitate towards the new and the shiny and they are willing to put in the time to adopt it to their needs and interests.

Parents are often spooked by their relationship to these technologies that were not part of the culture of their own childhoods. They don’t know how to protect their children as they go into that space — and this is part of the point.

All it takes is one shocking tragedy — something like the Columbine shooting — to turn their ignorance into fear and then it takes the mixture of moral reformers, sensationalistic media, and opportunistic politicians to turn their fear into a moral panic which results in laws and regulations that try to put the genie back in the bottle again. It can take a generation to reverse those constraints — more particularly, it takes the generation which came of age with those technologies to take on adult roles as parents, teachers, lawyers, and citizens. Then, we see a reversal of course which allows us to adopt a more normalized attitude towards those technologies and practices.

With Columbine and video games, we were lucky that few of the laws passed in that phase of moral panic withstood judicial review. With MySpace, we are apt to be less lucky because if DOPA passes, it will be a law that is going to be hard to challenge in courts. Technically it isn’t censorship. Schools are not prohibited for allowing youth to access MySpace. They simply lose federal funding if they do so. And the Federal government can make any stipulation it wants on how it distributes its funds.

The result is going to be a law which we will actively have to repel once the generation that has grown up using social network software becomes adults. This is going to be a huge step back for participatory culture and a big step back for those of us who want to see Web 2.0 applications used more fully in the classroom. What is shocking is that it is occuring with so little real public discussion because the mainstream media has done everything it can to scare people about MySpace and has little interest in reporting the truth about this story.

That said, I think there was a fatal mistake in the discourse about youth and digital media in the 1990s. It became all about the digital divide which got defined in terms of access to technologies. This wasn’t true of [Seymour] Papert and a few others but it became the mantra. “Let’s build a bridge to the 21st century. Let’s wire our classroom.” Well, we wired the classroom — now what? We now face the participation gap — the gap between those who have unlimited access to new media outside of school (and more importantly, the skills and experiences they enable) and those who have limited bandwidth, limited access, on filtered computers. We dealt with the technological challenges but not the social and cultural challenges. And we have been held hostage by a culture war discourse that has been very effective at transforming adult ignorance into fear and backlash against those forms of cultural experience teens have found for themselves in the online world.

I am very involved right now in developing the case for a very different form of media education — one which grows out of a desire to enable kids to become more active participants in the participatory culture I describe in my book.

That’s where Convergence Culture ends — with the call for new media literacies — and that’s where my new book begins. We are going to be releasing a white paper later this fall that paves the way for a whole range of pedagogical activities designed to help teachers and parents better appreciate the value of gaming, social networking, fan fiction writing, and all of the other things the most digitally adept kids are doing now.

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Murdoch makes good on MySpace

Google agrees to pay out $900m over three and half years for exclusive search and advertising rights to MySpace and other News Corp Internet properties.

According to the New York Times media blog, the deal prompted News Corp’s President Peter Chernin to claim that, “In one fell swoop, we have paid for two-thirds of our Internet acquisitions.”

News Corp paid $649m for MySpace last year and has spent a total of $1.3bn so far on Internet companies.

Other media companies are following their lead. The Financial Times today reports that MTV-owner Viacom is in the frame to buy MySpace rival Bebo and the company has also been linked with a bid for college student site Facebook. The social networking trend also continues to explode with the latest Bright Idea being a site for the older generation. The founder of Internet job site (and dotcom survival story) Monster.com, Jeff Taylor, launched Eons.com earlier this month for the 50-plus crowd. The site comes complete with an obituary alert…

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Invading Their Space

Blog safety campaigners get it wrong.

blogsafety.jpgWe have posted before on the current moral panic concerning the dangers of social networking sites such as MySpace and Bebo. As the PR wars between rival sites reach crescendo we’d thought we’d check out blogsafety.com – the advice and social networking site about… social networking. And it appears that little has been learned from the sex education wars. Just a few observations. One, when you are trying to talk to teens it’s best not to look and sound like a teacher from the 1970s. Two, teenagers (and people in general) don’t tend to respond well to being patronised — kids in particular don’t need the Internet explaining to them — it’s part of their reality. Three is the sole comment in response to the following advice:

“We recommend that you do give them the web address of your blog and it’s a very good idea to talk with them about what you’re doing and reassure them that you understand basic safety and privacy rules.”

Nope, I’m never sharing my blog with my parents — and that’s final.

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MySpace: Web 2.0 Refusenik?

MySpace has unleashed its lawyers on relationship-alert site SingleStat.us. What does this say about its attitude to Web 2.0 in general?

MySpace mashup SingleStat.us is no more. The site enabled users to find out when another MySpacer’s relationship status changed (feeling like you’re not getting enough attention from the freaks? Change status to ‘single’ and stand back!) — a classic third-party hacker addition to an existing service. According to TechCrunch, MySpace lawyers have ‘cease and desist’ed the site’s owners, and claim that the system caused MySpace ‘substantial and irreparable harm’ due to the ‘undue burden’ it placed on their systems.

All of which flies a bit in the face of MySpace’s claims to membership of the Web 2.0 elite — unlike many contemporary sites, MySpace has yet to publish an open API, which would give wannabe mashers-up of the system a documented, manageable interface into MySpace’s internal workings — in the light of which it’s hardly surprising, given MySpace’s success, to see people developing their own ‘unofficial’ techniques for MySpace hacks and tweaks, as SingleStat.us had done.

When BigShinyThing raised the ‘missing API’ question with MySpace at the recent Mashup* session in London, their reply was that MySpace is ‘worried about the security implications of open source’. As open source is an entirely different class of thing to an open API, we suspect their representative was simply a bit confused about this whole ‘how the Internet works’ thing. Nevermind.

Maybe they’ll get there, or maybe they’ll keep locking out the people who care enough about their product to extend it, and who see enough unexpressed potential in it to build profitable symbiotic systems around what it does. If that’s the case, good luck to them when a serious competitor comes along, which, unlike MySpace itself, actually encourages some modern mashup fun at its periphery. Stay tuned.

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Not OurSpace. TheirSpace. Elseware.

This Year’s Moral Panic about young people’s safety concerns social networking sites. We think parents are missing the generational sea change that really should scare them.

For a nice overview of the ‘new reality’ of online youth, check out a recent interview between MIT’s Henry Jenkins and danah boyd. We’ve reported before on boyd’s view that social media sites function as ‘digital publics’ where young people — whose freedoms are heavily constrained in the physical world — can live more freely, via media ‘in which’ (and, crucially, ‘where’, these media being conceptualised and experienced as places) they feel completely ‘at home’.

So — the kids have a new ‘place’ to play. What’s the difference between MySpace and all the other places where generations of young people have hung out to get a bit of freedom — the park, the mall, the video arcade? Maybe the clue is in this quote from Jenkins:

Just as youth in a hunting society play with bows and arrows, youth in an information society play with information and social networks.

Bows and arrows, yes, but fast forward: during the Industrial Revolution, very few children played with live steam and drop forges. During the Atom Age and Cold War, kids never got hands-on with Deuterium-Tritium fusion reactions. But in the Information Age, they’ve got Access All Areas to the most culturally-transformative technologies of our time, and a fluency with them that comes only to digital natives. Children being children, they’ve been getting busy with these toys — people don’t grok where their kids are at because the kids have left the building. They’ve gone. Nobody noticed, while a whole generation bootstrapped itself up and out — offworld, into media-which-is-a-place, where they’re forging a new reality: a vibrant pop culture mashup of late consumerism and virtuality-enabled persona-hacking. And it’s in their world, not ours, that they’re going to learn, invent and grow up. We’ve lost them. Off into elseware. Gone.

Until childhood’s end: we tip 2015-2020 as the period when the grown-up children of this new world start to port their way of being back into our world, enacting their society, their way.

Expect a revolution.

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Newspite

Funnily enough, News Corp’s rivals in the broadsheets seem to have it in for MySpace.

The perception courtesy of The Independent on Sunday:

mypornspace.JPG

The reality as seen in graffiti in the toilets of Barfly, Camden:

myspacecamden small.jpg

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