Making Websites Easier To Talk To

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A website without a screen doesn’t sound right does it. Like a book without pages, or a car without a steering wheel. Yet there are audiobooks, hand-free vehicles. And increasingly websites are being used without even being looked at — at least by humans.

Phone assistants and home speakers are a growing part of the Internet ecosystem. In the article, I will try to break down what that means for websites going forward, what designers can do about it, and why this might finally be a leap forward to accessibility. More than two thirds of the web is inaccessible to those with visual impairments, after all. It’s time to make websites easy to talk to.

Invasion Of The Home Speakers

Global smart speaker sales topped 147 million in 2019 and pandemic or no pandemic the trend is going up. Talking is faster than typing, after all. From Google Home to Alexa to smartphone assistants, cars, and even fridges, more and more people are using programmes to search the web on their behalf.

Putting aside the rather ominous Big Brother Inc undertones of this trend, it’s safe to say hundreds of millions of people are already exploring the web each day without actually looking at it. Screens are no longer essential to browsing the web and sites ought to adapt to this new reality. Those that don’t are cutting themselves off from hundreds of millions of people.

Developers, designers and writers alike should be prepared for the possibility that their work will not be seen or clicked at all — it will be heard and spoken to.

Designing Invisibility

There are two main prongs to the topic of website talkiness — tech and language. Let’s start with tech, which runs the gauntlet all the way from basic content structure to semantic markup and beyond. I’m as keen on good writing as anyone, but it’s not the place to start. You could have website copy worthy of a Daniel Day-Lewis performance, but if it isn’t arranged and marked up properly it won’t be worth much to anyone.

Age Old Foundations

The idea of websites being understood without being seen is not a new one. Screen readers have been around for decades, with two-thirds of users choosing speech as their output, with the final third choosing braille.

The focus of this article goes further than this, but making websites screen reader friendly provides a rock solid foundation for the fancier stuff below. I won’t linger on this too long as others have written extensively on the topic (links below) but below are things you should always be thinking about:

Clear navigation in-page and across the site.
Align DOM structure with visual design.
Alt text, no longer than 16 words or so, if an image does not need alt text (if it’s a background for example) have empty alt text, not no alt text.
Descriptive hyperlinks.
‘Skip to content links’.

Visual thinking actually blinds us to many design failings. Users can and often do put the pieces together themselves, but that doesn’t do much for machine-readable websites. Making websites easy to talk to starts with making them text-to-speech (TTS) friendly. It’s good practice and it massively improves accessibility. Win win.

Further Reading On TTS Design And Accessibility

Text to Speech by W3C
Front End North Pt 2: Léonie Watson blew my mind
Text-To-Speech With AWS (Part 1)
Text-To-Speech And Back Again With AWS (Part 2)
Notes On Client-Rendered Accessibility
Labelling Controls by the W3C
Using the aria-label attribute by Mozilla
I Used The Web For A Day Using A Screen Reader
From The Experts: Global Digital Accessibility Developments During COVID-19

Fancier Stuff

As well as laying a strong foundation, designing for screen readers and accessibility is good for its own sake. That’s reason enough to mention it first. However, it doesn’t quite provide for the uptick of ‘hands-free’ browsing I spoke about at the start of this piece. Voice user interfaces, or VUIs. For that we have to dig into semantic markup.

Making websites easy to talk to means labelling content at a much more granular level. When people ask their home assistant for the latest news, or a recipe, or whether that restaurant is open on Tuesday night, they don’t want to navigate a website using their voice. They want the information. Now. For that to happen information on websites needs to be clearly labelled.

I’ve rather tumbled down the Semantic Web rabbit hole this year, and I don’t intend to repeat myself here. The web can and should aspire to be machine readable, and that includes talkiness.

Semantic markup already exists for this. One is called ‘speakable’, a property currently in beta which highlights the parts of a web page which are ‘especially appropriate for text-to-speech conversion.’

For example, I and two friends review an album a week as a hobby. We recently redesigned the website with semantic markup integrated. Below is a portion of a page’s structured data showing speakable in action:

“@context”: “”,
“@type”: “Review”,
“reviewBody”: “It’s breathless, explosive music, the kind of stuff that compels listeners to pick up an instrument or start a band. Origin of Symmetry listens like a spectacular jam — with all the unpolished, patchy, brazen energy that entails — and all in all it’s pretty rad, man.”,
“datePublished”: “2015-05-23”,
“author”: [
“@type”: “Person”,
“name”: “André Dack”
“@type”: “Person”,
“name”: “Frederick O’Brien”
“@type”: “Person”,
“name”: “Andrew Bridge”
“itemReviewed”: {
“@type”: “MusicAlbum”,
“name”: “Origin of Symmetry”,
“@id”: “”,
“image”: “”,
“albumReleaseType”: “”,
“byArtist”: {
“@type”: “MusicGroup”,
“name”: “Muse”,
“@id”: “”
“reviewRating”: {
“@type”: “Rating”,
“ratingValue”: 26,
“worstRating”: 0,
“bestRating”: 30
“speakable”: {
“@type”: “SpeakableSpecification”,
“cssSelector”: [

So, if someone asks their home speaker assistant what Audioxide thought of Origin of Symmetry by Muse, speakable should direct it to the album name, the artist, and the bite-sized summary of the review. Convenient and to the point. (And spares people the ordeal of listening to our full summaries.) Nothing’s there that wasn’t there before; it’s just labelled properly. You’ll notice as well that choosing a CSS class is enough. Easy.

This kind of functionality lends itself better so certain types of sites than others, but possibilities are vast. Recipes, news stories, ticket availability, contact information, grocery shopping… all these things and more can be made better if only we get into the habit of making websites easier to talk to, every page packed with clearly structured and labelled information ready and waiting to answer queries when they come their way.

Beyond that the big brains at places like Google and Mozilla are hard at work on dedicated web speech APIs, allowing for more sophisticated user interactions with things like forms and controls. It’s early days for tech like this but absolutely something to keep an eye on.

The rise of home speakers means old and new worlds are colliding. Providing for one provides for the other. Let’s not forget websites are supposed to have been designed for screen readers for decades.

Further Reading

Web apps that talk — Introduction to the Speech Synthesis API
Web Speech Concepts and Usage by Mozilla
What are Voice User Interfaces? By the Interaction Design Foundation

Writing For Speaking

You’ve taken steps to make your website better understood by screen readers, search engines, and all that good stuff. Congratulations. Now we get to the fuzzier topics of tone and personality.

Designing a website to speak is different to designing it to be read. The nature of user interactions is different. A major point to keep in mind is that where voice queries are concerned websites are almost always responsive — answering questions, giving recipes, confirming orders.

An Open NYT study found that for household users ‘interacting with their smart speakers sometimes results in frustrating, or even funny, exchanges, but that feels like a better experience than being tethered to a phone that pushes out notifications.’

In other words, you can’t and shouldn’t force the issue. The look-at-me ethos of pop ups and ads and endless engagement has no place here. Your task is having a good site that gives information on command as clearly and succinctly as possible. A virtual butler, if you will.

What this means in linguistic terms is:

Succinct sentences,
Plain, simple language,
Front-loaded information (think inverted pyramid)),
Phrasing answers as complete sentences.

Say what you write out loud, have free text-to-speech systems like TTSReacher say it back to you. Words can sound very different out loud than they do written down, and visa versa. I have my reservations about readability algorithms, but they’re useful tools for gauging clarity.

Further Reading

‘Readability Testing for Voice Content’ on A List Apart
The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr.

HAL, Without The Bad Bits

Talking with websites is part of a broader shift towards channel-agnostic web experiences. The nature of websites is changing. From desktop to mobile, and from mobile to smart home systems, they are becoming more fluid. We all know about ‘mobile-first’ indexing. How long until it’s ‘voice-first’?

Moving away from rigid constraints is daunting, but it is liberating too. We look at websites, we listen to them, we talk to them. Each one is like a little HAL, with as much or little personality and/or murderous intent as we see fit to design into it.

Here are steps we can take to make websites easier to talk to, whether building from scratch or updating old projects:

Navigate your site using screen readers.
Try vocal queries via phone/home assistants.
Use semantic markup.
Implement speakable markup.

Designing websites for screenless situations improves their accessibility, but it also sharpens their personality, their purpose, and their usefulness. As Preston So writes for A List Apart, ‘it’s an effective way to analyze and stress-test just how channel-agnostic your content truly is.’

Making your websites easy to talk to prepares them for the channel-agnostic web, which is fast becoming a reality. Rather than text and visuals on a screen, sites must be abstract and flexible, ready to interact with an ever growing range of devices.

Collective #639

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20 Awesome Christmas Projects Hidden in CodePen

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CodePen is an online playground for talented front-end developers, a place where you can always find cool projects to widen your horizons, and see what other developers are up to. Year-end holidays…

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Must-Have Features for Every Web Hosting Service

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When it comes to online businesses, hacking is one of the major security concerns. You’ve probably heard about cybercriminals hacking into different websites and releasing sensitive data to the general public. To safeguard your website information, you should always choose a secure web hosting service. The more the people who visit your website, the more […]

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A Brief Guide to WordPress Web Design

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WordPress is one of the world’s most popular and flexible platforms for creating websites and managing content, with hundreds of millions of users taking advantage of its tools. It is capable of accommodating sites of all sizes, from basic blogs to high traffic e-commerce sites and beyond, so here is a quick look at how […]

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How To Change And Use Zoom Backgrounds (And Why You Should Do It)

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Tylko Organise effortlessly -3D & Motion Design

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Tylko Organise effortlessly -3D & Motion Design
Tylko Organise effortlessly -3D & Motion Design


Reisinger Studio with Facu Labo and Aimar Molero Music & Sou were briefed to create four ideas to promote Tylko’s “Organise effortlessly” mantra. Using Maxon Cinema 4D they created some abstract 3D work and here’s a set of  work in progress & 3D explorations.


Image may contain: cartoonImage may contain: balloonImage may contain: cartoon and LEGOImage may contain: artImage may contain: indoor and wallImage may contain: airplaneImage may contain: wall, indoor and balloonImage may contain: indoorImage may contain: stationaryImage may contain: screenshotImage may contain: boxImage may contain: cartoon, indoor and toyImage may contain: wall and indoorImage may contain: vase, cup and cylinderImage may contain: orange, cartoon and balloonImage may contain: balloon, cartoon and indoor


Client, Tylko
Production by Reisinger Studio
Direction & 3D Design by Andrés Reisinger
Drafts by Sebastian Baptista
Animation by Facu Labo
Music Design by Aimar Molero

Designing An Attractive And Usable Data Importer For Your App

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If you’ve ever tried to import data into an app before, you know, as a user, how varied the experience can be. In some cases, the user is overwhelmed with instructions on how to use the importer. In others, there’s no direction at all. And while that might look nicer than an importer overrun with directions and links to documentation on how to use it, a completely useless UI will also cause users frustration once the inevitable errors start getting thrown.

So, when you’re designing an app or software that needs a data importer, how do you ensure this doesn’t happen to your end users? Do you try to custom build or find a Goldilocks solution that strikes the right balance between minimal and informative? And what should that even look like?

Today, I want to look at four ways to ensure that the user interface design of your data importer doesn’t get in the way of a positive user experience.

Quick note before I start: I’ll be using live data importer examples to demonstrate how to design this on your own. However, if you’d rather just use a ready-made data importer, but don’t have time to review the existing options against these good design practices, Flatfile Concierge is what you’re looking for. I’ll show some examples of it as we go along and tell you a bit more about it at the end of this post.

UI Design Tips For Your Software’s Data Importer

There are many challenges in data onboarding for apps and software. But if you can get the UI right — in other words, provide your end users with an attractive and usable importer — you can effectively minimize those challenges.

Here’s what your data importer should look like if you want to make that a reality for your users:

1. Format The Instructions For Readability

It doesn’t matter how straightforward the data import process is. You can never assume that your end users will automatically know how to format their file(s), which file types are allowed and what sort of file size limitations there may be.

So, the main importer page must have instructions for them. Just be careful about going overboard.

If you leave them with a wall of text explaining what the importer is for, they’ll get annoyed with the redundant information holding them up from getting started. And if you spell out each possible step in minute detail, their eyes are going to glaze over. Worst-case scenario, they’ll start the experience feeling as though they’re being talked down to. None of these outcomes is ideal.

To find the sweet spot, aim for the following:

Simplify the instructions into 100 words or less.

PayPal’s invoice importer is a good example of this:

There’s a single paragraph on this page that tells users that files need to:

Be in CSV format;
Include fields for the email address, item name, and invoice amount;
Include no more than 1000 invoices.

For anyone that misses the bit about the file format, they’ll get a reminder of it in the upload field.

The rest of the information (the link to the file template and FAQs on how to batch invoice) is linked out to other pages, which keeps this importer page nice and short.

When possible, I’d recommend formatting the instructions using paragraphs, bulletpoints, bolded headers or white space. This would be similar to how you’d structure text for readability on a web or app page.

QuickBooks Self-Employed shows us how this might work:

There are three steps presented and each is kept short and to the point. By adding extra space between and around them, reading the export/import instructions will seem less daunting.

One last thing you can do is to make the “Import” button stand out so that users that use the importer more than once can quickly skip past the instructions on subsequent uses.

Here’s how this might look if you use Flatfile as your data importer:

The button stands out clear as day on this page. And for those who have used this importer before, they won’t need to read through the instructions on the right for a reminder of what kinds of file types are allowed. There’s a note right beneath the button that clarifies this.

What’s more, the button is in the top-left corner, which is where most users’ eyes initially focus on a new page. So, the strong color of the button coupled with the priority placement will help users quickly get the import process started.

2. Show Them All The Import Options That Are Available

Consumers often expect companies to provide them with options. This is something we’ve seen a lot lately in e-commerce, with shoppers wanting various purchase options available (e.g. pick up in-store, curbside pickup, two-day delivery, etc.)

If it makes sense to do so for your app, consider giving your users the same kind of flexibility and control over how they import their data. And when you do, design each option so that it’s clear — just by looking at it — what action comes next.

For instance, this is the expense and income importer for AND.CO:

The block with the dashed border tells users that they have at least one option: Drag-and-drop their CSV file into the widget to upload. While an importer design like this doesn’t always allow for click-to-upload, this one does (per the instructions).

Flatfile uses a similar design at the top of the import page:

The difference between these two examples is that Flatfile includes an upload button inside the dashed-border box so that it’s clear that both import options are available.

There’s also a third option beneath this block:

It’s a good idea to include a manual import option if your end users will return to the importer to add small handfuls of data and don’t want to prepare a file every time.

One last way to present import options is through the use of third-party software logos as Asana does:

The standard CSV file import option is available at the top of the page. Beneath that, though, are apps that their users are most likely to have stored their project data in.

As you can see, the visual presentation of the import options is just as important as the instructions provided. So, rather than try to get creative here, just use a tried-and-true design that your end users will be familiar with and will help them instantly identify the import option they prefer.

3. Make Complex Imports Look Easy

At this stage of the data import process, things can get a little hairy. Even if you have a flawless import process on the backend, the way it’s presented to your end users can be a problem if the complexities of the process start to show through.

There are two things you can do with the UI to keep that from happening. This point will cover what you can do if the import process itself is complex.

HubSpot is a robust marketing and sales software, so it’s no surprise the data import process would take a while. Regardless, it starts simply enough, asking users if they’re going to import their data or pull it in from another platform:

Now, this design goes against what I just talked about in the last point about designing the first page. However, there’s a reason why this was a good choice.

Let’s say this HubSpot user decides to import their data from a CSV file. They’d select “Import” and then go to this page:

If HubSpot used the typical import page design, this page would require users to pause and then get acquainted with the new interface before moving on.

So, this is something to consider if you have a complex data onboarding process that needs to be broken up into multiple steps before the actual import begins.

Assuming the user just wants to import a CSV, XLS or XLSX, they’ll find themselves here next:

What’s nice about this approach is that it prevents users from having to go through the importer once for every file they have to upload. If there’s related data, they can select ‘Multiple files with associations’ and the importer will help them make those connections:

This way, it’s not the users’ responsibility to merge the data in their files. Nor do they have to spend hours going through their imported records to merge related records. This importer helps them do it.

The next screen is similar to the “How many files are you importing?” screen. This one appears, however, when the user selects “One file”:

This again is aimed at keeping users from importing data and then spending excessive amounts of time cleaning it up.

Next, we have the part of the process where the user finally sees the importer. While it’s not exactly like the designs we looked at before, it’s still intuitive enough where users will know how to upload their files into it:

While I realize this is a lot of steps to get to a page that other software would show first, think about how much quicker these users are able to get inside HubSpot and to start working.

If you have a complex upload process (i.e. multiple files, object associations, etc.), consider using a similar design with each question on its own page as well as consistently presented options.

4. Use Color To Make Data Cleanup Speedy

The other way to simplify an otherwise complex import process is applicable to all data importers. In particular, this tip pertains to the final steps in the data onboarding process:

Data validation
Data sanitization

Now, having a data importer that can actually do some of this work is going to be a huge help. However, it’s ultimately up to your end users to review what they’ve imported and to approve it before they allow it inside the software.

To help them not be so overwhelmed by all the data and everything they need to address, use color to guide them through it.

For this example, we’re going to look at ClickUp. And if it looks familiar to you, that’s because it should. It was built using Flatfile’s data importer.

Let’s start with the first part of the data validation process:

This page is straightforward enough. It shows the user a snippet from their imported data and asks them if the row pointed to contains column names.

But look at the green “Yes” button. While this is a design tactic we use for web and app interfaces (i.e. make the desired call-to-action a positive and eye-catching color), there’s another reason this is here.

Assuming the column names are there and ClickUp can easily interpret the data, this is what the user sees next:

This is the data importer’s attempt at making light work of data validation. On the left are all the identified columns from the file.

On the right is information about how the columns were matched to ClickUp’s fields. There are also three possible data validation options:

Confirm mapping (in green);
Ignore this column (in a grey ghost button);
Include as a custom field (in another ghost button).

The green button here matches what we saw on the last screen. So, users have already been conditioned to view this green button as an affirmative, which will help them quickly go through all the results and confirm the fields that were correctly matched.

Green and grey aren’t the only colors that should appear in your data importer.

If errors should arise (which isn’t a bad thing), your users should have a chance to fix them before the data gets uploaded. Depending on where in the app the errors appear, you might want to design them differently.

For instance, ClickUp uses an orange warning symbol to call out issues with values during validation:

This allows ClickUp to tell users, “Yes, the column names match, but your values don’t line up with what we use.”

ClickUp then uses a red highlighter during data sanitization to point out errors with fields:

This is the final step before upload, so this is ClickUp’s last attempt at getting its users to perfect their data import. In this case, ClickUp highlights a field in red if it’s marked as required but contains no data.

The color alone should call attention to the fields. However, what if the user had imported a file with hundreds or thousands of rows and doesn’t see the red at first glance? Giving them a way to zero in on these red lines would be super valuable.

And ClickUp’s “Only show rows with problems” toggle does this:

Let’s face it: Unless your data importer tells your users when and where there’s a problem with their data, they’re probably not going to give it a second glance. That is, not until they’re in the software and wondering why their records are all messed up.

Of course, they’ll blame it on the importer and the software; not on their own negligence. So, providing these colorful markers throughout the process will be a huge help.

Wrapping Up

As I mentioned before, if you’re not confident that you can pull off the tricky balancing act between building a friction- and error-free data importer while designing it to be attractive, intuitive and helpful, then why bother?

As we’ve already seen, Flatfile Concierge is a ready-made data importer solution that’s not only built to handle a wide range of data import scenarios, but it looks great, too. By letting it power your data import process, you can devote more time to building products and your clients can dedicate more time to providing their users with better customer service and support.

4 Creative Ways to Design a Festive Website

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The holidays are fast approaching. But that doesn’t mean it’s too late to get a new website online or to make your existing one look festive for the holiday season.

When it comes to decking the halls of your website with a little festive cheer, how do you do this without spending loads of money and time on it?

You’re in luck. BeTheme has a variety of pre-built websites to help you do just that. Not only that, but you can use these festive websites for a variety of occasions, like:

Boxing Day
New Year’s

You could also just use one of these sites to make your website feel more seasonal as the temperatures get colder and the snow starts to fall. (If that’s what your winter wonderland looks like!)

Let’s have a look at 4 ways you can bring a little seasonal or holiday cheer to your visitors with a festive website from BeTheme:

Tip #1: Use a Page Builder That Makes it Easy to Swap in Festive Content

Unless you’re running a business like the Christmas Tree Shops, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to have holiday imagery up all year long.

The only problem, though, is that it can be a real pain having to go in, find a new theme, and then redesign your site around it… For only a month or two.

That issue is easily resolved with BeTheme, which comes with over 600 pre-built websites and two page builders — Muffin and Elementor.

Because there are so many pre-built sites available, you can easily switch to a non-festive website once the holiday season is over.

In order to swap out this design with a festive website, you’d first have to reset your theme (which Be provides instructions on how to do). Then, install the new site you want to use.

Like BeXmas:

And if you only want, say, a new hero image in the top of your website, you can cherry-pick which parts of the pre-built site you install.

Tip #2: Effortlessly Switch From One Holiday to the Next

Let’s be honest, the winter holiday season can feel a little nuts — not just because your business has to keep up with the change of pace, but because your website has to keep in step with what’s going on.

So, let’s say you have an ecommerce site that changes frequently for upcoming sales, holidays, events, and so on. For this, you could use the BeMall pre-built site (all year long, mind you):

As you can see, it currently has a Black Friday message on the homepage. It’s not uncommon to have to transition from Black Friday or Cyber Monday into the December holidays.

Here’s how you might do that:

The update can be as minor or major as you want. So long as you use graphics and content that stay on-brand, you can easily swap out as much of your imagery as you like.

Tip #3: Use Small Animations to Bring the Holidays to Life

Holidays should be a time to lift spirits. Having a website that’s able to satisfy your customers’ needs during the holiday season will certainly help.

You might also want to think about adding small animations to your design, too.

The animations themselves don’t have to be festive, but you can use them to call attention to holiday-themed content. Take, for instance, BeParty:

You don’t need to have champagne bottles popping or streamers flying across the screen to get your point across.

This animation gives the New Year’s party balloons a gentle and natural feeling of bobbing up and down. An attention to a detail this small is sure to bring a smile to your visitors’ faces.

Tip #4: A Little Hint of Seasonal Flavor Can Go a Long Way

Holiday celebrations aren’t always big blowouts. Unless your entire business is going all-in on the holidays (or it’s a totally holiday-themed business), there’s no reason your site should have to go all out either.

Sometimes a more understated approach is best.

In that case, you’d keep your normal branded elements, imagery, and content in place on the website. But to make it feel a little more festive, you could infuse your site (at the very least, the homepage) with slight seasonal or festive touches.

For instance, let’s say you’ve built a website for a popular ski resort. Your website might look like the BeSnowpark site does normally:

The main draw of the resort is skiing, so it wouldn’t make much sense to change the graphics. However, you could do something like this:

It’s a small enough change, but the gift emoji and bigger lettering in the green button might inspire loyal snowbirds as well as first-time visitors to more quickly book their much-needed holiday getaway.

Get Your Festive Website for Christmas, New Year’s, and More

There are many science-backed reasons why a festive website is a good idea.

Holiday decorations, in general, stir up positive feelings of nostalgia for many people. They can also help alleviate some of the stress that’s built up over the course of the year:

What’s more, holiday decorations can visually signal to others that you’re friendly and accessible, even if they don’t know you.

Sounds exactly like how you want visitors and prospects to feel, right?

As you can see, there are many ways to decorate your website for the holidays. To do it quickly and affordably — and not completely turn your regular website upside-down — a BeTheme pre-built site is the way to go.


[– This is a sponsored post on behalf of BeTheme –]


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