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[P]
Idealised public debate on the Internet

By Dacta in Media
Wed Oct 25, 2000 at 03:51:25 AM EST
Tags: Internet (all tags)
Internet

Last month's FirstMonday has a paper called Slashdot and the Public Sphere

It is an interesting discussion of whether Slashdot can be considered a public sphere


A public sphere is that domain of our social life in which such a thing as public opinion can be formed

The article discusses the ways in which Slashdot meets the criteria of a public space, including:

  • Universal access - anybody can have access to the space
  • Rational debate - any topic can be raised by any participant , and it will be debated rationally until consensus is achieved [27].
  • Disregard of rank - the status of participants is ignored.

The authors make a number of interesting points which are relevent to all web-discussion forums - especially something like K5, which might possibly meet the public sphere criteria better than Slashdot.

(I recently posted another FirstMonday story. Just to make it clear - I have no relationship with FirstMonday - I just discovered the site today, and found some really interesting stuff I wanted to share.)

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Idealised public debate on the Internet | 31 comments (30 topical, 1 editorial, 0 hidden)
Hell, no (3.25 / 20) (#1)
by Carnage4Life on Mon Oct 23, 2000 at 03:40:23 AM EST

The article was the most pretentious piece of CaCa I have read in a while. Not only is the author guilty of over-analyzing Slashdot but the author completely fails to provide any reason for why he is doing this[0] besides showing that he's read a bunch of books.

Slashdot has never claimed to be the public sphere. To bring up points like "In a discussion...the question of the importance of extending better access to the Internet to Africa...more significant, matter was the relative under-representation of those most affected by the matter under discussion - those residing in sub-Saharan Africa" is simply inane. This article is the epitome of mental masturbation.

Carnage4Life voted -1 to this story

[0] Is there a follow up paper that promotes a slashdot-style form of open government on the web that I have missed?



Have these people missed hyperlinks (3.71 / 7) (#3)
by vsync on Mon Oct 23, 2000 at 05:04:03 AM EST

Your smirking parody[0] of the author's use of endnotes reminded me of something I've thought for a long time, and thought again when reading this article: traditional methods of handling bibliographies are useless and counterproductive on the Web.

For example, the mention of Real Slashdot UserIDs. I didn't know I'd seen this before, so I clicked the [endnote]. This took me to the "Notes" section, which only told me "Anonymous. 'Real Slashdot UserIDs.'" Yeah, that's useful. I then scrolled down to bibliography, followed that link, and found out I actually had actually seen this before.

This was pointless for several reasons. First, the note gave me no clue what it was referring to. This kept me from easily reading the URL in the status bar, like Web browsers are made to do, and made me waste my time chasing it through 2 separate reference sections. Hyperlinks are there for a reason, people! Secondly, it was most definitely not anonymous. The page clearly said it was by "yours truly Scumdamn (82357)". Rather ironic that this was the whole point being illustrated by that reference.

Finally, the little[1] numbers[2] surrounded by brackets[3] are quite distracting. The point of a bibliography is to move all the citations to a central area, in order to keep them from interfering with the flow of the text. In printed form, endnotes serve this purpose best, but on the Web they are a sad anachronism. Possibly the only thing more pointless is the MLA style.

I keep hoping that the "scholarly journals" and "writing professionals" will eventually decide to actually utilize the medium they're in, but i doubt it. They always seem to value form over function.

[0] See parent post.

--
"The problem I had with the story, before I even finished reading, was the copious attribution of thoughts and ideas to vsync. What made it worse was the ones attributed to him were the only ones that made any sense whatsoever."
[ Parent ]

LyX's handling of footnotes (3.00 / 3) (#11)
by fluffy grue on Mon Oct 23, 2000 at 11:11:44 AM EST

LyX, the crappy-interface-but-useful TeX WYSIWYM, has a very nice way of handling footnotes (which makes a lot of sense given the way that TeX itself is setup). Where the reference to the footnote happens, there's a little 'note' box. Click on the 'note' box and it expands to be the full footnote - still inlined. Very easy to work with.

HTML needs a footnote tag. It could be kludged up with Javascript and layers, but that's way too much work, and not very compatible...
--
"Is not a quine" is not a quine.
I have a master's degree in science!

[ Hug Your Trikuare ]
[ Parent ]

HTML footnotes: ALT (3.75 / 4) (#18)
by Speare on Mon Oct 23, 2000 at 05:37:07 PM EST

HTML needs a footnote tag. It could be kludged up with Javascript and layers, but that's way too much work, and not very compatible...

Just make a small footnotish image (asterisk, thorpe, double-thorpe, etc.), in an IMG markup, putting the footnote's text into an ALT tag. Hover the mouse over the footnote, and IE3+ shows it as a tooltip. I forget if Netscape followed the tooltip convention, or raised a collectively snooty nose at the idea of copying IE. Text browsers like Lynx show the ALT text inline, I believe.


[ e d @ h a l l e y . c c ]
[ Parent ]
Ooh, good idea, but... (3.33 / 3) (#21)
by fluffy grue on Mon Oct 23, 2000 at 11:17:29 PM EST

most forums (this one included) don't allow IMG tags. :( At least it'd look appropriate in Lynx and w3m too, though!

And yes, Netscape happily copied the tooltip ALT behavior from MSIE.

The only thing I don't like about that is it's horribly mouse-oriented (I mean, moreso than forcing a click) - well, that and ALT doesn't have to be grokked by browsers which display the image 'instead'. Why can't people just use parenthetical asides (you know, putting an aside within parentheses)?
--
"Is not a quine" is not a quine.
I have a master's degree in science!

[ Hug Your Trikuare ]
[ Parent ]

Incorrect use of ALT text (none / 0) (#29)
by driptray on Wed Oct 25, 2000 at 01:01:41 AM EST

Hover the mouse over the footnote, and IE3+ shows it as a tooltip. I forget if Netscape followed the tooltip convention, or raised a collectively snooty nose at the idea of copying IE.

Actually the browsers are wrong to use the ALT text for tooltips. ALT text is for alternative text, ie, text that you see as an alternative to the image, not in addition to it. There are things you might want to say as an alternative to the image that sound dumb when viewed in addition to the image.

The browser makers should (and mostly do) use the TITLE attribute of the image for the tooltip. And thats what I'd suggest web authors do too.


--
We brought the disasters. The alcohol. We committed the murders. - Paul Keating
[ Parent ]
There is no context on a hyperlink (3.50 / 2) (#22)
by 0xdeadbeef on Tue Oct 24, 2000 at 01:26:49 AM EST

If they used hyperlink on words to refer to the endnotes, how would you tell the difference between an off-page link and the endnote without looking at the URL? To me, mentally parsing a URL is far more distracting then numbers in brackets.

Then again, I've always found non-linear documents, and postmodernist obsession with them, extremely irritating. Giving them free reign to litter their documents with arbitrary hyperlinks is like giving crack to a recovering addict.

[ Parent ]
Yeah, well... (3.00 / 3) (#4)
by pb on Mon Oct 23, 2000 at 05:21:17 AM EST

What do you expect when they start by quoting Kant? Silly points like that belong in silly articles like that; if we could just make sure they *stayed* there, instead of leaking out into the rest of the world, we'd be fine... :)
---
"See what the drooling, ravening, flesh-eating hordes^W^W^W^WKuro5hin.org readers have to say."
-- pwhysall
[ Parent ]
Public sphere this (1.00 / 22) (#2)
by skim123 on Mon Oct 23, 2000 at 03:49:17 AM EST

SECOND POST! HOT GRITS!

Money is in some respects like fire; it is a very excellent servant but a terrible master.
PT Barnum


Humor. (2.50 / 2) (#6)
by Miniluv on Mon Oct 23, 2000 at 05:53:50 AM EST

I see the humor...sorry to say it just isn't very funny.
"Its like someone opened my mouth and stuck a fistful of herbs in it." - Tamio Kageyama, Iron Chef 'Battle Eggplant'
[ Parent ]
Right. (2.00 / 1) (#8)
by vinay on Mon Oct 23, 2000 at 09:19:12 AM EST

I rated this up. Granted, it look like random drivel, but it also says something about /. and K5 and the like.

*think before you rate*

-\/


-\/


[ Parent ]
Inappropriate (3.33 / 3) (#9)
by Aquarius on Mon Oct 23, 2000 at 09:27:12 AM EST

I still think that it's an inappropriate way of saying that thing, though. Yes, yes, mockery is a way of getting your point across and drawing attention to the shortcomings of a given thing, but it's not always a good way, and it's very rarely the best way. Besides, even if the original post was meant with the best of intentions, that doesn't mean that everyone will take it that way; while you don't really have to be responsible for what the people who read your posts think of them, there may soon come people who don't see the biting sarcasm underlying these things. I imagine that a lot of Slashdot "first posts" were done as a highly amusing way of mocking those few who really believed that getting a "first post" was important. But the meme spun out of control, and we don't want that to happen...

Aq.


"The grand plan that is Aquarius proceeds apace" -- Ronin, Frank Miller
[ Parent ]
True, (3.00 / 1) (#12)
by vinay on Mon Oct 23, 2000 at 12:05:01 PM EST

But I don't think that's an appropriate use of the 0 rating (which has to have been used to get it below one). I mean, we both seem to agree that his post is not content free.

From the trusted user guidelines:

Please use your "zero" rating with care! It is *only* for use on comments that are wholly content-free. If you think the poster is clueless, or an idiot, or you just don't agree with them, that is *not* grounds for a zero rating. Zero is for comments that are offensive, script-generated, or otherwise content-free and intended solely to annoy and/or abuse other readers.

I just don't think this comment fits, is my point.

-\/


-\/


[ Parent ]
liminal (none / 0) (#17)
by rusty on Mon Oct 23, 2000 at 04:49:52 PM EST

This is one of those "very close to the line" ones. I think it doesn't get the point across clearly enough, and looks like a /. invasion without *serious* consideration of the context (and even then, I only get the humor because I know who skim is). Basically, this should have been done better. One downrated comment won't kill skim, and I'd rather see it hidden than see it become a flamefest from people who didn't get it.

The zero rating is like The Force, though. Use it carefully, and do not get drawn to the Dark Side. ;-)

____
Not the real rusty
[ Parent ]

Justifications :-) (none / 0) (#25)
by Aquarius on Tue Oct 24, 2000 at 06:53:00 AM EST

It's a difficult question, as rusty points out; I'll concede that the post is not content-free, though. Actually, the post itself is content-free; its implications are not. Technically, therefore, a zero-mark is justified, but that's following the letter rather than the spirit of the law, which is the Wrong Thing To Do :-)

There is another issue here; my instinctive reaction, and indeed my reaction after some thought, was to mark the post below zero, as spammy content-free stuff, given the reasons I explained above. However, I was aided in this decision by the fact that I could already see that the post had a rating of 0.12, which meant (a) that lots of other people had marked it down to zero, and (b) that my zero wouldn't significantly change the result. Now, I can't decide whether this is a good thing or not. Possibly, if I had not seen the rating, then I might not have marked it a zero, but I think that that would be more fear of using the zero than anything else. Still, there's potentially a case here for not showing current scores until you've rated a post.

Aq -- I had to look up "liminal", too, rusty, you flash git :-)


"The grand plan that is Aquarius proceeds apace" -- Ronin, Frank Miller
[ Parent ]
Ignore (4.09 / 11) (#5)
by Beorn on Mon Oct 23, 2000 at 05:49:34 AM EST

How odd to spend dozens of pages and 61 footnotes on something that should have been written in two paragraphs, and would still be completely wrong. The writer is simply applying his pet theory to something he doesn't understand. Ignore him violently.

The question itself (is Slashdot a public sphere?) is poorly phrased, because an answer wouldn't capture the nuances of online communication. I think the real questions here are: What kind of people hang out at a website/newsgroup/channel, how are they selected, and how does the underlying technology shape communication?

- Beorn

[ Threepwood '01 ]

Ignore him violently? (2.00 / 2) (#28)
by marlowe on Tue Oct 24, 2000 at 03:59:36 PM EST

How exactly do you ignore someone violently?

-- The Americans are the Jews of the 21st century. Only we won't go as quietly to the gas chambers. --
[ Parent ]
Consensus? (3.33 / 12) (#7)
by Fred Nerk on Mon Oct 23, 2000 at 07:10:17 AM EST

It's all well and good, but how often does slashdot (or even kuro5hin) ever meet the criteria "until consensus is achieved"...

There's lots of opinions being voiced, but not a lot of agreeing! :-)

I agree.... (4.50 / 4) (#10)
by unstable on Mon Oct 23, 2000 at 09:52:56 AM EST

sorry I couldnt resist.

Seriously I find that in a lot of debates.. people voice there opinion but dont really listen to others. The mouth is running but no one is driving




Reverend Unstable
all praise the almighty Bob
and be filled with slack

[ Parent ]
haha (2.10 / 10) (#13)
by boxed on Mon Oct 23, 2000 at 12:17:21 PM EST

Rational debate - any topic can be raised by any participant , and it will be debated rationally until consensus is achieved [27].
Rational debate? On slashdot? You must be kidding. The very existance of the term first post on slashdot should be enough to make anyone understand that /. is about screaming louder than the next guy, and most importantly, faster. This is hardly rational.

I don't know why I bother (2.33 / 3) (#15)
by Stinking Pig on Mon Oct 23, 2000 at 02:49:37 PM EST

I don't have any problem with lack of rational discussion on /. -- maybe you should try editing your comment preferences. Set a minimum rating of +1, filter out comments less than 50 characters, and add a bonus to long comments, then view the whole thing in nested mode. I never see first post, me too, or Natalie Portman.


Pushy punk pork prole.
[ Parent ]
Re: haha (4.00 / 1) (#27)
by Perpetual Newbie on Tue Oct 24, 2000 at 01:08:47 PM EST

Or the one I have to take issue with:
  • Disregard of rank - the status of participants is ignored.

Reaaally, then I guess that those +1 and +2 bonuses are just figments of my imagination?

And there's also that psychological thing where people moderate based on popularity, like modding up Bruce Perens. because hey, Bruce is a cool guy! We get some of that here too. (Rusty speaks, it's a 5! Siggy's a troll, it's a 1!. What were they saying? Umm, I can't tell you..) Thankfully, it's not too bad.

Of couse, it is easily possible to disregard participants' rank in a slashdot discussion, by browsing at -1. But since hardly anyone does that(including the moderators, it seems), the net effect is that some voices are given more weight than others.

[ Parent ]

rusty speaks (2.00 / 1) (#30)
by rusty on Wed Oct 25, 2000 at 04:21:53 AM EST

Rusty speaks, it's a 5!

Not always true -- look at my user info. However, it is true more often that I wish. On the other hand, I mostly agree with the ratings displayed there. The ones that are rated higher tend to be the ones I've put more effort into. Except this one, about which I've now recieved no less than THREE personal emails (compare: total emails about all other comments I've posted to date: zero), and yet is still unrated. Odd.

But that's all beside the point. I totally agree with you, that there is a very strong cult of personality effect going on, especially on discussion sites. Is this avoidable by any means but total anonymity? Is it even desirable to avoid it, or should there be "catalyst voices" in a community?

What were they saying? Umm, I can't tell you..

Don't blame the readers for my incomprehensible writing! ;-)

____
Not the real rusty
[ Parent ]

I voted +1 to front page (3.28 / 7) (#16)
by DefCon on Mon Oct 23, 2000 at 04:40:22 PM EST

This is a very interesting article, and well worth reading. It will certainly provoke discussion, and it already has. The author is simply trying to apply Jurgen Habermas's theory of the public sphere of democratic debate to a site that is similar, though different, than K5. Whether he succeeds in his conclusions is entirely up to the reader -it's an argument article - the point is that it does provide some insights on principles governing democratic discussion, and this alone makes it worthwhile as we can better understand how they might apply (and thus protect) discussion on K5. It shouldn't be taken as any thing but constructive criticism of Slashdot.

It is certainly true that the article concludes that Slashdot fails to meet Habermas's guidelines, but what it's worth, before anyone concludes that this is simply slamming Slashdot, I'll end this with a short point made in the article:

It is perhaps on the principle of disregarding rank that Slashdot is most in accordance with Habermas's criteria. The use of ambiguous 'handles' [nicknames] and the capacity for both anonymous communication and arbitrary reinvention of one's identity means that, essentially, each comment must be taken on its own merits.

As an off note, I find the hysterical reactions some people are having to it amusing, why the vitriol? Generally when someone posts something that is lame, most people don't bother to take the time to blast it, just simply vote it down. I guess this seems to validate some of what the article is trying to get across.

Did we read the same article? (4.00 / 1) (#19)
by Carnage4Life on Mon Oct 23, 2000 at 06:29:14 PM EST

This is a very interesting article, and well worth reading.

No it isn't. This article is poorly introduced, inarticulate and does poor job of setting up it's theme if indeed any exists.

It will certainly provoke discussion, and it already has.

Over 400 people have voted on this article and only 8 have bothered to respond. Besides yours the other responses are lambasting the poor quality of the article. This is not provoking discussion, it is instead inviting well-deserved ridicule.

The author is simply trying to apply Jurgen Habermas's theory of the public sphere of democratic debate to a site that is similar, though different, than K5. Whether he succeeds in his conclusions is entirely up to the reader -it's an argument article - the point is that it does provide some insights on principles governing democratic discussion, and this alone makes it worthwhile as we can better understand how they might apply (and thus protect) discussion on K5.

No it doesn't. This article has no point except to serve as a means of ego-gratification for the author. The article is no different than writing a lengthy dissertation on whether a VCR or Microwave satisfies Asimov's three laws of robotics or not.

It shouldn't be taken as any thing but constructive criticism of Slashdot.

Why is it even a criticism of Slashdot? Slashdot is not a public meeting place for a new online republic and has never claimed to be that. This is like saying that concluding that my VCR does not satisfy the 3 laws of robotics is valid criticism of my choice of VCR.

As an off note, I find the hysterical reactions some people are having to it amusing, why the vitriol? Generally when someone posts something that is lame, most people don't bother to take the time to blast it, just simply vote it down.

Voting on items in the submission queue is a form of editorializing the submission. No editorial is complete without feedback and that's what I gave. Off course, I also realized that someone was going to praise this piece of Mental Masturbation as if it was a quality article instead of the crap that it actually is, so I decided to post a counterpoint ahead of time.



[ Parent ]
Vitriol (4.00 / 1) (#24)
by Beorn on Tue Oct 24, 2000 at 06:52:02 AM EST

As an off note, I find the hysterical reactions some people are having to it amusing, why the vitriol?

Actually, my feelings for the author didn't turn into hate until he raped Marshall McLuhan at the end. We don't get much academic word-diarrhea on K5, so I thought I'd take this fun opportunity while I could.

Seriously, though. After Dacta summarized the article, it became much more interesting, and I think online community analysis is a good subject.

- Beorn

[ Threepwood '01 ]
[ Parent ]

Why I liked this article (3.80 / 5) (#20)
by Dacta on Mon Oct 23, 2000 at 09:09:09 PM EST

I think my write up on this article was bad. Given how hard the article is to read (very!), I think I should have directed the attention of the readers to the intersting parts a bit more.

Here's some things I found interesting (in no particular order):

The question of 'any topic may be raised by any participant'. While anyone can submit a story or topic to Slashdot, the staff members have a gatekeeping role, deciding which submissions are published on the Web site. This role, while a practical necessity, distorts the shape of the space in which Slashdot operates. While it could be argued that it is in the interest of Slashdot and its staff to carry stories which will interest its readers, it does remove a level of control from the participants in the discussion.
The difference between Slashdot and K5 here is obvious. However, Slashdot allows anonymous submissions, which K5 doesn't.

The use of ambiguous 'handles' [nicknames] and the capacity for both anonymous communication and arbitrary reinvention of one's identity means that, essentially, each comment must be taken on its own merits. The proliferation of names similar to those of well-known Internet figures [54] means that comments made by these people must rely on their internal logic for credence, rather than on the prior reputation of the authors.
Given the amount of discussion that Karma causes on /. (and Mojo on K5), it is interesting to note that someone external to the whole /./K5 (that's not supposed to be a RegExp, btw) scene basically ignores it. Since Karma is supposed to (too some extent) reflect the reputation of the poster, I found it interesting that the author found it insignificant. It is also interesting that the author ignores the whole "Karma Whoring" phenonoma, which to me often means that people pay particular attention to a particular post because of it's author.

It is true that Malda was give assurances of editorial independence. The acquisition by Andover was justified by virtue of the high costs associated with running such a high-traffic site. However, it has been noted that editorial decisions on which stories are carried will now be open to doubt regarding vested interests [58]. Further, by virtue of their positions as employees within the Internet industry, editorial staff are likely to have at least an unconscious bias toward celebratory stories of the Internet as fountain of wealth and income.
and later
An ideal solution might be the creation of a self-perpetuating trust, with no beneficial owners, such as the Scott Trust, which owns the Guardian in the United Kingdom. However, it is difficult to see how this might develop in the near future. An alternate move might be to adopt a funding mechanism such as the Street Performer Protocol [59], which itself is similar to the mechanism used by many non-commercial radio stations in the United States. Again, it is unlikely that a company with the inflated stock value of VA Linux would see itself in a position to limit the potential return from such an important asset as Slashdot.

I think this idea deserves some discussion. I've never heard of the Guardian Trust, and I wonder how it works. I also wonder if there are any examples of Street-Performer-Protocol funded websites around



Why I didn't like it (4.75 / 4) (#23)
by Beorn on Tue Oct 24, 2000 at 05:53:46 AM EST

Given how hard the article is to read (very!), I think I should have directed the attention of the readers to the intersting parts a bit more.

Imho, when a writer is incapable of clear and focused writing, it's often because he doesn't know what he's talking about, but I agree there are a few interesting thoughts here. The editors at firstmonday.org should have used the scissors as ruthlessly as you did now ...

Baoill: This role, while a practical necessity, distorts the shape of the space in which Slashdot operates. While it could be argued that it is in the interest of Slashdot and its staff to carry stories which will interest its readers, it does remove a level of control from the participants in the discussion.

Here he should have compared with Usenet. If he had, Baoill wouldn't have been so concerned about gatekeeper censorship. This isn't primarily about *control*, but about shaping the discussions into a form the editors and intended readers like. Slashdot has a particular flavor, (geek idealism, low treshold, huge community), which some people like, and that flavor would simply not exist without the editorial control of Malda & Co.

Editorial control is not a distortion, but the core of everything Slashdot (and K5) is.

Baoill: The use of ambiguous 'handles' [nicknames] and the capacity for both anonymous communication and arbitrary reinvention of one's identity means that, essentially, each comment must be taken on its own merits.

The overfocus on identity reinvention is typical of people with little net experience. There is no fundamental difference between a RL identity and an online identity, except that they capture different parts of ones personality. While some people intentionally hide their real personality online, I doubt it's very common, and no more common than in RL.

Forgery can happen, but it's not common enough to be significant here. When I see a K5 post signed Dacta, I assume it's written by the author of all the other K5 posts signed Dacta. A nick in a password-protected forum is no less real than an official name, and even on anarchic Usenet, names are assumed to be correct until proven otherwise.

Baoill: Further, by virtue of their positions as employees within the Internet industry, editorial staff are likely to have at least an unconscious bias toward celebratory stories of the Internet as fountain of wealth and income.

While it's healthy to doubt the motives of editors in any media, doubt should be backed up by hard facts, not vague accusations of unconscious bias. In my view, the problem with Slashdot is that they're wrong on several issues, not that they're unconsciously biased due to economic and personal interests, or whatever. They may *also* be biased, but a debate on those premises will quickly degrade into either relativism or flaming.

Media ownership is an interesting problem, but since it's usually impossible to run a media without getting involved in finances, we must judge each media based on their actual output, not on vague suspicions.


Another reason I didn't like the article was that he never actually answered his own question, is Slashdot a public sphere? I thought, at least he should be able to form a one-paragraph conclusion, but even that seems to be beyond his capabilities. How fitting that the last word of his article is a footnote.

- Beorn

[ Threepwood '01 ]
[ Parent ]

This is what I was hoping to generate (3.00 / 2) (#26)
by Dacta on Tue Oct 24, 2000 at 10:49:07 AM EST

This is the kind of discussion I was hoping this article would generate. I don't disagree with your conclusions - I just wish the article hadn't been so hard to read that no one else formed any!



[ Parent ]
Kant quotes (2.50 / 2) (#31)
by Delirium on Thu Oct 26, 2000 at 01:30:10 PM EST

When an essay about Slashdot quotes Immanuel Kant in the introduction, that's an indication of a problem.

Idealised public debate on the Internet | 31 comments (30 topical, 1 editorial, 0 hidden)
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