Ads suck and we all know it. They’re invasive, they track us, they create horrible user experiences, and most of the time, they’re incredibly annoying. The future’s not like that … and here’s why.
Using micropayments, permission, edge AI, blockchain, and crypto, they’re creating a future in which you only see ads from brands you want to, you don’t sacrifice privacy when you see an ad, and you get paid for your attention.
In a lot of ways, that future is now.
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John Koetsier: Surprisingly, the future of advertising is more exciting than you could possibly imagine. And yeah, that sounds kind of stupid, but hang with me for a minute there.
Welcome to TechFirst with John Koetsier.
Ads suck and we kind of all know it, right? They’re pretty invasive, they track us around the internet, they make us feel creeped out when — what is that dress doing there? I saw that the other day. They also create horrible user experiences filling up our screens. Apparently the future’s not like that, and it’s a good thing too, because ads pay for a lot of our digital experiences. I mean, the platform you’re watching or listening to this on right now is probably paid for via advertising.
So, in the future perhaps, you might only see ads from brands that you actually want to. In the future, perhaps, you don’t sacrifice privacy when you see an ad. And in the future perhaps, you might even get paid for your attention. In a lot of ways that future is now.
To dive in and explain more, we’re going to be joined by Brendan Eich, who is the co-founder and CEO of Brave Software, and Carolina Abenante who’s the founder of NYIAX. Welcome, Brendan and Carolina!
Carolina Abenante: Thank you for having us.
Brendan Eich: Yes. Thanks very much.
John Koetsier: It’s a real pleasure to have you guys. So that was a real big intro with a lot of big promises. Brendan, kick us off here. First of all, do you agree? And talk about what you launched?
Brendan Eich: So with Brave and the Basic Attention Token, we’ve tried to take the ads and the technology behind ads that people don’t like, and clean out all the bad things, the tracking, the sort of parasites, the high fee extraction from the middle players, and simplify the system to the minimum required components.
The super powers like Google that came to dominate tracking … came to dominate everything about your digital life …
The browser is always part of your digital life and you have to trust it. It’s a highly trusted app. It’s kind of the universal app still, it tends to eat other apps unless you’re really into Instagram, or Facebook, or until you uninstalled it recently, TikTok. So the browser, especially on bigger screens, tends to reduce time in other apps and need for other apps.
And this shows what’s immortal about the browser, that there’s a language or a set of languages for web content, and the publishers can put anything out there on their site and if they want to, to make money, they could try to run ads. But the problem is that those ads depend on tracking, and the super powers like Google that came to dominate tracking, came to dominate the terms of the ad deals. They came to dominate everything about your digital life, not only what apps you might have or platforms they bought up like YouTube, but operating systems like Android.
So things have gone too far in one direction.
As a user, you have fundamental rights to what you can pick and choose in that content, including the ability to take out ads
… a vision where users with their own choice and consent could participate in a clean ad system … but privately, and deterministically, and safely, and with low fraud
And that’s what we’ve built with the Basic Attention Token.
John Koetsier: Very, very interesting. Carolina, come on into the conversation and talk about NYIAX, what you built and what your role is in this current announcement.
Carolina Abenante: Well, I believe in everything that Brendan just said. I just want to say that from the onset. And that’s why we built NYIAX.
We built NYIAX to be basically a full compliance engine for the upfront and the option-based transactions for advertisers, agencies, and the end result with publishers. We wanted to have this full compliance system for the consumers who are actually going to be using those kinds of ads. And we created a fully transparent system and fully transparent allows for compliance in that system, and compliance deals with also everything from GDPR to CCPA, to COPA.
We do believe in the future of advertising and the best way in order to enhance that sort of compliance is where the user is in control of their data …
And this is, we thought that the best sort of partner that we could have for this would also be somebody like Brave. Now we work with all of the agencies and we work with many, many different kinds of publishers, but we do believe in the future of advertising and the best way in order to enhance that sort of compliance is where the user is in control of their data. And the user is in control of what kind of ads they wish to receive. So it moves into being a third party ad serving system to one that is more first party. And the user is in control of what ads they’re going to be receiving, generating, and then ecommerce falls from that as well.
Right now, I’m in control of probably 0% of the ads that I see …
John Koetsier: I mean, that’s really interesting. That’s kind of a sea change. Right now, I’m in control of probably 0% of the ads that I see. I have given consent for my attention to be spent to approximately zero brands, right?
And yet there are likely some brands that I would give some attention to. There are some things that I’d be interested in seeing things on. So that’s kind of what you built, correct, Brendan?
Brendan Eich: That’s right. So when you use a search engine and a browser, or when you navigate from one page to another you click on a link in a search result, the conventional model has been — and this is what Google really did well in Chrome — to track you. They can track you with the search engine, that’s their business.
A lot of people like Google … but once you click away, you don’t expect them to follow you any more than when you’re shopping at the grocery store to have a flyer sort of detach itself from the window of the store, fly to your car, stick on the roof, come to your house, get inside and keep spying on you …
And you go there voluntarily, a lot of people like Google, it gives good results, at least for the hard queries it’s still the best, I would say. But once you click away, you don’t expect them to follow you any more than when you’re shopping at the grocery store to have a flyer sort of detach itself from the window of the store, fly to your car, stick on the roof, come to your house, get inside and keep spying on you.
But that’s pretty much what’s happening now with ad tech.
And so, you know, we’ve taken the approach that you should have local machine learning and local data where it originates in your browser, your navigation, your searches, your ecommerce queries. That’s your data, you generated it. It’s not like oil.
People say data is a commodity, it’s like oil. No, it’s very personal, it’s very contextual, and it has a shelf life
People say data is a commodity, it’s like oil. No, it’s very personal, it’s very contextual, and it has a shelf life generally, though there’s often long term seasonality to some of your things and your brand loyalty may be lifelong. So by studying that on your device in your browser and only there, not taking it even to our servers, but just leaving it where it has to be cached and kept by browsers conventionally up to two weeks.
If you choose to opt in to our system, it can be kept a little longer, maybe 30 days, and it’s studied statistically by very simple machine learning, doesn’t use a lot of battery, and that can make predictions, very good predictions based on what you’re doing.
You can see the intention behind searching for something using a Google or a Bing, it doesn’t matter what engine. That’s the other advantage of the browser, we see all the queries to all the search engines. And we’re kind of blind about the process, we’re looking at clusters of words in your queries and in the documents you hit in their paragraphs and their section headers, and we’re making matches blindly, locally with our open source browser code that you opted into.
So there’s a lot of auditability and trustworthiness there as opposed to this black box where remote scripts are tracking you and you looked at shoes that you just bought, and now you get shoe ads for 30 days even though you already bought them.
John Koetsier: It’s really interesting, and that’s an example I’ve used in the past because I did buy a pair of boots and then got retargeted for ads for them for literally months afterwards.
But it’s interesting what you’re talking about, you’re talking about edge AI. You’re talking about AI that’s on the local device, it doesn’t happen in the cloud.
That’s kind of an Apple sort of focus as well, correct?
Brendan Eich: Yeah. So we have friends at Apple and I talked to them the past few years about this idea. And they were building up intelligent tracking prevention in Safari at the same time that Brave was out and we’re collaborating in the World Wide Web Consortium.
So one of the ways I think our work will bear fruit is through future web standards. I think this edge AI is the wave of the future.
John Koetsier: So let’s talk about some of the impacts of this. I mean, I’m seeing ads in the Brave browser, in a privacy safe way for things that I’m interested in, things that I may have even given consent for advertisers to advertise to me.
And let’s talk about some of the click-through rates that you’re seeing here.
You’re reporting 9% average across the platform which is, I know we overuse that word these days, unprecedented, and highs of 15%.
So for context, for people who are not in internet advertising, click-through rates generally on the web and on mobile are often a percent or under. They can be a fraction of a percent, it’s tiny. So we see hundreds of ads and click on maybe one of them or something like that. You’re reporting 9% average across the platform which is, I know we overuse that word these days, unprecedented, and highs of 15%.
Talk about that and talk about some of the reasons why.
Brendan Eich: Yes. And I’ll be completely honest, when we started it was even higher. I think the average was over 10% and the highs were like 19%. So there’s some volunteer effect, happy early users tend to engage more and I expect some what’s called “regression to the mean” to happen over time. But if we keep refreshing the creatives and we keep doing good deals and with help from NYIAX, we will, I think, keep the click-through rate high.
And the reasons are, one, it’s an opt-in system. We’re respecting the user, they’re participating willingly, that changes a lot and remember, these users are off the grid.
If they’re diligent privacy practitioners they’ve come to us from a browser where they were using a very good tracking protection extension like uBlock Origin either using Privacy Badger and Disconnect, and other such extensions. So, with Brave that’s all bundled and they’re still off the grid, but they’re high value consumers, they’re techie, they know how to search and buy online, and that means they’re worth reaching, even though they’re kind of off the grid. So we think that leads to high click-through rates.
They’re participating more of their own consent, they’re happy with being respected, they’ve opted in and they’re digging in, they’re engaging from their side.
John Koetsier: Interesting.
Brendan Eich: Instead of being passive victims of retargeting.
John Koetsier: Hahaha, interesting, master of your own advertising, destiny. Carolina, your thoughts there?
What we want for the consumer is for the consumer to have the most high value sorts of ads that they want to have …
Carolina Abenante: Well listen, what we want for the consumer is for the consumer to have the most high value sorts of ads that they want to have. So that’s going to inherently increase the click-through rate and it makes advertisers extremely happy. We’re in the mix between the advertiser agency and the publisher.
And I think that also Brave is doing a really great service for the publisher themselves because that’s where the brand loyalty for the individual is, is with those specific brand creators and publishers. So I think that this is a really perfect marriage that we can bring the options and future advertising to the Brave browser and to the Brave users. And I’m hoping that your usership is going to increase dramatically, especially due to CCPA and GDPR, because I don’t think it should be just among the people that are tech savvy.
There’s many people right now that want not to be tracked and they want to have that right to be forgotten, which is something that I think erasure does exceptionally well.
John Koetsier: Interesting.
Brendan Eich: Yeah, I can say a little more on that. If you go to brave.com/data-access, you can read about how if you’ve opted into Brave Rewards — which is the ad system, a reward system with a Basic Attention Token — to get out you just turn it off.
There’s no server side data to erase because we don’t have a server side …
There’s no server side data to erase because we don’t have a server side, and that’s a critical differentiator for us. The principles behind GDPR and I think the California Act, and the follow along initiative that’s coming are really about private consent. Users must consent individually to some kind of data processing that can go on. Maybe it’s for an essential purpose, like I said, if you go to Google and search, that’s a first party that you’re typing a query into the box there, you’re giving them your query.
And I think that’s a good model. Larry Page long ago said you’re kind of sharing your query to help improve everyone’s life, better results, better corrections to The New York Times or another website, and you’re being tracked by third parties and you’re kind of promising to get rid of third parties, then you’re in a different situation.
You don’t know that those flyers, like I said, are tracking you, following you home, spying in your house, and they’re on other websites. The same vendors are tracking you on other websites. That’s not consent-based and that’s a problem with the regulation, it’s not being fully enforced yet, unfortunately.
John Koetsier: Correct. And I think there’s some legislation going on in Europe about that, or actually some lawsuits in Europe right now about that. But let’s take a step back for a second and look at the big picture in terms of ad tech, advertising, and where we’ve come over, frankly, the decades, right?
I mean, we have the famous quote, right, “Half my advertising is working, I just don’t know which half.” We moved into maybe, started way back even 30, 40 years ago, but a more sophisticated, recently into probabilistic measurement, right, like media mix modeling. And probably to your point about tracking as we’ve moved digital in the last decade and a half, maybe a little bit more, we’ve gone deeper and deeper into deterministic measurement, right, where we knew that a particular person on a particular device, saw a particular thing/ad, and clicked on it, and went and did.
And we know the result of that. Obviously that’s not 100% but the goal of many marketers was to get it closer and closer to 100%.
Now we’ve seen in the past, let’s say three to five years, the increased rise of the privacy movement, right? GDPR, California, Apple just killed the IDFA in mobile marketing. That’s a big deal. And so there’s likely in a lot of cases a move back to probabilistic, but I’d like to get your thoughts on that, Brendan, and then yours Carolina as well.
Brendan Eich: Yes. So obviously with a browser and an individual user with local edge intelligence, edge machine learning and all that rich data that you originate, we can do a very good deterministic job in the browser.
You’ll see reporting and some ability to forecast that is probabilistic, necessarily probabilistic, but it doesn’t yield re-identification of individual users.
And that’s why I think the hybrid approach is valuable. You will not need to see individual linkable events that can track one person across the web if you’re doing this right. You’ll see the deterministic part in the local agent, in the browser or the app. You’ll see reporting and some ability to forecast that is probabilistic, necessarily probabilistic, but it doesn’t yield re-identification of individual users.
It doesn’t consist of harvesting rich data streams into server honeypot databases where they can then be used and abused, you know, hackers can get at them. The tracking that you do may be based on doing regression studies, very simple stuff, hardly AI, that just doesn’t need all that data, but had to collect it prospectively.
And so we’re trying to redo the split between what’s done on your device and what’s done in the sort of aggregate valuable way for reporting and forecasting.
John Koetsier: So that’s interesting, right? I mean, basically what you’re saying is there’s a mix. There’s going to be some deterministic in terms of, you know, I had this ad out there and it got this many clicks and I can see what happened, but it’s probabilistic in terms of who necessarily maybe saw that and how I can retarget them in the future.
That said, obviously a brand that has customers that actually purchase something, if you have a customer relationship then that’s a different matter and communications happen there that can be different.
But Carolina, what are your thoughts in terms of the ad ecosystem changes over the years?
Carolina Abenante: I have many thoughts, but I want to say the first one is, that’s why we did the relationship with Brave. We wanted to actually have that more deterministic modeling, but you needed to do that with a consent-based browser and where you can actually acknowledge that consent-based browser inside our system, so that the publisher is fully compliant and also the advertiser’s fully compliant and nobody inside there would be in any way, shape, or form infringing on GDPR or CCPA.
I do believe we are going to be moving towards this hybrid mix.
I think this is something that is coming right at this juncture. I’ve been seeing this with the likes of a great DSP, like Trade Desk is moving towards that idea as well. So everybody is trying to move towards this kind of hybrid. I just think that Brave is the first one to place this into use and is doing a very good job with their consumers.
John Koetsier: Interesting.
You end up with the ability for the user to directly interact with the brand in that landing page …
Brendan Eich: One thing I would say is, when you have these user opt-in-based ad systems like Brave has, and you have this ability to give the user a full tab for the landing page, just like with a search ad, but our user ads are kind of like detached search ads. You end up with the ability for the user to directly interact with the brand in that landing page, and that means they can identify if they choose, they can go all the way to a cost per lead or some kind of a logged in model with the brand.
So we see that as uniquely valuable.
It’s better to have direct relationships in our view, based on consent, and that’s what we’ve built. If you just have these programmatic ads sort of cluttering up your ability to read a news article, that’s not direct and it’s not engaging. And it’s not respectful to the user.
So I think that’s partly why you see the high click-through rates and then you see the better performance. And if the user identifies with the brand, that’s fine. It’s almost like that first party interaction with the search engine I mentioned, where you go to Google, it’s a great engine. You go to the brand, you’ve seen it through a Brave ad, you’ve maybe discovered it.
You keep that tab around, that’s how you interact.
John Koetsier: Yeah, interesting. Let’s talk about BAT, Basic Attention Tokens. So, I’m watching some ads that I’ve consented to. I earn some BAT. What can I use BAT for?
Brendan Eich: So the main use, and this is the default for users who don’t sign up, they’re anonymous to us, we don’t see anything about them, like I mentioned — is to give it back to your favorite creators, not just websites, but YouTubers and Twitch streamers, people on Reddit, on Twitter, GitHub even, people who write code, if you like GitHub pull request, or an issue someone filed, or a comment.
So the main use [of Basic Attention Token] is to give it back to your favorite creators
So there’s a large number of sort of user-generated content platforms we support, as well as pure websites where the publisher can sign up with us, the creator can sign up with us in a very simple self-serve way. We didn’t have to do any business development. So we have The Guardian, Washington Post, Vice, Quartz, and many other top publishers.
You can go to bat.watch to see the full size of the ecosystem.
The numbers there are getting big. Now some of these publishers may have signed up a while ago, like Washington Post, I think two years ago, and they’re getting paid every month by the goodwill of Brave users who tip, who automatically contribute, who make monthly contributions, sort of like Patreon in the browser. So the browser can not only be the universal app, as I mentioned, it can also do things like payments and anonymous payments.
Things that got left out of the web standards in the nineties when we were doing Netscape and got absorbed by big companies like PayPal, really should be in the web standards. And that’s where we turned to cryptocurrency, since we’re breaking all the ties with ad tech parasites, we’re blocking all those scripts, the payments to the publishers that normally flow through invoicing and bank settlement accounts receivable don’t happen.
So how do we reconnect directly the user to the creator or publisher? How do we connect the brand with a revenue share to the user and possibly to the publisher? That requires cryptocurrency, there’s no easy way to do it with fiat. You can’t set up these bespoke bank accounts receivable relationships. You really want a cryptographic currency or token.
So we did a prototype with Bitcoin and then we did our own token, the Basic Attention Token, which is purpose-built for the platform. So the utility on the platform is you can give it back, but we’re adding more utility over time. You’re seeing ability to use BAT and redeem it with Tapcoin, that’s one partner. And there is a Turn.io company that’s got a block card, you can use that there.
The main model we wanted was to reward the creators because you’re hurting them by blocking tracking of ads …
And there are other announcements forthcoming from us on more ways to utilize BAT that are going beyond just our reward the creators. But the main model we wanted was to reward the creators because you’re hurting them by blocking tracking of ads, and we acknowledge that. A lot of our lead users are ecologically minded, so I just want to put in a good word for them, not all users are free riders.
There’s nothing wrong if you want a free ride, you’re skeptical about the BAT system, you’re just going to use Brave as a fast tracking protection-by-default browser. That’s cool, but a lot of our users want to give back.
John Koetsier: So you said the numbers are getting big there. Give us some of those numbers.
Brendan Eich: Goodness. I should look at that …
John Koetsier: Hahaha, we’ll give you a chance to look up those numbers.
Brendan Eich: I’ll load it, coming in, it’s at 784,000 total, creators and publishers. There are 55, almost 56,000 web sites signed up. There are 432,600 YouTube channels signed up. Now, this is cumulative, so some of these may have gone away or decided not to be a YouTuber anymore, and not removed their registration with us.
But even if you cut these numbers in half, this is getting big and it’s heading toward web standards, a standard way to let a creator verify that they own a site or a channel with any kind of app, like Brave that can pay them anonymously through cryptocurrency.
John Koetsier: So what you’re saying is a decade later we might actually have micro-payments? I mean, we’ve been promised this for so long.
On micropayments: “you can’t make the decision cost be much above zero or it just won’t happen”
Brendan Eich: Yeah. It’s not the kind of thing, I mean the conventional wisdom, Clay Shirky and others expounded this, was you can’t make the decision cost be much above zero or it just won’t happen. Because it’s not worth thinking about getting a micro payment if it takes more than a micro thought.
But Brave has automated it, we built it into the way you browse the analytics that are in your browser and private to your browser. Everybody knows the browser history and how to clear it. When you opt into rewards there’s sort of a parallel ledger that tracks your visit count and view time, and makes a simple sort of Chartbeats like analysis to decide how much to automatically contribute. If you don’t want automatic contributions, you can turn those off and just tip, or monthly contribute, which is like a recurring tip.
So we’re putting the controls in the user’s hand but making the defaults very low in the cognitive burden.
John Koetsier: So Carolina, I want to turn to you, and talk about fraud. We know in the advertising industry that fraud is a massive, massive challenge. There’s always different numbers floating out there. I’ve created some of those estimates myself, but they’re all in the billions annually, and often in the tens of billions of dollars.
It’s funny, I mean, I’m going to ask you to talk about fraud, but I’m just thinking about what we were talking about earlier as well, with the multiple players in ad tech and the distance between a publisher and the actual person seeing an ad is quite frequently large. And there’s many people taking little slices of that ad dollar.
Carolina Abenante: Yes.
John Koetsier: But talk about fraud, and talk about how you’re helping to eliminate that.
Carolina Abenante: Well, most people think it’s around 33% or higher of the total ad spend is going to be fraud. Now that’s a high number.
John Koetsier: That’s like 200 billion dollars, isn’t it? I mean there’s like 600 billion dollars in digital ad spend.
Carolina Abenante: It’s a lot, it’s a lot of money. And fraud also is with audience extensions you don’t expect to have inside the contract. And you’ll see that from also even the very large players. So what NYIAX does is we adhere to every aspect of the contract and we deal with all of the compliance management. It’s not external, it’s internal to our system.
So when people say that ad.text or something else is eliminating fraud, it’s not. It’s not actually adhering to the contract. So how we do it is through use of order books and use of all contract term and terminology for that. And then watching that contract flow through the blockchain because we work with our own blockchain. And we’re happy to be working with a partner like Brave, because Brave in a fully opt-in service and system where also they’re compliant with all the publishers, it should be eliminating the majority of the fraud, if there should be almost any fraud left into this system.
That sounds like an almost frictionless marketplace.
So any partner that we’re working with has to be curtailing the costs of that “ad tax” ecosystem. And what we’re hoping for is to eliminate it down to the point where it’s just going to be the publisher, the advertiser, and any other audience metric piece that has to come in, in order to work with a more probabilistic deterministic hybrid.
John Koetsier: Interesting. That sounds like an almost frictionless marketplace.
Carolina Abenante: Well, that’s what we’re hoping for. That’s why we’re trying to make partnerships of this nature.
John Koetsier: It’s pretty funny because I get pitched a lot. And often the pitch doesn’t immediately include exactly what the technology is or something like that, and if I find that crypto is part of it I will often run at full speed — or blockchain, because those are often used as, I don’t know, acronyms or terms verbiage that you need to include in something to make it hot, or at least was some time in the past.
But this seems like a really, really valid use of crypto and blockchain for an actual business purpose. So thank you for that, by the way. So let’s talk about Brave and its scope. It’s growing. It’s significant in size. You’ve been around for some time now, several years. And there’s been a lot of skepticism from inception, but you’re still growing and doing quite interesting things.
The question is, how do you scale this model? How do you scale this model to global size? Can you license some of your technology framework? Can you make it available elsewhere? Can you support maybe Keychain on Mac or something like that to make it easier for people to make the jump to the Brave browser?
How can you scale this to global size?
Brendan Eich: So, several ways. One of the things you just mentioned triggered a thought. Apple in iOS 14 announced something they sort of leaked to Bloomberg, that we think we had a hand in, based on an antitrust congressional panel sending a letter to Tim Cook.
Apple in iOS 14 announced something they sort of leaked to Bloomberg, that we think we had a hand in …
And that is the ability to make Brave your default browser on iOS. And we’re looking forward to that ability, which is, I think, still forthcoming from Apple, but they promised it now with 14. So people need to adopt Brave, they need to adopt privacy tools. In that sense, Safari is an ally, as I mentioned earlier, because they have intelligent tracking prevention.
But for the particular value proposition of the BAT, the Basic Attention Token, we see, first of all, growing Brave and proving the model so that there’s no doubt that we have a viable model, not just something that needs bootstrapping or needs more venture capital, which we aren’t raising right now.
You know, this is the kind of thing where we want to be a going concern and it’s very clear that the system works and there’s a healthy set of partners like NYIAX. It’s a stable, growing system. It’s not something that’s going to just go up and go down, which is what you saw with a lot of crypto projects over the last few years.
Then, you know, can we make some kind of SDK?
Another way that I think we get to the scale you want is through standardization. If pieces of what we do, like the confirmation protocol we use, which is a blind certificate, blind signature protocol it’s been standardized as Privacy Pass. You’ll hear that phrase that I think trademark even, the IETF standardized it with many people involved from Google and CloudFlare and others, and it’s based on cryptographic research from David Chaum, you know, 30 years ago.
Now that’s great stuff. We use it. Turns out Apple is talking about using it. Google uses it. CloudFlare uses it. You can see how this could roll up from the bottom up to a larger system that looks like what we do but has a standard behind it, or set of standards. And these standards interoperate and they’re in multiple browsers. So I expect, you’ll see that too.
John Koetsier: Wonderful. Well, I want to thank you, Carolina. I want to thank you Brendan for taking some time and spending it with us here. Much appreciated.
Carolina Abenante: Thank you.
Brendan Eich: My pleasure. Thanks.
John Koetsier: Well, everybody else, thank you as well for joining us on TechFirst. My name is John Koetsier. I appreciate you being along for this show. Whatever platform you’re watching on, hey, like, subscribe, share, comment, all the above. If you’re on the podcast later on, you like it, rate it, review it, that’d be a massive help.
Thanks, until next time … this is John Koetsier with TechFirst.