Wideo….going for a W (in video) [UPDATED]

Name: Wideo [UPDATED: This is the new link]
Cost: Free for 45 second videos [UPDATED: no free version available]
Type: Internet tool
Rating: 4/5

Wideo logoAs mentioned often on this blog, there are many more options than PowerPoint when presenting text and graphics (and audio) in a video format. To be honest, if I am pressed for time, I still go old-school with PowerPoint and Camtasia to create videos based on slides saved as graphics and transitioned together. This is especially useful for longer videos since most other tools require subscriptions for videos over a minute or so. Wideo provides templates so that I don’t have to put thought into the overall design or animation/transitions when creating videos. I am forced to keep my stunning and enthralling messages to 45 seconds (for the free version), which is probably appreciated by my students.

UPDATE: Ugh! Wideo is no longer available free. Which is disappointing, but even more so that the videos I created are now gone unless I pay for the subscription option. So, my review hasn’t changed except that it is no longer is as accessible for those of us who rely on free versions of software. Considering there are other options that are partially free on the internet, I’d suggest playing around with a free option than investing in Wideo unless you have a budget you need to spend. I’ve edited some of the review content to reflect the change.

Wideo pricing options

Since the free version is no longer available, I thought I’d provide the list of prices and features.

Wideo pricing options for education

For those of you who can prove you’re in education (teacher or student), there are cheaper options. Again, I’m not a big enough fan of this tool to even pay the cheaper prices.

Goal: Create videos with some text (not much) and visual interest that look (almost) professionally designed.

Wideo workspace view 1

This is what the workspace looks like when using a template.

Benefits:

  • Blog and newsletter provide tutorials and insights.
  • Templates are provided to get you started. They seem to be within the 45 second (free) time frame.
  • Templates have guides built in (e.g., Insert Image Here)
  • Provides photo editing tools, including special effects, frames, lighting, resizing, touch-ups, stickers, and meme.
  • Guidelines appear when moving textboxes so that you can line things up.
  • Upload your own voice over files or choose from three background music options.

Drawbacks:

  • Limited to 45 second videos, which might actually be a benefit if you’re like me and tend to cram too much information into one presentation.
  • Wideo.co watermark appears throughout video
  • Editing can be a bit tricky. You have to slide the marker on the time line to see all the items in a template slide. So, if five items are animated on the slide, you may only see the first three when editing, but you can reveal the next two by adjusting the timeline.
  • Without watching any tutorial videos, I can’t readily figure out how to animate graphics I add to the video. They appear in place (rather than flying in like the template’s text).
  • Cannot download the completed project in the free version. This means the video is shared on the web (can be reused and seen by the public).
  • Cannot change the color of objects from the icon library (e.g., a light bulb icon only appears in black outline).

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Pixton…look out Calvin & Hobbes!

Name: Pixton
Cost: Free, Free Trial (Subscription $90/year)
Type: Internet Tool
Rating: 3/5

 

pixton logoDo you talk to yourself? Sometimes that’s the best way to have a meaningful conversation. As someone who dabbles in creative writing, I know the value of a short, engaging dialog to generate and share ideas. For several years now, I’ve wanted to share information with students via scripted dialog, which can be funny and insightful. Creating animated videos seems like a natural approach to creating dialog between characters, but animations are generally time consuming to create, even with tools that help you along with templates. Pixton allows me to create comics without needing to worry about timing the video correctly. The images are static, like a comic strip, graphic novel, storyboard, or poster. I believe I’m pretty funny with my comics, though I’m just hoping students think the graphics are different enough to pay attention.

Goal: carry on a dialog in a hypothetical situation in order to give my audience information they probably didn’t know they wanted to know

Pixton workspace 1

This is a combination of the views you go through when choosing characteristics of your comic.

Benefits:

  • Variety of backgrounds, characters, and character movements to work with. The background you choose will determine the characters you’re offered.
  • Contests are promoted so that comics can be voted into popularity, which might be enticing for student projects.
  • Buttons are “hidden” until you click a relevant object in your comic. If you select a character, then the buttons for changing movement or the look of the character. So, there aren’t dozens of buttons to sort through when you don’t need them.
  • There are tutorial videos, though there’s a note that the buttons and icons in the videos might be out of date. I found the tutorials helpful in generating ideas since this is not a form that I’m very familiar with.
  • I think it’s pretty cool that a Canadian husband-and-wife team cam up with the idea to create a website to allow (average) people to create comics.
  • More about “publication” is noted below, but I like that I can “unpublish” a comic if I no longer want it made public.

Drawbacks:

  • When typing dialog in the bubbles, backspace isn’t an option once you click away from the text. You have to delete it all and type again.
  • The free version does not allow for downloading (which is pretty typical). Also with the free version, you have to share it publicly. This is a big issue for me, since I can’t share specific information like my email in the graphic (without the world having access to my email address). There is a Code of Conduct posted and reporting method to keep comments from getting out of hand.
  • There is a limited number of characters associated with each background. For example, I can’t have an alien in the “fantasy” background. This is probably only an issue for me, since I like using odd characters in different situations for the sake of (dry) humor. It’d be great to have Calvin & Hobbes or other comic strip knock-offs…a nod to the originals without insulting them, perhaps.
  • You can only make comic strips and posters (not graphic novel pages, storyboards, or photo stories) with the free version

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Padlet…new school bulletin board

Name: Padlet
Cost: Free (subscription plans for $29/year)
Type: Internet (plus app)
Rating: 5/5

 

Padlet logoThere is something old school, yet appealing, with bulletin boards. Growing up, I remember looking forward to the beginning of the month since that was when the teachers would change their bulletin board content–new graphics, text, colors, and sometimes even new layouts. Some of the posters on the board might be funny, while other content might be a preview of what we’d focus on for that month. Ideally, the bulletin board would have “gold star” assignments posted for everyone to marvel at. I was always hopeful that mine would be up there, though I was more like a silver/bronze star student at the time, so my stuff was only posted if there was room or if it was parent/teacher conference week. Since I teach in a virtual environment and a college classroom on campus, I don’t get a bulletin board, which is probably fortunate since I’d obsess about what I would do with it each month. But, there are a few Internet options for creating a bulletin board sort of webpage, and Padlet is one of the more popular options. Padlet is an Internet tool that not only allows you to “post” text, graphics, and URLs, but also allows your users to add their own content. We used to get punished in school for “adding” to the bulletin board!

Goal: share text, graphics, and URLs in an engaging webpage (that would allow users to also post content, if I needed that feature)

Padlet workspace

This is a blank Padlet workspace. The “portrait” is just the icon that appears before the title and description at the top of your Padlet that you create. Wallpaper, Layout, and Privacy are the more important features under the setting icon.

Benefits:

  • Each “post” allows for a heading, whether the body of the post is text or a graphic. This allows me to label my graphics so the audience recognizes their significance.
  • There is a blog with insights and ideas.
  • The Padlet board can be exported to a file (e.g., PDF, JPG), which kind of takes away the appeal of the board, but perhaps it might make it easier for grading or offline distribution.
  • There is a Firefox add-on so that you can post Internet material to your Padlet boards as you explore the Internet.
  • Supports “audience participation” since you can allow users to post their own content to the board. For example, you can allow for classroom introductions, where students can post a photo and/or text about themselves; or groups can brainstorm ideas and post research for group projects.
  • The completely free-form, post-anywhere layout of a canvas makes me a little crazy, but some may like that chaos. Fortunately, I can choose a layout to be “stream” (one post under the next) or grid (lines them up in even rows). Even if you start with free form, you can change to stream or grid and the posts will be realigned accordingly.

Drawbacks:

  • This is just a reality of this type of tool, but you have to monitor what is posted since anyone can post anything (depending on the privacy setting). So, if you have students who cannot be trusted to act responsibly when posting, then you’ll want to have the “monitor” feature checked to approve additions before everyone can see them.
  • I can’t figure out how to change the font/style of the posts. I think it’s pretty much set for every type of Padlet to be the same. (There are some formatting options, but not as extensive as I’d like in the way of color or font style.)

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Random Tip # 8: The Noun Project

Noun project logo

(Noun Project logo)

I think my favorite part about the website, TheNounProject.com, is their slogan (even though they don’t use the Oxford comma): “creating, sharing and celebrating the world’s visual language.” Not only does it appeal to my interest in photography and how stories can be told visually, it also applies to my love of digital media and the combination of text and visuals (…especially when the visuals are free).

The Noun Project is a collection of over 100K icons that are $0 – $1.99. If you pay for the royalty free icons, then you don’t have to give credit, but if you use a free version, then you need to give credit. There is a subscription version that allows for unlimited royalty free icons (no citations needed).

Why am I sharing this website since there are plenty of other “free” icons out on the Internet? Is there more to it than just the slogan?

  • Their security guard is cute
  • Easy search tool
  • Gives credit to the creator
  • No ads (pop-up ads or the like)
  • Simple website design, easy to navigate
  • Information for giving credit is provided upon download
  • My favorite reason: the credit is already embedded in many of the graphics (so I don’t have to worry about labels unless I edit out the credit)
  • No watermark
  • There is a blog

Caution: the website is addictive since it is very easy search and download a variety of icons. Do not blame me if you lose several hours in your day.

A previous student of mine used a bunch of the icons to symbolically represent key points from a novel we read for class. She layered the icons so that there were several symbols that worked together to make her point. (She also explained the symbolism to me, which was required.) I loved the simplicity of the images that held significant meaning. It was a great example of critical thinking and visual rhetoric. Beyond that example, I can see how the icons can be used as visual interest in slide presentations or posters, especially when simplicity is ideal.

The Noun Project is my second favorite image gallery. I still really like Pixabay because it gives access to photos and graphics without requiring credit, though The Noun Project does have more diversity when looking for icons or the like. Since the Noun Project embeds the credit, I will likely rely on it more often; it’s good modeling to show students that giving credit is necessary (unless told otherwise).

Noun project sample icons

Just a few icons I collected (…don’t look for deeper meaning in my collection since I chose them because they seemed either unique, relevant, or entertaining)

Noun project sample 2

Voki….voicing a sad looking pink bunny

Name: Voki
Cost: Free
Type: Internet tool
Rating: 4/5

voki logo I’m not really an avatar type of person, which might be more personal information about me than you care about. But, this insight is relevant to the digital media tool I’m reviewing–Voki. With Voki, I can create an avatar to speak for me or with my own voice. Granted, we aren’t talking about super model quality avatars, though there are a few “realistic” options to choose from. Since I’m not an avatar type of person, I didn’t think I’d like this tool, but I quickly took to the humor that could be created through these characters. Voki kind of reminds me of Fotobabble, where it’s one image with audio, except that Voki’s images pretend to talk (kind of like Mr. Ed sort of mouth moving) and the graphics are already provided in Voki.

Goal: Try something different….create an avatar

Voki workspace 1

This is the workspace (with sad bunny already selected from the character list). Play around with the “Customize Your Character” options….pink bunny doesn’t have many variations, but other avatars can be modified.

Benefits:

  • There are multiple ways to create audio for the avatar, and not all require a microphone. You can phone in the audio recording or type text that is read by a “computer” voice (….think Speak-and-Spell if you’re as old as I am). If you type up text, you can change the language, though I have no idea if it’s accurate since I tortured the Spanish language enough in college that I’m banned from speaking it ever again.
  • I think it might be addictive to match up goofy characters with oddball voices or effects. My students may not think I’m funny, but I will.
  • You can adjust the avatar; not just hair, color, and accessories, but also body proportions and location on the screen can be adjusted.
  • There is a blog and help section for those who need insights on using the tool. Also included are classroom guides for teachers.
  • While I didn’t try it out, supposedly you can embed Voki in a PowerPoint. After finishing a project, there is an embed code provided (which is what I used at the end of this post).
  • I didn’t keep track of all the avatar options, but there seems to be a variety to try and represent different people, cultures, and situations. That said, there is a pay version that provides more options, but I opted for the goofy avatars to bypass any question of whether I’m represented by the graphic. (Note: sometimes I think of myself as a unicorn, but in fact, I’m not.)

Drawbacks:

  • There are some ads on the site, so you have to be careful where you click. The sidebars are generally ads that will take you to a different site.
  • The title of the Voki you create is limited to 20 characters.
  • Not all the voice options for typed text work. For example, Dave seems to play, but I don’t hear anything. Perhaps, though, Dave is speaking in a voice audible to dogs or the like.
  • Unless you have a paid subscription account, the audio recording limit is 60 seconds (and 600 character limit for text to voice).
  • Playing the recorded Voki relies on Shockwave Flash, which can be quirky at times.

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Canva…a mostly free canvas

Name: Canva
Cost: Free (mostly)
Type: Internet tool (iPad app)
Rating: 4/5

canva logoI was recently in a faculty meeting with my amazing peers, and one professor shared how much she liked the “Minute Memo,” an infographic-style newsletter I created for students. At first I was going to admit that the Piktograph tool did much of the design work for me, but I just kept my mouth shut and let the praise give me a bit of a buzz. But, with that positive feedback, I got to thinking about whether there were other tools that might further up my credibility, either with peers or students. After a Google search, I came upon an option listed second in the search results: Canva. Canva can do more than infographics, and has many similar graphic design options as BeFunky. I didn’t want to like this tool when I first started because of the limited free graphics, but the ability to save the finished product as JPG, PNG, or PDF and not make the finished products public won me over. This review is a little longer than previous posts because I couldn’t help but really play around with it.

Canva workspace 1

These are the options you have, though some have similar templates. Clicking the + More… and you’ll find more unique options not seen in other tools, such as book covers, gift certificate, magazine, and resume. I choose the template based on the final size I want the graphic to be, rather than the use. I sometimes end up choosing a template that is way too big, so I will resize (reduce pixels) in Windows Photo Manager.

Goal: evaluate other design tools to see if it’s worth paying for Piktograph

Benefits:

  • iPad app available
  • It’s free….well, nothing is entirely free in this world, but they don’t require subscriptions. Premium images with watermarks cost $1, which is paid when you Publish.
  • Their blog and tutorials are called “Design School”….given how much I invest in graduate school tuition, I like the idea of going to school for free
  • There are many free templates to choose from.
  • Finished documents can be saved as PDFs or graphics. The quality is clear (as compared to little bit of blur that Piktograph has).
  • You can choose to not make the graphic public, which is generally a feature reserved for pay versions.
  • The documents/graphics you create can be copied. This is helpful for me since I make weekly infographics in newsletter form; I want the same style, but need to change the content.

Drawbacks:

  • It crashes (or freezes) Firefox. If your work was not automatically saved recently, it’s gone. Ouch!! If you want to save as you go, click on file and select Save.
  • There are hidden fees. If you choose a $1 template, then there are often other graphics in the template that you need to swap out or pay $1 each. Choose wisely. If it isn’t marked “free” then it isn’t free.
  • Search doesn’t provide filters to limit the results. Also, the free and pay versions are combined so you have to scroll all the way through when choosing a free graphic.
  • You can’t select and move multiple objects. When I wanted to move a graphic and its associated text, I had to select an move each individually, which is cumbersome if you have a graphic, heading, and two sections of text to be moved
  • When editing template text or free font styles, the tool was a bit quirky….if text is overlapping, you have to move the textboxes around in order to edit the template text.
  • Adding shapes and lines is not intuitive. You have to click “search” and then choose a category. Other tools like this one instead have an icon in the standard menu (along with text, layout, background).
  • Resizing provided shapes, lines, template text, and graphics can be limited; sometimes you can only resize horizontally or vertically, which makes it a challenge to fit the object into well-defined areas

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infogr.am….a few more features than a telegram

Name: infogr.am
Cost: Free (pay version provides many more options)
Type: Internet tool
Rating: 1/5

Infogr.am logoMy Piktochart post already revealed my hidden desire to be a graphic designer in my next life. While I like Piktochart, I still am on the hunt for other infographic tools that provide different templates that are easy to modify for my needs. I’m also trying to figure out if Piktochart is my favorite, thus worth investing in a yearly subscription. I don’t know what it is about infographics that really engage my interest beyond the combination of text, color, and graphics (as compared a black/white text document). Perhaps it is a love for movie and concert posters, which draw me in emotionally as I follow the sort of story being told visually and textually. Maybe it’s because infographics allow me to cram a lot of information into one graphic without experiencing the guilt I feel with 10 PowerPoint slides with the same information.

Infogram workspace view 1

This is where you start….the templates look pretty much the same except for font and colors since you can swap out the information for your own.

Goal: Find an infographic tool with more (free) options to create how-to and brief concept overviews for students.

Benefits:

  • After logging in, an Infogram support chatbox pops up. So, if you don’t like to feel alone, you can chat with their support right away. (A quick browse of the website didn’t reveal tutorials, so perhaps the chat is needed.)
  • The various chart options are pretty good looking. Some allow color and size modifications to the content you add/edit.
  • Embed code is provided for final version.

Drawbacks:

Infogram share options

These are the “share” options for the free version.

  • Cannot use “rich text editing” without upgrading, which means you are stuck with the font style provided in the template. This is a big deal for me….I don’t like being constrained this much, especially since some of the template options don’t have enough contrast for the visually impaired (or those who just don’t want to put their reading glasses on).
  • No graphic or shape library to choose from. You need use your own graphics or use the pay version to add that type of visual interest.
  • Need to upgrade to download the completed file. The only option is to share the completed file with everyone on the web.

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Random Tip #6: Pixabay

Snow Leopard photoThe snow leopard got your attention didn’t it? There is no question that graphics appeal to audiences, no matter their age. Color, layout, subject matter, tone….all are visual design qualities that engage the interest and imagination. When Microsoft Office did away with embedded clipart in their software, I had to turn to other “free” options, such as: 1) Clipart websites with popup ads; 2) Google image searches, which would require citations/attribution; or 3) Use my own photos. While #3 is fun, it’s time consuming. #2 is reasonable, but citations are cumbersome, and they don’t actually cover me legally for copyright infringement (though, citations do set a positive example for students). #1 = annoying.

I never really invested a lot of time in finding websites with free images that I didn’t have to worry about using, but when I accidentally found Pixabay through a design website I was using, it was like getting a “free pizza for life” coupon. I feel like the rest of the world knew about this website, but no one clued me in. So, if I’m not the last person to find this resource, go check it out!

Other than free and easy use of quality images, here are a few other qualities I like about Pixabay:

  • Details about the photo are provided (e.g., camera lens, shutter speed, etc.), which makes it a learning experience for photographers who want to take their own photos.
  • Three size choices are generally provided, so you can choose the file size and graphic dimensions without having to crop/edit.
  • There are three different types of media: photos, illustrations and vector graphics (think cartoons or clipart like graphics), and videos
  • License and use information are provided with each graphic. Generally, they’re CC0 Public Domain, free for commercial use, and no attribution is required. You can also modify the image, so that if you want to use Photoshop/GIMP to remove the background, then that’s fine.
  • Signing up provides an account where you can keep track of your favorite images (by clicking on the star as you roll over the image).
  • They have a Facebook page that updates daily to share a good looking photo. Since it doesn’t fill up my feed with senseless posts, I like it. Also, in December 2015, the website had some stability issues, but the site creators were on their Facebook page responding to our cries for access. So, if you’re having trouble accessing the website, check their Facebook page to see if it’s a major issue (or if it’s just you).
Caution signCaution #1….there are links to Shutterstock images, which aren’t always free or Public Domain. These are marked with the Shutterstock watermark. Look before you click.

Caution #2…..you can lose hours and hours of your life going through the website and downloading images for future presentations/projects. You have been warned.

Here are good insights about the use of the Creative Commons (Public Domain) images (Please ignore the article’s typos, as the rest of the content is worth your time.): Public Domain Image – What is allowed and what is not?

Here is the link to Pixabay: https://pixabay.com/.

I’ve included some examples below, but it’s best to just go and explore the website yourself.

Samples images from Pixabay

BeFunky….everyone can use a bit of funky

Name: BeFunky
Cost: Free for some features ($25/year for full features)
Type: Internet tool
Rating: 4/5

BeFunky logoThe first draw towards this tool was the title: BeFunky. I’m not really the funky type, though I sometimes accidentally hit on funky and claim that it was intentional. The second draw was the website’s slogan: Photo Editing and Graphic Design Made for Everyone. Since I’ve spent more time as a student than not, I’m all for gaining ground on other careers without going back to school. The photo editing aspect is like PicMonkey, though perhaps with a few other options, such as adding mustaches to your photos. The tool allows you to create collages to bring together several photos (and perhaps add text), along with a “Designer” mode that provides templates for a variety of situations (e.g., creating a menu or invitation image). I am not at a “social” point in my life, where menus, invitations, and thank you cards are needed, but I’m realizing that perhaps my blog could use a bit of help. I generally let my photos and graphics speak for themselves, but the design aspect of this tool allowed me to consider how text can enhance the photos.

BeFunky's Artsy Options

Like PicMonkey, there are themes and overlays you can add to your photos. Here are a few options.

Goal: Find an easy to use tool for creating graphic design like projects or graphics (with text) to use in the classroom.

Benefits:

  • There is a brief tour when you first get started, though the tools are fairly intuitive. As you use the tool, there are pop-up windows with further insights, so just start clicking if you need more tutoring.
  • No login or registration is required.
  • There’s an app version.
  • Really easy to use. Start with a design template. Swap out the photo for your own (even adjust the photo coloring, etc.), if you don’t like the one in the template, and then modify the text as needed. Done.
  • Your completed photo can be saved as JPG or PNG to your computer or you can upload it to various social media options. Quick and easy.

Drawbacks:

  • Slightly addictive. There are several free templates and other features to play around with, so be prepared to drop into the abyss and lose hours at a time.
  • If you are even a little experienced with graphic design (and related tools), then this tool is too simplistic for you since you don’t need to start with simple templates to edit photos and add text. (But if you’re pressed for time, then see the Benefits listed above.)
  • Related to the previous point, the infographic templates are simple, yet tedious to swap out the existing information in the template. I would not use BeFunky for these types of projects. (See Piktochart instead.)
  • If Flash crashes while designing, your work is completely lost.
  • In order to access some graphics, you need to create a login. (But, the “free” options are pretty nice if you choose Pixabay.)

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Piktochart….charting with fewer numbers and more graphics [updated]

Cost: Free (limited options)
Type: Internet tool
Rating: 4/5

Picktochart LogoI love the infographic trend! Okay, I’m a little behind since that trend has been around for a several years, but since infographics often are based on numbers, it took me a while to understand them since I’m an English major. Granted, infographics can be used for evil, especially on unsuspecting English majors who have to do math in order to figure out if the statistics are even logical. But, I still think they’re cool and I want to make them myself. Actually, my quest did not begin with the idea of making an infographic (again, because I don’t want to deal with numbers), but rather the need to create one-page newsletters and cheat sheets that are visually appealing. I tried using a table in Word to create a newsletter that I could swap information in and out of like a template…yeah, tragic. Then, I moved on to Scribus (think InDesign or Publisher desktop publishing)…yep, epic fail. But, Piktochart lets me create a streamlined and interesting looking one-page newsletter without much fail or epic involved.

Piktochart view

After logging in, you can choose the type of document you want to create and then the template.

Goal: create a one-page newsletter like document to briefly review the unit’s highlights

Benefits:

  • I only partially paid attention to the brief tutorial, and was still able to figure the tool out.
  • As you maneuver textboxes and graphics around your workspace, guidelines appear so you can easily line each feature up prior to placing it. (e.g., all icons can be lined up in a row)
  • Great selection of backgrounds, graphics, and icons to choose from (even in the free version)

Drawbacks:

  • The phrasing of some of the tools and features is a little confusing. E.g., adding a “block” is adding a whole new page, whereas I think of block as a textbox or module on the page
  • Some of the TEXT FRAME options are really interesting, but you can’t edit the color or font size for most.
  • You can’t make text changes to single words in a textbox…it’s either all bold or not at all. It’s also single-space.
  • PNG and JPG are the only file download options, unless you “level up” (i.e., pay), then you can download as a PDF….I have Adobe Acrobat Pro, so I can convert the JPG to a PDF
  • I can’t seem to reuse my completed projects as templates for new projects. Right now, I’m just cloning a page to appear at the end of the document; when I download the whole JPG, I can download each page (block) as separate files.

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