Colin Pape is the founder of Presearch, a decentralized, community-driven search engine with more than 2 million users. Colin founded Presearch after realizing that a single company controlled more than 90% of the world's search queries and that a more grassroots, decentralized alternative was needed. Presearch is leveling the search playing field by leveraging blockchain technology and the power of the community to take on the world's biggest internet company.
We all know that we need to focus on SEO, whether it supports our website or to support users searching via a voice device such as Alexa. But with the rise of blockchain technology, we now have an alternative, community-driven search engine that can help us in a new era of open information. Decentralized search platforms can not only allow us new inroads to conversing with prospects and consumers, but they can also help deliver on the promise of protecting user’s personal information. In this episode of The Power of Digital Policy, Colin Pape talks about all things search and how it intersects with privacy to ensure your marketing and communication efforts are well-positioned.
INTRO: [00:00:00] Welcome to the Power of Digital Policy, a show that helps digital marketers, online communications, directors, and others throughout the organization balance out risks and opportunities created by using digital channels. Here's your host, Kristina Podnar.
KRISTINA: [00:00:20] Hi everyone. I'm grateful that you're joining me on this digital policy journey. I'm also excited because today we will gain insights on search engine optimization or SEO and positioning your brand in the sea of noise, where Google dominates the filter. My guest today is Colin Pape. Colin is the founder of Presearch, which's a decentralized community-driven search engine with more than 2 million years or so far. Colin founded Presearch after realizing that a single company controlled more than 90% of the world's search queries and that a more grassroots, a decentralized alternative was needed. Presearch is leveling the search plain field by leveraging blockchain technology and the power of the community to take on the world's biggest internet company. Colin, welcome to the Power of Digital Policy.
COLIN: [00:01:03] Awesome. Thanks so much for having me, Kristina. I appreciate it.
KRISTINA: [00:01:06] Colin, your visit today is very timely. In fact, I was working with several organizations over the last few months and, we were serving one in particular where a key question came up around how much digital workers in the organization really understand about search and what they would like to learn. And I was surprised that about a third said they don't know what we mean by SEO. And I attribute that a little bit to the evolving space that we're in; SEO, I think, meant something very different 20 years ago, obviously then it does today. And the entire search landscape has changed. Can you explain sort of the basics of what we're talking about and really the relevance to the user experience and interaction with our digital channels?
COLIN: [00:01:47] Yeah, absolutely. It is an incredibly powerful channel, search engines in general. It is how most people find the things that they are looking for. It has what is known as transactional intent. So there's discovery, which would be something more like Facebook or social media, where somebody is not necessarily looking for something, and they just discover it as they're progressing along whatever path they're on. And then there's transactional intent where somebody has a specific need. It makes them very qualified as far as they have indicated that need at that specific moment. And if you are servicing the needs of those people, they are the best people that you can possibly connect with because they are at the search discovery phase where they don't necessarily have a solution; they don't necessarily have a winner chosen. They're open to people and projects and businesses and organizations that they are not familiar with. And so it's a really great time to connect with new people. And it's a way to basically build your audience or your customer base. And so it's highly relevant extremely valuable. And there are definitely a number of techniques that can optimize for being found basically. And, search has definitely changed a lot. It continues to change. I mean, Google itself does continue to dominate the marketplace. They do have more than 90% of all searches flow through them. So generally, when people are talking search engine optimization, they're talking about how to optimize for Google to uncover their content and the meaning behind it, and then display it to this highly relevant audience. But yeah, the search is changing. There's more search that's happening on alternative platforms like Amazon Alexa or Google Home. So, it's the voice search. A lot of people don't realize the second biggest search engine in the world is actually YouTube. And so, a lot of people will do their queries directly in that video medium because they're looking for a video response to their question. And so, there are many different ways that you can optimize. We can definitely get into them if you're looking for a piece of granular—actionable information in that respect. But in general, it's just it's a channel that you should really not disregard. You should pay significant attention. A lot of people will kind of default to social media. And other types of marketing because it's a little bit more tangible and it's a little bit easier to execute upon searches, a little bit of a black box. And it also there's a lag, so you can take action, but not see any immediate results because it just takes time basically from the time that you publish something or get somebody to link to your content or any of the different activities that you can do to improve your search rank and optimize for search. And, it kind of happens on your end. You make the change. Then it has to be digested basically by the search engine, and that could take weeks to months. And so, it is an ongoing longer-term process. But if you do it successfully it, it can really drive significant awareness and attention and capital because a lot of times, people have these pressing needs, and they're actually willing to spend money to have them solved. And so it's a group of people you definitely want to get in front of if you're looking to reach new people,
KRISTINA: [00:05:48] It's interesting because I ended up writing many SEO policies for organizations, mostly because I think people are starting to understand that it's not an overnight effort. It's a programmatic effort, a programmatic approach, meaning it's not something that's a one and done. It's not a project. SEO is something that we do like good, basic hygiene. You just do it as part of what you do. So how has that space getting impacted from your perspective, especially with a lot of the new sentiments around privacy? SEO used to be what I call sort of the simple keyword search approach. And it's really mutated so much. And I think even more so in the last few years with just greater user awareness around their privacy, what information is being collected, especially from Google, whether it's via YouTube or just straight-up Google search engine. So how do you see that space evolve?
COLIN: [00:06:37] Yeah, it's definitely the landscape is shifting. I mean retargeting, which is the ability to basically cookie or track basically somebody who has come across your brand through search or through other mechanisms. And then, have your ads follow them across the web. That was a kind of a really interesting phase that is starting to come to an end due to these new policies and protections that have been mandated by the EU in particular. And we're starting to see consumer sentiment shift to projects like Presearch or Duck Duck Go privacy-focused search engines that basically do not allow advertisers to do that kind of tracking. And, it's closing that door a little bit, which did work really well for a lot of brands. Retargeting was highly, highly effective, and cost-effective, and that is changing, but, to some degree, Google has recently introduced this new concept called FLoC; federated learning of cohorts is what FLoC represents. And that's basically a way for almost Google to continue doing what Google was doing, but to stop any independent external parties from leveraging that information and intelligence that was being collected through Google. And so, what's almost happening is, is almost, there's an increased consolidation of power. That's now happening within Google's advertising platform. And a lot of the independent platforms are actually up in arms around this because it doesn't necessarily protect user privacy. And it hasn't really been designed specifically with the user in mind; it's not like they've created some type of blockchain-based ID or other systems that the user actually is in control of. They're now just basically saying, Hey, we won't share the information that we're collecting on you with all these independent groups who then use it to target you, we're going to put you into this cohort, which has, all, similar characteristics. And then, we're going to enable advertisers on our platform to target those specific cohorts. And so, their objective is to try to ensure that advertisers still have as much tracking as possible. But they're positioning it as this privacy upgrade for users when it really isn't necessarily improving their privacy; it's just shifting it. So rather than you being able to be targeted based on, oh, you visited this website, or you have taken this action. It's now, oh, you're being targeted because you're a member of this cohort that visited this website or took this action. And so it's a little less personally identifiable, but ultimately the net impact is that you're still able to be targeted and you're still being tracked with kind of this layer of obfuscation on top of it.
KRISTINA: [00:09:49] You see privacy slightly differently. You launched Presearch, so can you tell us a little bit more about Presearch and how you hope it will alter the search space, especially with regards to privacy?
COLIN: [00:10:00] With Presearch and with the cryptocurrency aspect of it, that the blockchain-based token, which we call pre we've basically tried to align all of the different stakeholders within our ecosystem. So, with Google, let's say you've got the founders and kind of the team. And then they brought in venture capitalists, and then the venture capitalists ultimately have a mandate to return a 100 times return on capital to their investors. And so, they're now looking for an exit strategy. They basically start with the exit before they even get into an investment. And so that would generally be either an acquisition by a bigger company, or it would be taking the company public on the traditional stock market, which is obviously what happened with Google. And then that kind of puts them into this other realm where now their main kind of mandate is driving revenue, and increasing profit, because that is what stock market investors who are going to provide those returns to those venture capitalists are looking for. And so, the company ends up in this awkward position where you have these kinds of competing interests where you have, the users who are basically looking for utility and they're looking for kind of respect and being, not abused. You've got the advertisers who are basically looking for maximum return on their ad spend. And then you've got these investors who are looking for maximum profits. And so the company in the middle has to try to balance those things. And, ultimately, if the end game is driving investor profits, then you're trying to basically maximize the amount of ad revenue that you pull in. And the consequence of that is that you're going to provide those advertisers with as much targeting capability as possible. And so the difference with Presearch is, we were started in a community crowdfunding type scenario. We did a sale of Presearch tokens, very similar to Kickstarter, basically for a digital product. And so, all of the people who are like our backers are aligned around the value of the Presearch token. And then, we are incentivizing users to switch from Google to Presearch, and we do that by rewarding them with Presearch tokens and then to capture the value or confer value onto those tokens. We are mandating them as the payment mechanism within the advertising platform. So advertisers need to buy Presearch tokens in order to reach the Presearch audience. And so effectively, what you've done is you've aligned the incentives for all of these different stakeholder groups around one unit of value. And so if the Presearch token is increasing in value because you have an ecosystem that is growing and users that are happy and are being respected and are realizing utility, which then begets more advertiser interests, which then increases the demand for those Presearch tokens, which then increases the price of them because there's a fixed quantity of them. That then ends up having the net effect of increasing the value of the units that the people in the crowd sale bought. And so you have everybody basically aligned around that one unit. And what that enables you to do then is not just sell it to your users to maximize the value for the advertisers. The advertisers actually want more users, and they want the users to be respected because that's how you're going to attract more of them. And so it's this really nice holistic system that is just not possible with a Silicon valley VC-backed companies.
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KRISTINA: [00:14:18] It sounds almost like something that I think we've been waiting a long time for. I heard that you've been trying to bring this concept about since about 2017. Why so long?
COLIN: [00:14:26] It was actually the first prototype we did build was in 2013, 2014. And we conceptualize Presearch as like the Switzerland of search and where we want it to basically provide this interface where you could easily search many different search engines. So, by default maybe, it's, it's Google because they are the top general search engine, but there are all these other search engines that people might not even think of as search engines that are search resources. So it could be these different databases that have information that might be specific to a small subset of users. We've got a lot of cryptocurrency users that use Presearch. So a lot of the resources that people are searching for are like cryptocurrency databases. But we wanted to basically have this kind of federated search field that would enable you as the user to go in, type your query and then click on the logo icon for any of the different resources. And then, basically, just direct your query into any of these different sources. And so, we built it; it was very sticky. As far as, we continued using it for years and years because it was a significant time-saver for us. We integrated our internal CRM platform, customer relationship management. So that's something that we would be searching a lot for, our other business. And it was just a huge time saver rather than having to bookmark things and then click a link and then load that interface and then find the search field, type in what we were looking for, run the search. It was just like, oh, you've got your one search field, you type into it. And then I'm going to click the CRM icon, and then it just is going to send me to that results page. And so we knew that model had significant value from a time and convenience standpoint, but we didn't really see a way to bring it to market. And it was in 2017 when we became acquainted with the Ethereum blockchain. And we realized that we wouldn't have to basically operate all the infrastructure to have a blockchain token. We could basically just leverage Ethereum's infrastructure and focus on our core. The focus of building a search engine and aligning the incentives of all the different stakeholders that we realized, oh, wow. This could be a really powerful model. And I mean, you used the word Nirvana, and It does have that type of potential. That's why there is so much excitement around blockchain. Is this kind of open, transparent layer that you can integrate into basically any type of a project or company or community so that they can be aligned and, and, view information openly that is, is traditionally buried, I mean, in a traditional company, you've got like, shareholders let's say, and those shareholders, basically, they don't know who else owns shares. That's in a ledger that is internal to the company. And then those specific units are not really exposed to the public that they're not really liquid. It's not something that you can easily transfer. If you want to, you have to get permission from the company; there are legal fees involved, it costs thousands of dollars to do a transfer of shares. It's very complicated. And so now, all of a sudden, you have this other type of mechanism that can be utilized to start, aligning value and,
that's ultimately what shares are intended to do. These are not a substitute for shares, and they're not shares. It has totally different attributes, but it has the ability to basically expose this ledger of value. And you can now open it up much more broadly so that many more people can participate because you don't have these like multi-thousand dollar fees to bring in one new person. And this huge kind of overhead layer that's involved. You can now issue units of value to your users. You can issue units of value to your advertisers, and you can get everybody aligned in this way. And so, yeah, it, it really does have the potential to change the world. There are definitely some growing pains that the industry is going through, but as far as Presearch goes, we realized that this opportunity really would lend itself well to acquiring new users and bringing people on board because we could incentivize them to basically take action that, it's, using Google is just so easy. It's the default search engine. All the different web browsers and operating systems and, they've got great results, and they've spent billions of dollars on their product development. And in general, it works. And so if we're going to ask people to take some action, that is it's more involved. And then, if we're going to provide them with a user experience that we know right off the bat is inferior to Google. Even if it has its kind of benefits and there are some interesting utility benefits for the user, it's; still, it's a shift in their behavior. And it's an ask. We're asking them to basically do something harder than what the default is. And so, Hey, what's a way to get them to do that. Well, we can incentivize them with some of these units, but then ultimately, we need to ensure that those units have value. We can't just give them out, give them a, give them out without somebody having a demand and need for them on the other side and where this model works really well is advertising has economic value. It is something that people do in order to realize an economic return for their business. And so they are willing to pay for it, and it's a way for them to confer value. And so we realized, well, if we make it so that you have to purchase Presearch tokens in order to advertise, that's where we're going to close that supply-demand loop. And so we realized, wow, this, this could really work. We ended up creating the Pre token on the Ethereum blockchain in 2017. We'd launched it in November of 2017 with a fully working product and a full integration of this token into the platform's advertising system. And then we ended up opening up a referral program, and it's basically been all organic growth to the 2.2 million registered users doing more than a million searches a day. And so, yeah, it's been a bit of a journey, but we're still in the early days, and it's exciting times.
KRISTINA: [00:21:10] It certainly does sound exciting. And I'm wondering, between you and you mentioned Duck, Duck Go, there's other tools out there that seem to be at least trying to give Google the run for its money. How disruptive do you think you are going to be able to be? I mean, just thinking about that private search engine space, what is it going to take or are you trying to disrupt Google?
COLIN: [00:21:32] It's interesting, in the one respect, the fact that Google dominates the marketplace so much I mean, it's, it's daunting, but in the other respect, it also means there's just tremendous upside. Duck duck go who has done a fantastic job. They're doing more than a hundred million queries a day now. They're being valued at over a billion dollars. They have 1.5% of the search market. It's like a drop in the bucket. And it's because search is such a common activity and everybody does it. It is literally the biggest market opportunity on the internet. And it's been the most lucrative for Google. They got the number one email platform with Gmail and the number one mapping platform. Number one video platform. Number one mobile operating system, number one web browser, all these things, but ultimately 90 plus percent of their revenue actually comes from these really basic contextual search ads that basically haven't changed since 2004, 2005. There have been some incremental improvements, but it's basically still the same model because it just worked so well and was so lucrative. We're competing against them, but we're, we're basically more than that, we're basically just providing an alternative to the people who have already self-selected as being sick of Google, wanting to support independent alternatives. And we're obviously providing them with different utilities and different incentives to switch. Our biggest thing is really just about awareness; it's as people discover Presearch they get excited, and they join. And, for the most part, they stick around, which is a really great signal that we're creating value for people. But, yeah, there's a lot of people, over a hundred million, that are just sick of Google, they've either had a bad experience with them personally, as an advertiser or as a user, or they've read something. And they don't like the fact that this one entity is basically exerting a kind of monopoly. Pressure on what is probably the number one utility in the world, which is searching information on the internet and doing it in this very, opaque kind of black box way that just funnels, billions and billions and billions of dollars in profit into this one, single company. And so they're looking for alternatives. They're finding projects like Duck, Duck go and Presearch and Startpage, and a bunch of other ones. And then, they're deciding for themselves which interface they like and which results that they like and which ethos of the project resonates with them.
And so, we're definitely attracting people that are more cryptocurrency-oriented than, say, even Duck, Duck go. But we're doing it by basically preserving their privacy as well. Same as DuckDuckGo. So we're not revealing anything about them. We're basically protecting them as they do their search, and they find that that has a utility value. Then we have multi-serve interface, which is really targeted at web workers in particular. If you're using it on a laptop or a desktop computer and if you are a power user, that basically has a workflow, and if you're searching, various databases or platforms besides just Google general, vanilla web search, then you can customize it to your heart's content. We have a hundred different search engines that are integrated into Presearch that you can just add in with a single click, or you can add in anything basically through a customized option, and it can be tremendous time-saving. So, so yeah, it's not a direct competition where we're definitely not, so naive, I think as to say we're going to take down Google because they've just got a tremendous financial and technological moat around them. But that group of people that is looking for alternatives is growing more rapidly than ever. And we've got a pretty solid option that people can choose from.
KRISTINA: [00:25:42] Is that group of people who are looking for the alternative, a specific of a specific demographic, do you find when we talk about things like cryptocurrency, I'm not sure that my mom would feel comfortable with that, but are you finding that there's a sort of a cutoff line where there's an ideal user or does it really vary?
COLIN: [00:25:58] One thing that's totally different and probably, some businesses would just absolutely hate this is we actually don't really know. We don't track; we don't track our users. So we actually really don't know if we are to get insights into users. We are actually using external platforms; we have no analytics on the platform, we don't know necessarily where users are from. We really don't know anything about them. We know anecdotal stuff from like our community because we have, and one of the biggest things with a project like Presearch, that's also a big differentiator on top of the blockchain thing is, is that basically, all the cryptocurrency projects have these open Telegram chat groups where you can come in, and you can talk with the team, and you can get your 2 cents in and try to influence the direction of the project. And so we anecdotally know some things through there, but like analytics, we basically use an external service called Similarweb, they report stats every month, and we'll go in, and we'll look, and we'll say, oh look, similar web says that our traffic has grown. And that we are popular in the United States and Central America. Cool. Well, that's the information that we have because we are not running Google analytics for obvious reasons, and we're not running any other analytic programs for privacy reasons. And so we actually don't have that dashboard view where we can say, Hey, yes, it's, men, women, age ranges, locations, any of those things. But anecdotally it's, it's basically people who are tech-savvy. They know how to change their default search engine. That's a huge barrier right there. Google pays Apple more than $10 billion a year to be the default search engine within the Apple ecosystem. So, they don't make it particularly easy to change. And it's something where you have to have kind of a base level of knowledge to just get off of Google, honestly. And so, so that's the common denominator. And I would say the other common denominators are either that they're looking to earn cryptocurrency for, an activity that they're already doing, which is search. Or they have an ideological beef with Google and don't like something about them. And generally, it aligns around privacy, and sometimes people will do these kinds of privacy expos; there was one. That was the Google location, a tracking history. And you could go into your Google account, and you could see, and even if you turned some of these features off on your phone, I did at one time. And I was just, I was shocked, honestly, just to see that Google followed me everywhere and knew every single place that I had been. They knew that, on, on my son's birthday that we had, gone to Alcatraz in San Francisco and,
they knew everything and yeah, there was the ability for me to delete it after which I did, but it's those kinds of moments when people realize just how exposed they are where they get creeped out basically and start looking at ways that they can protect their privacy. And so, yeah, that's common denominators, I'd say.
KRISTINA: [00:29:09] Well, and I can imagine that we're going to see an entire generation or two of folks, maybe either jumping to the Presearch platform or another platform. My son, who's 13, and at school, they only use Chromebooks. So he's in the entire Google universe, and the sheer amount of information that Google gathers on him is very cringe-worthy to me personally. And I would feel like that regardless of which company wouldn't have to be Google, it could be anybody. I think it's this concept of, there's the big brother effort, whether it's Microsoft or Google or anybody else, I just don't want them to know this much about my kid. And so that makes sense. And so, to me, that case is very clear for why individuals like you or me, or anybody else, would actually head towards Presearch as an option. In fact, I'm becoming a Presearch fangirl myself, but a lot of folks who are listening are part of their organization's digital or marketing team; how should they be thinking about Presearch ? What should they be thinking about from their organizational perspective? Why should they be considering Presearch? Should that be part of their marketing effort? And if so, how do you see that playing in the ecosystem for them?
COLIN: [00:30:15] I appreciate the opportunity to talk about that with your audience. Admittedly, we're still small compared to a Google let's, getting billions of queries a day, and we're getting a million it's pretty small, but. If it's people that you're targeting that are privacy-oriented tech, power users, cryptocurrency enthusiasts, we've actually got a fairly significant market share of those people. And basically, the way that the advertising platform works is totally different to Google's, where that can be quite expensive through my other ventures; I've spent millions of dollars on Google ad words, and I mean, it's, it's amazing, to just to see the cost of these clicks, add up, it averages, let's say around a buck, but some terms can have such competitive landscape that clicks can be, tens of dollars or even hundreds of dollars for a single click. And so they can add up really quickly with research; there is no actual cost per click. Basically, what you do is you buy Presearch tokens, and then it's, we use something called keyword staking, which is something that we've invented. It's similar to ad-words in that you would choose your keywords. So let's say you wanted to target a specific term that people might be searching bar and then have your ad displayed as those results are served. You can go in, you choose your keyword, you essentially stake or commit your tokens to that keyword. And as long as you have the most tokens committed to that keyword, your ad will be displayed. But what's different is you continue to own those tokens. They do not deplete. So if you wanted to try a different ad, let's say, and then cancel it when you cancel it, you get the tokens back. And so you can shift them around. You could sell them as the whole thing wasn't working out for you. And so there's effective, it's like free advertising. And it's done in a way, though, where you have to buy those tokens. And so that's creating demand, and that's conferring economic value on the community. So everybody is still winning. So it's. It's a neat way to do it. We are really focused on the success of that platform and trying to get as many people as possible using it. We're at; I would say, the early kind of land grab stage still. And, and what we're focused on over the next two years is basically growing in particular, our US and European audiences to try to make that extremely valuable to different advertisers. And early adopters might find it really interesting. I know a lot of our advertisers are getting really significant traffic and great results and basically getting it for free. And it's like when any of these new platforms launches when ad-words first launched, and it wasn't super competitive. You could get a ton of traffic that was very qualified, the very cheap same thing when Facebook first launched their platform. And then eventually over time as competition at cruise that the pricing starts to, to, increase and there ends up being less opportunity in that space. And so, for most of these ad platforms, like probably Instagram would be like the newest, most successful one where a lot of people have gotten a great ROI, but that's now starting to mature as well.
KRISTINA: [00:33:39] That's great. Are there one or two actionable things that you would say to any digital channel owner or marketeer right now? Obviously, they can reach out to you, but beyond that, do you suggest that they try to do a pilot program for their organization, or what is the first natural step to take?
COLIN: [00:33:56] You can go to keywords, the Presearch dot org, and you can learn how that platform works. You can do a pretty low-risk test, basically. There's a minimum number of free tokens for any of the keywords; it's currently a thousand currently; the cost to do that would be 50 to $60 somewhere. And you can run a test and see if you get traffic that's valuable to your brand. If not, you can cancel your ad and try different terms until you find something that works. And then, if none of that is working, if the audience just isn't the right audience for your brand, then you can basically go, and you can sell those Presearch tokens on an open market. So that's where it becomes a risk-free situation. But I think what's interesting probably to every brand, and something that everybody should be doing is just really starting to explore the world of cryptocurrency. It is a bit of a sea change. It, it kind of moves in these cycles where it surges and then it retreats and then surges and then retreats. But the overall long-term trend is towards this mechanism. It's, I would say, almost the holy grail of the internet, these blockchains and cryptocurrencies, and the ability to allocate and transfer value easily and cost-effectively and openly throughout communities. And so, even if at the very least you start to explore that world, the two leaders, I would say in this space right now, are a project called Brave and Presearch. Check those ones out and start to just, just explore how that might work. We're a very open and transparent community. And so if people have ideas, suggestions, ways that we can improve things that they might want to see, that's how the project is evolving, and it's, super important to us. We'd love to connect with anybody. Telegram community is https://t.me/presearch, or you can just go to Presearch dot io and learned all the different things about the project.
KRISTINA: [00:36:08] This is awesome. I think it's not just an opportunity to geek out, but really to start testing what is inevitable, which is this community-driven search engine that's the alternative to the mainstream Google option that folks have. And like you said, maybe it's not going to take over the entire search space, but it sounds like a very relevant player in this space. And definitely, something that's going to be coming to more organizations in the not-so-distant future. Thank you, Colin, for taking the time to de-mystify the search space for us today certainly appreciated you talking so much for giving us real insights into the community-driven aspect of the search engine. I hope everybody learned a thing or two or three. I certainly did, and I look forward to carrying this information forward and sharing it with others.
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