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Baratunde Thurston

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Monday, September 24, 2018 - 9:23am
Monday, September 24, 2018 - 9:23am
  Last night I spoke to a room full of journalism school students at Columbia University. I am not a journalist, but I have journalistic tendencies and a set of experiences in storytelling and pseudo-reporting that the program directors uptown thought relevant to a group of people studying Journalism (with a capital J).  The video from the event may someday be available somewhere on the Internet.  Meanwhile, I wanted to dump some notes here and link out to a few examples and resources those in the room or in other rooms across this great planet might find useful. 
Monday, September 24, 2018 - 9:23am

I joined Pivot TV as co-host of TakePart Live. This means that yes, I live in Los Angeles OMG. The announcement of this gig was a fun thing. Here's how my company Cultivated Wit told the world. And here's the Variety story, with my full name in a Variety headline for the first time ever.

For a flavor of the show, check out this clip from last night's episode.

Monday, September 24, 2018 - 9:23am

Here's a link as well. 

In many ways, the goal of this talk was to focus and update my 2012 SXSW keynote about the importance of applying humor to many of our interactions in society: political, media, technological. I wanted this talk to hone in on the relationship I see between how we are currently building our future, what's missing, and make a compelling case for the unique humanizing value of humor to be integrated into that future design.

Shorter: jokes be funny and stuff.

For an entire enterprise devoted to the ideas expressed in this talk, check out my company, Cultivated Wit and especially our world of Comedy Hack Day.

Monday, September 24, 2018 - 9:23am

So inspired by Cliven Bundy am I.

Monday, September 24, 2018 - 9:23am

Similar to this time last year, I'm leaving most of the social Internet behind for my winter vacation. I'm going off to an island, and I'm not bringing the noise (though I'll have plenty of funk) with me. In case you missed it, I wrote about this for Fast Company over the summer.

In terms of reaching me, what this means is I'm available via voice and SMS, assuming you have the numbers. If you don't have the numbers, then I'm not available at all until the ninth of January, 2014.

My chief of staff, Julia, is available starting Jan 2. Use the appropriate contact method to reach her.

And for Cultivated Wit business, my co-founder, Brian will be back online Jan 2 as well. Please don't undermine all I've sought to build whilst I'm away on holiday (like I'm British and whatnot). 

Monday, September 24, 2018 - 9:23am
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Craigslist is an amazing marketplace, not just for goods and services (such as this used engagement ring (thanks Jessica Randazza for the link)), but for the creative textual expression hosted there. I was curious to see what sort of items had been posted related to Nelson Mandela when I came across this amazing assortment of characters.

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Such an important literary work deserves deeper analysis and investigation, so I posted it over on Rap Genius under the Poetry section. Hopefully scholars with more expertise can I can add even more valuable interpretation to this contribution. 

Monday, September 24, 2018 - 9:23am
Monday, September 24, 2018 - 9:23am
Monday, September 24, 2018 - 9:23am
Jamilah Lemieux, Baratunde Thurston (me), Kathleen Madigan, Keith Robinson
Monday, September 24, 2018 - 9:23am
Wednesday, July 27, 2016 - 7:30am

December 15, 2012 to January 8, 2013 I left all email and social media. It was 25 days of relative digital quiet, and I loved it. The experience was so profound, I wrote about it for Fast Company. The piece launches online this week, and is accompanied by related stories and Twitter activity around the hashtag #UNPLUG.

Here's a more digestible version I and my colleagues at Cultivated Wit made for Tapestry.

Update: here's an audio performance I posted to SoundCloud 

Oh, and they made me the cover of their July/August 2013 issue which hits newsstands June 25 and looks a little something like this:

Actually, the cover looks looks exactly like this.

Actually, the cover looks looks exactly like this.

Saturday, June 11, 2016 - 7:40am

This is a cool event (Moth StorySLAM) within another cool event (Afropunk). However, I've been told that it's sold out. The website, however, seems to want to accept your money, so maybe it's not sold out? I don't know. Take a risk, and tell me what happens! 

Cool event you can't see. Sorry!

Cool event you can't see. Sorry!

Saturday, July 18, 2015 - 9:30am
A photo taken with my smartphone in the NYC subway system. Photo credit goes to me and my ancestors and the scientists that developed my smartphone along with the underlying technological developments on which they innovated. Thanks history! 

A photo taken with my smartphone in the NYC subway system. Photo credit goes to me and my ancestors and the scientists that developed my smartphone along with the underlying technological developments on which they innovated. Thanks history! 

That's about all I have to say. This show makes me laugh out loud a lot, and Nick Kroll is ridiculous. It's because of his name.

Friday, July 17, 2015 - 9:00pm
My custom winter hat by Satya Twena

My custom winter hat by Satya Twena

I just got my cranium upgraded with this custom hat by NYC hatter Satya Twena. She saved one of the last hat factories in the city, and just launched a Kickstarter to help improve and maintain the business. Support local manufacturing and stylish head coverings. She's very good at this.

Friday, July 17, 2015 - 9:00pm
"You're Doing It Wrong" by  Peter Dahlgren via Flickr

"You're Doing It Wrong" by Peter Dahlgren via Flickr

(AUTHOR'S NOTE: None of this happened. Skip to end for update. Overall point is still interesting so read for that. Or don't because maybe this blog post doesn't exist. Maybe I'm not real. Maybe I'm just another dumb Internet meme sucking up your time)

Ross Luippold over at Huffington Post Comedy has a great replay of the Twitter interactions between comedian Kyle Kinane and Pace Foods that went down this weekend. The exchange centers on the fact that Pace was auto-favoriting tweets mentioning its product, and that made for the favoriting of pretty ridiculous tweets. 

It all started when stand-up comedian Kyle Kinane, who counts the likes of Patton Oswalt and Marc Maron as fans, noticed that the Twitter account for Pace favorited a 10-month old tweet insulting their salsa.


Left unsaid in Ross's overview and underpinning why such exchanges were funny in the first place are two basic problems in the design and architecture of Twitter. Allow me to elaborate/rant at length.

First, "favorite" has always been the wrong term for that Twitter action.

"Favorite" implies enjoyment and endorsement of content that stands out above the rest for being not just noteworthy but good. Orange is my favorite color. Kale is my favorite vegetable. Non-conflicted black republicans are my favorite non-existent political group. However, people don't actually use the Twitter feature to mean this in all cases. Often we're just remembering, marking, saving, flagging, storing, bookmarking or otherwise more neutrally noting a tweet. We are long overdue for Twitter to change the verb from favorite to something more neutral.

Know where else we've seen the misuse of verbs in social media? Facebook. "Like" needs to become something else. I don't "Like" when a friend posts that his uncle has just died. I empathize. I feel. I support. I don't like. It's especially problematic with Facebook Pages. I don't like Mitt Romney. I chose to follow his page to keep tabs on what he was up to (someone had to). A like is not an endorsement. 

And don't get me started on "friend." Facebook has done more to destroy the meaning of the world "friend" than all the rumor-spreading, backstabbing, and two-faced behavior of the world's people combined.  

There's something odd about these social platforms being so neutral in so many of their operations (seemingly) in that they don't endorse movements per se; they want to get out of the way and let users express themselves. Yet they force a non-neutral stance on every user when they make language choices such as favorite, friend, like across a set of interactions that can and do mean so much more than that. Facebook takes the cake because it has forced us into "liking" brands then goes back and sells our likeness in an ad for that brand saying we actually like the brand! Way to juke the stats, Facebook.

Second, favoriting activity is public and social if your Twitter account is public. This is overly simplistic and bad.

In the Security and Privacy section of your Twitter account settings, you're allowed to make your entire account private. You can also choose to conceal the location of your tweets and determine if people can even find you on Twitter based on your mobile number or email address. Twitter could, and I think should, add an option to keep your favorites private. There's a role for you keeping a secret file of tweets you want to come back to. No doubt part of the decision to keep this activity public is to drive more activity. Favoriting is an entirely new category of interaction the company can track, report, and use to populate activity streams. Many people use Twitter in a read-only mode. Favoriting lives in the gray area between true lurker behavior and posting tweets like an addict (aka me). The added twist is that while the word and button design of Favorite on Twitter has remained the same, its meaning has changed dramatically.

Favorites used to only be visible for folks who visited your profile page and explicitly clicked on your favorites. They were technically public but practically hidden if not invisible. Now they act more like a mention, proactively alerting (snitching to?) the party whose tweet you've favorited about what you've done. 

The activity of people favoriting my tweets now shows up in my Twitter experience. Twitter be snitchin yall. 

The activity of people favoriting my tweets now shows up in my Twitter experience. Twitter be snitchin yall. 

That's what happened with Kyle. In a sane and less noisy social world, he should not have even known that Pace had marked his tweet.  Twitter created a social interaction where none was intended. They changed the meaning of the word favorite when they launched the feature then changed it again to make it a form of communication. 

Who does this the right way? Instapaper, sort of. Your "likes" don't have to be publicly exposed. What I don't like is how they couple this choice with people finding you through connected services. Those are not connected choices.

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There should be an experience of these services that doesn't force blanket meaning on our actions, or if they do, they do so with the lightest possible meaning and the clearest possibly explanation of consequences. When I like or favorite the first few times, the service should explain to me what that means and where this action lives on. "Like" sounds innocent, but it isn't. "Favorite" is innocuous until you're caught favoriting something offensive or dumb (like U.S. immigration policy).

There should be an experience that doesn't force our actions to be both public and social as well because in so doing they force us to answer for behavior that has largely been implicit or passive or silent or all three. We're pouring so much of our lives, our business, our politics into this machinery, but we're still learning how the machinery changes those lives and businesses and politics. 

Just consider the physical books and magazines you've read. What if when you folded a page or highlighted a passage or placed a bookmark, that book reported your activity to the author and the publisher and told them that "Baratunde Is Over The Moon about page 43 in Mein Kampf" because "Is Over The Moon" is the way they've chosen to lable the action. That's what UX can do when it's done wrong, and a much much milder version of that is what happened to Pace. 

I love Kyle Kinane. He's super funny and had a great and creative way of handling his exchange. He was performing. He was doing real Twitter comedy--not just tweeting out standup bits over Twitter as a transport layer, but using the native interactions of the platform to inspire creativity. He was speaking the language. However, in a world where social platforms use the right language and give us control over both the public and social settings of our actions, this incident would never have happened. 

Update @ 17:39 2nd December 2013

.@baratunde Totally agree that "favorite" is an awk word, but aren't random public interactions a good thing about Twitter? cc @kylekinane

— HumorCode (@HumorCode) December 2, 2013

Love this question from @HumorCode, and I tend to agree. I've re-read the above, and it's slightly more categorical and absolute than I intended. Twitter is fun. New types of interactions aren't always a problem. They are interesting and create new opportunities for expression and communication. I'm for all that. 

More than a restriction on user interactions, I think what I'm calling for is clarity. I'm pretty sure (and certainly hope) that Pace might have set their auto-bot differently had they known it would proactively alert the users whose tweets it was favoriting. 

Good followup point @HumorCode. 

While we're at it, what substitute words could social platforms enable to replace these generic overly broad forced meanings? 

Instead of Favorite and Like, I nominate

  • Goddamn Love
  • Hug
  • Grind Up On
  • Flick
  • Pinch
  • Stash
  • Stow
  • Tuck
  • Fondle

What say the rest of you? 

Update 17:52 2nd December 2013

@baratunde @HumorCode Regarding that update, shouldn't the Pace social media people have known that was going to happen if that's their job?

— Bart (@bart_smith) December 2, 2013

Yes yes Bart. The well-funded Pace Foods corporation should have invested in humans and machines that knew better. That's the least interesting part of the story for me, but it's a valid point. Dear Internet, stop making valid points which expand and occasionally shift but never quite undermine my main point!

Update 18:01 2nd December 2013

Well ain't that some sh*t. The entire thing was a hoax pulled on Kyle. Pace account was fake. Life has no meaning. None of this matters. Nothing matters.

That's annoying to say the least. So strip out the part about Pace, and my overall point remains valid and interesting, I think. Favorite and Like are the wrong verbs. We need more understanding of our how actions ricochet through the digital ether. 

I'm going to go burn something now. 

Friday, July 17, 2015 - 9:00pm
Check out that baller illustration by Álvaro Domínguez!

Check out that baller illustration by Álvaro Domínguez!

No, I'm not recommending the show because it has the word "black" in its title. I discovered this show based on a friend recommendation. It's out of the UK. It's darkly satirical and deeply important as it paints a picture of the mildly distant future in which technology has had terrible effects on our society. I devoted my latest Fast Company column to it

“Black Mirror is the perfect show for our times. We’ve created a self-fulfilling technologyadoption engine where things are faster, more connected, more immersive—and, presumably, relentlessly better. Watch Black Mirror and be reminded that we apply the word progress to undergird what is more objectively change.
” — My words from elsewhere on the Internet. Yes I just quoted myself.

Here's a panel discussion with the show creator about the episode in question. Those of you in the UK can watch full episodes at 4oD

Friday, July 17, 2015 - 9:00pm
Derrick Ashong shows me around the largest newsroom in the United States at Fusion

Derrick Ashong shows me around the largest newsroom in the United States at Fusion

I recently snuck in and out of Miami for a few hours and spent some time with Derrick Ashong, formerly of Al Jazeera English's The Stream as well as Oprah Radio. Derrick's new show launches with this new network (an ABC News/Univision collaboration) October 28. It's called DNA TV, and I think you're gonna love it. Meanwhile, enjoy this motion! 

Friday, July 17, 2015 - 9:00pm
Momma was a rollin stone

Momma was a rollin stone

I can't think of too many single images that best capture the journeying spirit of Arnita Lorraine Thurston. She was a traveler to the end and beyond, through the clearing at the end of the path. 

This photo was taken in Iowa on one of our mother's last big journeys. She had finally made her way west in a move to Washington State. My sister and I caravanned with her in a cross-country drive, and had a love-filled and charmed stop in Iowa.

A few weeks ago, I returned to Iowa for a show at Iowa State. The student assigned to bring me from the airport and I got to talking, and I mentioned this epic family road trip and the organic farm and restaurant we stumbled across outside of Waukee, Iowa. The student not only knew who I was talking about but knew the man himself, L.T.

I was saddened to hear that L.T. had recently had a stroke, and the fate of his business remains unclear to me, but on this day I choose to remember the joy he brought three hopeful and open travelers from DC as they journeyed together into the future.

Miss you ma.

Friday, July 17, 2015 - 8:52pm
Baratunde lightly gestures at Arianna Huffington then fist bumps Matt Welch on the teevee

Baratunde lightly gestures at Arianna Huffington then fist bumps Matt Welch on the teevee

The headlines are:

"Had Fun"

"Enjoyed Watching Sister Simone Take Dinesh D'Souza To Church"

and "They Gave Us Bath Robes"


Being on the show was actually great. The live audience was, well, live! Bill was a mix of smart and hilarious and wrong. The staff was great to work with, and I met the first ever makeup artist to carry eyeglass cleaner in her kit. Hugs forever. Most of the world missed my appearance, but here are some options.

  1. If you have Home Box Office To Go, you can watch the full episode (#317) at your leisure
  2. You can watch the "Overtime" post-show segment on YouTube
  3. And HBO has a collection of clips from my episode they don't charge you for, so let's hear it for proprietary video players, am I right??
  4. Or you can come over to my apartment in Brooklyn, and we can watch together. I have a TV.
Baratunde Thurston is the CEO, co-founder, and hashtagger-in-chief of Cultivated Wit. He wrote the New York Times bestseller How To Be Black and served for five years as director of digital for the satirical news outlet, The Onion.