You can find all sorts of hyper-local websites, but few have that you-never-know-what-you're-going-to-find-here quality like MPLS.TV, a kind of underground booster group that celebrates the City of Lakes in ways the Chamber of Commerce never dreamed of.
There's a link to Slug's sweet-nerdy yearbook photo, a sassy street-fashion connoisseur interviewing strangers about their outfits, an interview with beat boxer Mux Mool, the top five T-Wolves crush objects -- all produced for free by a creative collective of Minneapolis lovers.
"We're creating a living document of the city in a way you've never seen before," said Chris Cloud, the site's co-founder and self-dubbed "collaboration" director, to emphasize a prevailing spirit of cooperation. "A 21st-century way."
Started as a half-hour cable-access show in 2009, MPLS.TV went to a Web-only format early the next year. The site defines itself as an "independent, do-it-together content network," but the sum of its contributions is larger than its parts.
In the fashion series "What the [Expletive] Are You Wearing?" Ula Brown asks strangers exactly that, at places ranging from a boat show and the Mall of America to the Voltage fashion show, and gets responses ranging from candid to hilarious to disturbing. "Caught in a Nosh" is artist Kari Schuster's photo compilation of topical food creations (like a baked potato topped with butter carved into the words "Soul Train" to lament the loss of Don Cornelius). In "Overheard Projector," bartender Nathan Morales writes dialogue in the voices of characters based on customer conversations. But the site's top billing must go to its growing collection of random, really well made videos.
"A lot of people are creative, but they don't have an outlet," Cloud said. "We provide that outlet, and on our format, more people will see it than the five or six who might accidentally find it on YouTube."
"It's erasing the boundary between TV and YouTube," said Dan Huiting, who produces the popular "City of Music" on-location video series in which bands perform in unexpected or unique places (Heiruspecs on a boat, anyone?). "Normal people can go out and make content and have it on this site."
Normal, maybe, but talented-normal. If just anyone could slap their work up here, the site would be filled with, well ... junk.
Sarah Morean, who works at the plant pathology library on the University of Minnesota's St. Paul campus, is a comics reviewer on the side. She also writes the Timberwolves-themed series "Quintuple-Double" on MPLS.TV with boyfriend Adam Hansen.
"I think it will be a launch pad for a lot more creative voices," she said. "When you've got something like this going, it's easy to attract talent."
While the collective members are driven by passion, not paychecks, the exposure has led to some career boosts. Joanna Solotaroff produces "Street Stories," a mini-doc series that zooms in on microcosms of Minneapolis life. Based on her work, she got accepted into a highly competitive public radio workshop.
So far, the biggest success story is Huiting. The prominent pop-music site Pitchfork recently picked up "City of Music." He also landed a day job as director of photography for the TPT series "Minnesota Original" and directed a video for Bon Iver. Now, through music-scene word-of-mouth, he has upcoming shoots with bands from around the country and even a popular singer in Australia.
"Anything in my career, it's happened because of what started there," he said. "I was doing it every week for free because I loved it, but it got my name and work out there."
Collective members have high praise for Cloud as not only the glue, but the spark, of MPLS.TV.
"Chris really throws his belief into you," Morean said.
But belief doesn't pay the bills. What keeps MPLS.TV's content fresh and unpredictable is a fluid openness balanced by pride (the good kind).
"People kind of take ownership, and a bit of a snowball momentum happens," Huiting said. "Everyone has something different to offer, and we're all passionate about it, so together, it all works."
Cloud, who has an ad agency background, is currently freelancing and devoting most of his time to making the site sustainable. He and a couple of other members have launched a spinoff, MPLS.CO, which lines up members with paid business projects. One example: They put together a "mix tape" four times a year for the Urban Bean coffee shop to sell.
There's really only one rule at MPLS.TV: It's got to be about Minneapolis.
"We've mentioned St. Paul less than 10 times since we started," said Cloud, who has nothing against the Other Twin, it's just that "Minneapolis is in our name, and that's what and where we're about."