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Continued: Did a little bird tell you? No, it was a tweet from a Twitterer

  • Article by: JAMES LILEKS , Star Tribune
  • Last update: January 29, 2009 - 8:31 PM

The mayor of Minneapolis tweets.

You either know what that means or you don't. If you're thinking he hops around making high-pitched sounds and likes to conduct meetings while perched on a rod, nuzzling a cuttlebone, you're wrong. As far as I know. The staff would be understandably close-lipped about such things.

No, tweets are what we hip, cool, irritating people call the messages sent on Twitter. I've lost you, haven't I?

Let me explain. Twitter is the latest thing on the Internet, which means all the really wired people were so over it six months ago, and are currently playing with something that lets you send smells via text messaging.

For the rest of the world, Twitter is an addictive message service that lets you find out what 2,026 strangers put in their coffee that morning.

You ask: How is this different from a "blog," other than "blog" sounds like a drain obstruction and Twitter sounds like someone who's free-based espresso and helium? Well, you can go on for 934,045 words on a blog. Twitter limits you to 140 characters.

If you say that no one can accomplish anything with 140 characters, I'd agree, if we were talking about the recent Star Wars movies. Otherwise, no. Short = good. Brevity, soul of wit.

Finally, you ask, who cares? Why do we need another means for people to flash themselves in public and clot the intertubes with useless natterings? When will everybody shut up?

Never. That cat's out of the bag, and the cat sold the bag on eBay. The Internet turned half the country into exhibitionists and the rest into voyeurs, an arrangement that seems to suit everyone nicely. The only question is whether it's interesting.

I follow some bright, funny people on Twitter, and if they're not popping up with a nicely whittled observation, they're sending links to something interesting to read. It's like having a portable box full of imaginary friends.

So. To recap. Twitter is the service. Twittering is the general conversation. A "tweet" is an individual message, and yes, it's an infantile term. "I tweeted" is what a 3-year-old with gas might say. "I got a tweet" sounds like someone squeezed a budgie and mailed you a recording. Nothing we can do about that.

Anyway, a while ago someone tweeted the news that Mayor Rybak is on Twitter; I decided to "follow" him, which is the term for subscribing to someone's tweets. He'd pop up every other day, announcing some initiative or conference. Then one day he tweeted his reelection bid, and that's when I thought: That might be a first. I learned the news not by newspaper or radio, but via tweet. Hmmm.

Yes, hmmm, three ms. In the olden times a pol would call a news conference; now a mayor or CEO or company rep can shoot the news, as they see it, right to you. But was he the first mayor in the U.S. to tweet? The mayor of London is on Twitter, after all. I sent Rybak an interview request -- via Twitter, of course heaven forbid I pick up a phone. We spoke later.

Are you the first mayor in this country to be on Twitter? "Let's say that I am and see if they argue," Rybak said. "I feel lonely that no other mayors are on it." So it's not done by an automated system called the Rybot9000? Great. But do you have staff searching tweets for keywords like Mpls or Rybak so you can respond? "Yes. In their free time. They don't do it on office time."

Any temptation to tweet something grindingly ordinary, like so many other tweets? "No. People can tweet whatever they want. But I don't think people care if I'm baking chocolate chip cookies or trimming my toenails."

Wrong answer! You need to tell us what you have for lunch. There was the sound of typing, and he said he'd put it up. Checking his Twitter feed the next day, though, it's not there -- just news about the Capri theater renovation and the lowest murder rate in 25 years. You know, news. His lunch remains a mystery. Well, that goes against everything Twitter and the modern confessional age stand for.

We'll have to wait for the memoir. Unless he put it on Facebook, of course. What's that? Don't ask.

jlileks@startribune.com • 612-673-7858 More daily at www.startribune.com/buzz

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