Minneapolis travel writer Leif Pettersen admits that his 2,000-word blog posts are "long-winded," though that's not necessarily a bad thing in a genre known for luscious detail about exotic places. But on a dare from a fellow writer, Pettersen joined Twitter, the micro- blogging website that limits writers to 140-character entries.
"I didn't get it," said Pettersen, 38, of his first reaction to the ultra-short posts. "It was like hearing bits of conversation from a room full of schizophrenics."
Nevertheless, here was his "tweet" from Romania on May 28: "Made it to Cluj today. Roads awful (et tu Timisoara?) and heat making my brain mush. There's a sushi place here. Dare I try?"
Twitter users write about what they are doing, as they do it, from wherever they are. And now, nearly two years after Twitter's launch, an increasingly varied group of users is finding new ways to answer the site's prompt: "What are you doing?"
Besides citizen journalists and some mainstream media twitterers, such as MPR's Bob Collins and WCCO's Jason DeRusha, the local Twitter community now includes updates from a Mayor R.T. Rybak stream, the Meet Minneapolis visitors bureau and users keen on the service for unique reasons -- such as posting job openings, administering customer service and, in the case of one local playwright, creative-writing exercises.
"One of the great things about Twitter is also one of its biggest faults -- that it's so open-ended," said local Minneapolis blogger Aaron Landry, 29. He laments users who post too many links, hold too many one-on-one conversations, or ceaselessly pump out self-promotions.
"I love Twitter and I hate Twitter. Twitter is really annoying," Landry said. "Most of what I receive on Twitter is noise, but every now and then, the valuable bits that I get from other people's lives is worth the price for me."
Erica Mauter, 30, of Eden Prairie agrees. "Because you can have that constant stream of input I feel compelled to constantly consume it," said Mauter, who follows 200 Twitterers. "It's terrible if you have an attention deficit problem."
Although Kristina Halvorson doesn't think people will read frequent updates about what she feeds her two children (not uncommon on Twitter), she has used the site since April for her Web content agency, Brain Traffic.
"It's almost 100 percent professional contacts for me right now," Halvorson said. And she made her employees sign up, too. "For the people who live in the Web and digital trends, you have to be on Twitter," she said. "I want [employees] using it."
That's in part because Twitter can work as a referral service. Halvorson's agency caught a wave of applicants after she posted on Twitter. And that's just the beginning of business use. Comcast Corp., for example, uses a program that searches for mentions about its services, then follows up to find solutions to any complaints.
Employee use of Twitter could raise questions about appropriate personal expression, Halvorson said, but she hasn't had any problems. In fact, she follows her employees' accounts because "they're really funny."
The public nature of Twitter didn't faze Shoreview resident Paul Saarinen, 30, who tweeted frequently to a small following while his wife was in labor last summer.
But how much detail is too much?
Each tweet by Greg Swan, 27, of Eden Prairie goes out to more than 800 other Twitterers who follow his posts.
"Anytime I tweet I'm letting down three-quarters of my followers," Swan said, explaining his diverse audience of friends, industry peers, and fans of his Perfect Porridge entertainment site. "When I'm talking about my son, most of those people don't care."
Swan maintains some privacy by not posting his photograph and by never discussing work clients. Otherwise, he's in the Twitter mix and claims the site has made him more real friends (the kind where you meet face to face) than all other online networking sites combined.
Then there's Sailor Martin. The crude sailor puppet is the creation of Max Sparber, 40, of Minneapolis, and he populates his Twitter account with fabrications about long nights (and days) of drinking and sexual escapades. "I have never used Twitter as it was intended," reads one post from the puppet.
Sparber said he didn't understand the point of Twitter at first, so he followed his impulse to tweet in character.
"I just try to be funny," he said.
A much cleaner but equally novel account belongs to Aric McKeown, 28, of New Hope, who uses one stream to host a monthly game called "The Least Dangerous Game." McKeown writes real-time clues as to his whereabouts and the first to find him wins a prize.
As for Pettersen, he said travel writing trumps most professions for providing the "sensory overload experiences" that make for good writing and reading. And while he's still not a "short, punchy humor sort of guy," he has learned to be extremely brief on Twitter.
Now, while home compiling his research, Pettersen tweets about writer's block instead.
Tony Gonzalez • 612-673-7415