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Twitter Writ Larger: Woofer

By Mike Musgrove
Sunday, September 6, 2009

Sometimes, 140 characters isn't nearly enough.

That's the premise behind a droll Web site recently launched by a couple of Washington-based friends. While the microblogging site Twitter caps entries at 140 keystrokes, the parody site Woofer requires entries a minimum of 1,400 keystrokes. It's a macroblogging site, you see.

Peter Martin, one of the site's creators, describes the site as an "homage" to the famous social-networking service. And with Woofer sporting a familiar blue interface and Twitter-esque page layout, it's hard to miss the similarity. It's probably not a bad idea, from a legal perspective, that the Woofer page, parked online at http://www.woofertime.com, makes it clear that it is "not affiliated in any way whatsoever with Twitter."

Martin, 32, was killing time before a movie one afternoon and joking with a friend that Twitter's foil, logically speaking, would be called "Woofer" and that such a service would require entries that were 10 times as long as those posted on Twitter.

Martin and his friend, Portman Wills, put the site together in about three hours; the gag wasn't worth more time than that, they figured. Since Woofer went online on Aug. 14, about 11,000 people have posted wordy entries to the site, though many more have dropped by just to take a look. A big chunk of the site's traffic comes from Twitter users -- sometimes getting a quick chuckle out of the concept before moving on, sometimes using Woofer as a place to share their longer musings.

So far, there's a lot of copying and pasting going on. Some have "woofed" books of the Bible or short stories. More than a few of the serious entries read like the filibustering efforts of a grade-schooler who needs to fill out the word count on a book report.

Someone posted a plot summary of the 1992 Whoopi Goldberg film "Sister Act." Another joker posted a list of celebrities with "high-top fade" haircuts. If Twitter is substantially more useful than this on a day-to-day basis, I haven't noticed.

And such is modern life that the site quickly attracts the same sort of riffraff as any other: A spammer discovered the site and used Woofer to promote an online ticket-brokering service.

So what have we learned?

For one thing, "people are really out of practice when it comes to expressing themselves at great length," Martin said.

The attention Woofer has received has raised some slightly unexpected questions for its creators. For example, Martin wonders, what is his responsibility for making it clear that this is a parody site? One or two news accounts, not to mention a few Twitter users, have painted Woofer as a serious-minded Twitter competitor.

But that's not the case.

Or is it?

George Giovanetto of Peoria, Ill., has started to post his daily thoughts on the site and credits it for helping to sharpen his mind.

"I have a sense it might turn into something more than just a joke," said Giovanetto, 55. "I've seen people start to actually say something there."

For what it's worth, Woofer isn't the first amusing response to the Twitter hype. In April, Slate posted a funny video about a new "nanoblogging" service called Flutter that limits entries to 26 characters, the same as the alphabet.

You may have heard of one of Martin's ventures before. Years ago, Martin founded Gratis Internet, a marketing firm that offered users rewards, such as free iPods, if they and their friends signed up for enough online promotions.

Martin says he's currently developing a novel sort of online experience called Shuffletime that tries to turn Web surfing into a sort of video game. But more on that later.

And the Dreamcast Goes to . . .

A couple of weeks ago, I asked readers to send me an entertaining e-mail explaining why I should send them my ancient Sega Dreamcast game console. Now that the console's 10-year anniversary is coming up -- Wednesday marks the system's birthday -- it's time for me to choose a winner.

I have heard from folks offering to buy the thing, from vintage game fans who still break out the Dreamcast every once in a while, and from at least one reader suggesting that I keep it for myself.

The most unusual missive came from a reporter on his way to a new job in Pakistan. Although he considers himself an "outdoors guy," he's going to be stuck inside a lot at his new job for safety. Alas, he was already en route when I dropped him a line last week, though it sounds as if he packed enough toys to keep himself entertained.

The reporter's loss is Katie Czekaj's gain.

Czekaj's mom wrote me that she felt slightly guilty that she bought Katie's three older brothers games systems like the Odyssey 2 and the Atari 2600 when they were growing up but that Katie never got her own system. Laura Czekaj describes the Dreamcast as "the missing link in our family's videogame genealogy."

There's more. Recently, Laura Czekaj wrote, her daughter, now a 24-year-old who lives in Ocean City, bought an Xbox 360, only to find out the hard way that the system has a bad habit of scratching game discs if you move the system while it's turned on. That's a problem I know all about. Katie, my old Dreamcast is on the way.

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