THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING

He’s clawed his way to Twitter fame

By Billy Baker
Globe Correspondent / February 26, 2010

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WALTHAM - Cats are up to something. They are mysterious creatures and invite speculation if an owner is to even pretend to understand them.

Winston Churchill gave it some thought and determined, simply, that “cats look down on us.’’

Jason Scott tried a different approach. His cat, Sockington, was definitely odd. “At night, he changed personalities,’’ Scott said. “Sometimes he was paranoid. At others, he could care less.’’

So, one day three years ago, Scott sat down at his computer in his Waltham home and wrote out 100 “catlike things’’ from Sockington’s point of view, and posted them on Twitter. Today, Sockington has become an Internet sensation, with more than 1.5 million people following his “inner monologue.’’ He has his own fan club, the Socks Army, a line of T-shirts, and his own rap song.

It began innocently. Sockington was found in 2004 when he was still a kitten by a friend-of-a-friend of Scott’s at a Red Line stop south of Boston (Scott is not sure which one), and eventually made his way to Scott’s home, where he joined Scott’s other cat, Penny.

Scott, 39, makes a living as a computer historian - his work includes archiving websites - and he has always embraced the latest and greatest in technology. In 2007, that was Twitter, the microblogging site where users write thoughts, in 140 or fewer characters, and send them out into cyberspace.

Scott was unsure of what to do with Twitter at first, so, on a whim, he decided to channel the voice of Sockington.

Scott and his wife, Nicole Sparks, had already built up a mythology around Socks, as the cat is known to his fans. Where Penny was the perfect cat - she would come when called - Socks was always up to something.

So Scott created Sockington’s Twitter account and posted those 100 thoughts, writing his own program so the tweets would constantly rotate. About a year later, Scott mentioned the feed during a talk at an Internet seminar, which got Sockington mentioned on several blogs. Scott began adding more content, and by January 2009, Socks had made his way up to 10,000 followers. Twitter, which was then exploding, added Sockington to its “suggested users list.’’

Scott, who drinks Red Bull in the morning, sports proper 18th-century mutton chops, and is known to his cats as “fatty’’ (his wife is “food lady’’), said the addition to that list changed everything.

The feed began picking up 5,000 followers a day, hit half a million, drew some media attention in which Sockington was dubbed the “new Garfield,’’ and soon his innocent idea had officially become a phenomenon. When Socks hit 1 million followers, rapper MC frontalot recorded a tribute song.

Marketers dangled money to get Socks to plug their products and rescue groups tried to get Scott to use his platform for a larger good.

Scott has largely refused the offers.

“I hate marketing,’’ he said recently while sitting in his living room, his black shirt bristled with cat hair. To those who accuse him of wasting his power by Twittering useless things, he says that’s the basis of Sockington’s fame: The tweets are the banal musings of a banal cat.

He sticks to the basics: food, litter box, catnip, and the occasional surreal cat hallucination.

“HMM YOU ARE VERY INTERESTING TO ME oh it looks like you’re finished eating NOT QUITE AS INTERESTING ANYMORE.’’

“OK WHAT IS UP WITH THE TEMPERATURE HERE can someone set the thermostat to legs.’’

“HOORAY THE LITTER BOX IS CLEANED it’s a wonderful present AND NOW LET’S EXCHANGE PRESENTS nggggggghh WHAT DO YOU MEAN YOU ALREADY HAD THIS.’’

Scott says he treats Sockington’s feed as a comic strip. He’ll sit down, get into character, and write out dozens of thoughts at one time, then post two to three each day. If stuck for material, Scott creates a plot, such as sending Socks on a basement safari.

He says he sees his role as “breaking up the self-important and bland Twittering.’’ In some ways, Scott said, Sockington is a parody of the microblog form.

“My biggest concern is that he suffers from the same thing everyone else does, which is a life of boredom,’’ he said.

Sockington is No. 98 on the most-followed feeds on Twitter, and the most popular nonhuman, sandwiched between the band Jimmy Eat World and the ABC program “Nightline.’’ But according to Nick Douglas, editor of the book “Twitter Wit,’’ that’s not all due to the suggested-users list. He thinks Scott deserves huge credit.

“The jokes are clever enough for smart people to like, and simple enough for people who like easier things,’’ Douglas said. “He’s a good, solid crowd pleaser. . . . In many ways, [Scott] has earned that 1.5 million.’’

Scott tries not to take the whole thing too seriously. There’s talk of a Sockington book or even a TV show, and he finds humor in the online mythology that has sprung up around Sockington, including some parodies and a Twittering parrot named Rudy who hates Socks (when Sockington hit a million followers last summer, Rudy tweeted: “8/12: NEVER FORGET.’’)

For the most part, Scott shrugs off all that it has become. Twitter recently got rid of its suggested users list, so Scott expects his numbers to decline. If anything, he said, that will remove a bit of the pressure. His core audience is “cat people,’’ he says, who understand that it’s hard to understand a feline.

“If you have a cat,’’ he said, “you realize their life is mostly food and sleep.’’

At the moment, Sockington, thought to be 5 or 6 years old, spends much of his time lounging on sofa pillows and dealing with a new intruder in his lair. In September, the Scotts adopted a kitten named Tweetie, who looks just like Sockington. On Twitter, he’s known as Sockelganger.

Online and in the house, Sockington is still feeling Tweetie out, trying to decide whether he’s a toy or an annoyance.

“OH YES INDEED I AM LICKABLE totally running out of acreage to lick,’’ Sockington tweeted recently. “GOING TO START ON NEARBY FURNITURE AND @SOCKELGANGER hold still kid.’’