Five years ago, telling a friend that you interact regularly with a verbose orange traffic cone might earn you a pitying hug and a quick trip to the sanatorium.
But these days, your friend might respond that they trade barbs with Rick Santorum's sweater vest.
Welcome to the age of novelty Twitter accounts, where animals, inanimate objects and other nonhuman entities speak their mind regularly: A pigeon with a foul mouth and a fouler demeanor. San Francisco's famous fog. Even the universe. On the social-media platform, users can express themselves creatively and get laughs by giving voice to those things that can't speak for themselves.
Novelty nonhuman accounts have been a Twitter staple since Sockington, a Boston-area housecat, joined the service in March 2007 on his way to 1.4 million followers. But they've been in the news again recently after one user created @olympicseat, a tongue-in-cheek response to the curiously vacant seats at Olympic venues in London. In the span of a few days, it has amassed more than 21,000 followers.
Another Olympics-related feed celebrates the star-spangled towel that American gymnast Danell Leyva drapes over himself between events. It has more than 12,000 followers -- not bad, considering the average Twitter user has 126.
Most of the people in this group of noteworthy Twitterers say their primary motivation for tweeting is to have fun. For others, it's a chance to make their mark in the crowded world of the Web.
However, all agree that more thought goes into their 140-character musings than meets the eye.
Cat Food Breath
When the woman behind pet-centric account @CatFoodBreath began her novelty Twitter account in August 2010, she wasn't planning on sticking around.
"I figured the best way to test the waters was with a pseudonym," said the Burlington, Vermont, resident who asked that her name not be published to preserve the anonymity of her Twitter persona. "I wouldn't offend friends and colleagues if I didn't follow them, and I could make a polite exit from Twitter when I was done poking around."
Two years and almost 19,000 followers later, she is still at it. In the beginning, though, she and many other novelty account successes admit they didn't really know what "it" was.
"At first, I didn't know this account was about a cat, [but] as I explored the Twitterverse, I soon realized I had a character that people related to," she said.
Real or not, Cat Food Breath is definitely a character. The cat (its gender is ambiguous) writes odes to the couch, gives its owner commands with Garfield-like acerbity and complains about the family dog -- lovingly called "Labradum."
The San Francisco Fog
Other anonymous Twitter celebs began their accounts to educate and bring (hilarious) awareness to unappreciated things that can't speak for themselves, like the San Francisco fog that brings a chill to summers in that city.
"I love everything about the fog," said the man who created @KarlTheFog in August 2010. "I think the way it sneaks over the hills is beautiful, mysterious and even a little romantic. I love how it stops at certain points above the city, creating a wall of clouds. And having moved here from a city where it was 100-plus degrees in the summer, I was mostly excited to not be dripping in sweat for three consecutive months."
The man, who also requested anonymity, was inspired by @BPGlobalPR, a popular parody response to the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Through the lens of "Karl the Fog," he reports on the public's feelings toward the fog and acts like a PR rep for the maligned form of weather -- with a witty bent. Karl already has more than 5,000 followers.
Giving "Karl" an identity has brought out emphatic and sometimes cursory responses -- especially when the fog blocked Fourth of July fireworks -- but the Twitterverse has been receptive overall, he said.
"[I get] lots of weather puns and haikus. My favorite tweets are when people take pictures of Karl and post them on Twitter or Instagram," the man said. "Seeing so many people pick up on it and tag Karl in their pictures has been overwhelmingly cool."
The Orange Cone
Like Karl the Fog, @TheOrangeCone loves it when followers interact with him online.
The Orange Cone was originally a MySpace account but came to Twitter after its creator discovered the witty tweets of Bronx Zoo's Cobra, last year's famously escaped snake, and motorsports satirist @nascarcasm. Today the Orange Cone keeps a following of more than 20,000 users up to date on NASCAR happenings.
And his followers respond in droves.
"People notice cones in their everyday life and send pictures to me by the hundreds," said the man behind the Cone, who asked that his name not be used. "I find that hilarious -- people stopping what they are doing in the real world to take a picture of an orange cone. I love it."
He added, "Whenever the cone is hit during the course of a NASCAR race, my feed blows up."