Some thoughts on Twitter autofollowing


Six weeks ago, I got a note from Biz Stone at Twitter, as did an unspecified number of other users who had autofollowing enabled on our accounts.  The core of his message:  “We’re going to discontinue autofollow because this behavior sends the wrong message. Namely, it is unlikely that anyone can actually read tweets from thousands of accounts which makes this activity disingenuous.

Users can still do this via third party services like Socialtoo and @hallicious asks if autofollowing is good or bad and if the ends justify the means.

Spam is clearly increasing on the site as new users open accounts with hopes of getting rick quick.  Autofollowing exacerbates the issue.

I wrote a response to Biz at Twitter, asking:

– What would happen if Twitter masked the actual numbers of following/followers displayed?  (Similar to LinkedIn’s 500+) 

– What if Twitter enabled segmentation on-site (e.g. Facebook friend lists, Friendfeed rooms, or WeFollow tags) or filtered-only following?

– What if Twitter offered analytics?  Would user behavior change?  E.g. Mailana shows I only message 150 people anyway, so why follow more?

– What if Twitter charged users who apply a “reach and frequency” broadcast approach, for whom autofollow and stats are quite important?  (Hello, freemium.)

Join the Conversation


  1. I do like the freemium model that you have suggested here Peter. Mainly because it provides a very painless way for Twitter to monetize on a small scale. I think that that may be the only way to break the follower obsession. I don’t like the follower 500+ idea, mainly because you don’t get an idea about a person’s true value. I don’t exclusively use follower count as a method of credibility but it does play a part in my decision to trust them.

  2. Auto following really doesn’t matter to me. If other people think it is a big deal then that is their choice. But it really doesn’t bother me to considering that probably will still see anything I say.

  3. Disingenuous and annoying. I am slowly and methodiclaly building up things I want to follow and people I choose to listen to. In that mode, I may not get rich, but I am true to myself. I sent a Tweet on a company that hit me with a blatant promo on follow and the CEO responded to me that “you gotta have some fun with it.” Except that’s not the point. The value of any network is eroded when you are flooded with junk.

    I personally don’t have a problem with a person who has 20,000 follows/followers…that is their choice. But I do have a problem when the bulk of those were acquired blindly and they have no idea who/what they are following. If you have a big social network, good for you. But a machine-built network is not a “network”….

    BTW…I liked Adam SInger’s comment. Yeah, Google That!

  4. Peter, I think that all of your ideas are interesting . . . and frankly, I know that I’d get value from a filtering capability. But, bandwidth issues aside, who cares how someone else uses Twitter (or anything else)? I have my own set of rules; @hallicious has his, and I’m sure that you have yours.

    I think it’s really cool that at this stage of the game, with most social media tools, we have almost complete freedom as users to “make our own rules.” And there will be plenty of enterprising people building tools to help us pursue our own strategies with greater ease (see for a little-known but highly functional example).

    I say, let’s continue to push the boundaries on how we think about what social networks are and how we use them; let’s NOT be too eager to proscribe users’ ability to find their own path.

  5. It seems to me that Twitter’s ecosystem and user behaviors have played out in many ways that were most likely not anticipated when the service was originally conceived. To each his/her own, I suppose – until the system failwhales.

  6. Peter,

    After tinkering with the service for some time, I’ve come to the following conclusions… that could evolve tomorrow into something totally different 😉 (disclaimer alert):

    – Everyone connected to everyone is a cool concept
    – Twitter follower counts need to scale in order to get the most out of the service
    – It’s an individual choice to follow or not follow or block somebody and we all have the tools
    – If twitter spam overwhelms, someone will build a solution… in the spirit of the open API itself

    At the Social Media Jungle in Vegas last Jan, @jeffpulver said that you never know how the next person you meet could change your life. I subscribe to that theory. Twitter enables it. In the last month, I’ve met some incredible people, both virtually and in the flesh, through twitter. I met them because I didn’t judge their username or their avatar or their 140 character bio and I chose to follow or even auto-follow them.

    Building out a following and engaging along the way is ok, IMO.

  7. The auto-follow scenario reminds me of the story of someone feeling lonely after moving into a new neighborhood / school district and deciding to throw an open party with free beer.

    Is the reason they came the free beer or me?

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