Twitter to Lose Auto-follow

Twitter will soon get rid of the auto-follow feature. It wasn't necessarily a public feature. You had to email support to have your account enabled. When a person followed you, you'd follow them back, automatically.

Why autofollow?

There are two main reasons that I can think of why people use this feature right now:

The first are people like Scoble and Guy Kawasaki who are social media sponges. They're trying to soak up as much attention as they can get by establishing relationships with anybody willing to establish a relationship with them. The problem there is that new social media experts-in-training take advantage of people and services who auto-follow in order to boost their own follower counts. It makes them look well-connected and worthy of attention.

The second reason is the category that I fall into. With My Mile Marker, we use auto-follow to enable users to direct message us. We then use the API to pull that data into the service and log the entry. Voila, instant mileage tracking! There are numerous services that tie into the Twitter system for exactly this reason.


The solution to this is, in my humble opinion, fairly straightforward. Instead of setting an account to autofollow, have it set to allow direct messages without needing to follow somebody first.

For accounts who have this "auto-DM" feature enabled, yes, it does open up the door to random spam from other Twitter users. However, spam would be minimized in the case of automated services because the spam never reaches people who can read it and a spammer would have to have some way of uncovering that an account even has auto-DM enabled.

Whether or not an auto-DM feature should be available to the masses is up for debate. Sometimes I feel that I'd like people to be able to message me without needing me to follow them but I do have my email address easily accesible on my site — if people want to put the effort into getting in touch with me.

I could certainly live without it being an explicit feature and having to ask to have auto-DM enabled just like I have to ask to get auto-follow enabled.

Published March 31, 2009
Categorized as Opinion
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13 Comments · RSS feed
Kelvin Farrell said on March 31, 2009

I had a problem relating to this earlier. I asked a question to someone on twitter by sending them a public @reply. That was ok at the time. They then replied via DM but I couldn't reply back as they're not following me.

The issue here was I didn't want to disclose the details of my DM in another @reply, however I had no choice as they were not following me.

The problem I can see though is people getting spammed in DMs when you follow someone. DMs are supposed to be for the selective people you allow to follow you. Otherwise loads of spammers will be able to send links to you.

Sean Curtis said on March 31, 2009

If you had an automated service you could just request that people tag their inbound DMs with something and block any people that sent a DM without that tag.

John Nunemaker said on March 31, 2009

Totally agree. Literally emailed twitter that about 10 minutes ago and then I saw your post in the feed reader. Great minds...

Jonathan Snook said on March 31, 2009

@Kelvin Farrell: that's why I don't necessarily think it should be a feature for the masses. It most certainly shouldn't be enabled for any account by default. My thought is that if people really don't mind being contacted, they can always point people to an email address. Leave the auto-DM as a hidden feature that requires an email to support.

@Sean Curtis: with an automated service, you'll generally not even have to worry about DMs being tagged. With My Mile Marker, for example, users register their Twitter accounts in the application. Therefore, any DMs from twitter accounts not registered will simply be ignored.

eston said on March 31, 2009

I didn't even know that Twitter allowed this to begin with. I wrote a Python script to do this and then found that TweetLater can schedule/queue tweets and auto-follow people.

Auto-DM would be wonderful, though. I'd definitely turn that on.

Jason Robb said on March 31, 2009

Auto-DM, good idea. There could be a "block DM's from this person" / "report this person" in the email (you get those right?) to thwart off spammers.

I can't imagine it would be a huge problem. Though it would need some careful thought to keep everyone relatively spam-free.

Thanks for the post! =)

Dave Woods said on April 01, 2009

Wouldn't the solution to Kelvin's issue (which has been my main quibble with Twitter) to allow people to reply to a direct message even if they're not following you?

You wouldn't be able to start a direct message if they weren't a follower but it seems reasonable to allow a reply to a direct message.

I like Jason's idea as well of allowing a "block direct messages from this person" just in case someone did lure someone in and then responded with spam as that would be a good safety precaution.

Todd Rafferty said on April 01, 2009

While I don't agree on auto-follow being removed, I don't think that Auto-DM is a great idea either. IMHO, you're placing too much faith on spammers not abusing this tool.

Vladimir Carrer said on April 01, 2009

Great suggestion! What about Auto-follow + Twitter mail. Spam problem solved! Everyone from twitter should be able to send you private message from to your Twitter Mail.

Tim Wright said on April 09, 2009

Pretty harsh rip into Scoble and Guy Kawasaki

Jonathan Snook said on April 09, 2009

@Tim Wright: re-read it. My wording was carefully written. I specifically called them sponges to play off the phrase "soaking up attention". Whether that's a good thing or bad thing, is up for discussion. I understand that being called a sponge is often negative but there are social contexts for when being called a sponge is a good thing. ("Good ol Timmy, he's such a sponge. He learns things so quickly.")

Suede said on April 14, 2009

The second reason is the category that I fall into. With My Mile Marker, we use auto-follow to enable users to direct message us. We then use the API to pull that data into the service and log the entry. Voila, instant mileage tracking! There are numerous services that tie into the Twitter system for exactly this reason.

- Really? You never had auto-follow set. You don't even reply to messages sent to you.

Jonathan Snook said on April 14, 2009

Suede: We've had auto-follow set since day one. The Twitter/Mymm service doesn't work without it. We don't respond to Twitter DMs (that I'm aware of) but we have a GetSatisfaction forum where we respond to issues.

Sorry, comments are closed for this post. If you have any further questions or comments, feel free to send them to me directly.

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