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.
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.