This has been done many times before and I’ve resisted it for years now. The fact is, auto-follow is a core service to my company, SocialToo, so choosing, as a user, to move away from such is a big deal. We invented auto-follow. It’s a great idea because it focuses on relationships. The fact is, and it’s taken me a long time to come to grips with this:
For that reason I’m using Twitter the way Ev and Biz want me to, and I’m starting over. Stay with me on this though, because there are better things in store, and I think there are ways to still focus on the relationship side of things. Let me explain.
The New Twitter
With the recent launch of embedded photos today and potentially videos within the stream on Twitter, Twitter.com is very quickly, just like Facebook.com is for Facebook, becoming the de facto client experience for Twitter users. I can go there and look at lists. I can see all the photos and videos of my friends. I can get regular updates from them. In the future, developers will be able to build apps for the experience (you heard it here, folks). The fact is, I’m getting more and more of a great experience on Twitter.com and having much less of a need to use Tweetdeck (my current Twitter client of choice) as a result. Especially with browser extensions like Kynetx, my web browser is now becoming my multi-network experience and I need a separate social networking client less and less these days.
There was one problem though, and I mentioned it on Twitter today: My default feed on Twitter defaulted to my main Twitter stream and Twitter provides no experience to “hide” users that I follow from the stream. Twitter’s entire focus is on the stream, not the actual users like on Facebook, and because of that I don’t think “hide” will every happen.
How I Used to Use Twitter
Since I auto-follow, I’ll be first to admit my main Twitter stream is getting pretty cluttered right now with 30,000 people in it, and in TweetDeck, I don’t even have it as a column at the moment. For my purposes though, auto follow worked well for me. I have people that read my books and read this blog and watch me speak, and I want to have the opportunity to meet those people and get to know them eventually.
It didn’t really matter that my main feed was cluttered though because by auto-following, I got to focus on what mattered most – relationships. Each and every one of my followers (with the exception of bots, which there are many) has some sort of interest in me, and I never want to neglect the opportunity to meet them, converse with them, and perhaps follow their updates some day. For that reason I would use lists, and the people who I had built relationships with and whose updates I wanted to follow I would add to those lists. Rather than my main feed, I would use a series of lists to see what people were up to and I would create a column for each inside Tweetdeck. It was much more organized that way, and by doing so I could focus on a backlog of people I could potentially get to know better, and I really would as they DM’d me, replied to my updates, and more.
Twitter is Made of Content, Not People
Today I came to a realization though that Twitter wasn’t built that way. On Facebook the relationships are 2-way, so accepting every friend request and using lists to filter people out makes a lot of sense. It’s more a contract on Facebook – “I’ll trust you if you trust me back”. I could then use lists and privacy controls to ensure my closer family and friends were protected.
However, on Twitter, an almost 100% public ecosystem, I don’t have that liberty. When I follow you, you don’t have to get to know me back. It’s all about the content, not the people, I want to subscribe to according to them – I don’t think that’s going to change unfortunately (but my focus on people will still remain the same). Regardless of Twitter’s focus, since I was using lists anyway, it really didn’t matter if I followed you in the first place. If I wanted to get to know you you could still reply to my tweets, and I could still add you to the lists I pay attention to. Not to mention the fact that Biz Stone himself has said he didn’t agree with auto follow.
So, wanting to use Twitter.com more, and realizing Twitter’s intentions, I decided it was time for a change in strategy. My focus still being on relationships. I decided that I would go ahead and unfollow everyone first, starting with a clean slate. Then, I’m going to focus on a new auto follow strategy.
My New, Still People and Relationship-Focused Strategy
Instead of auto-following everyone that follows me, I’m now going to start running a script that auto follows everyone that mentions my name, as well as people I add to a specific list. So, if you or I engage in conversation, I follow you. This way, I follow everyone who truly has a genuine interest in being a part of my community. I am also, through the list, able to follow others that I just find genuinely interesting. If they spam me, I just have to block them and they’ll never be followed again. And of course, I can always manually follow as well if I don’t want to trust the script (which I’ll likely do).
As a result of this I’m going to start a new focus on SocialToo as well. Auto-follow will still exist. The current tools will all still exist. However, I’m going to start focusing more on lists, and on being able to auto-follow and auto-add people to lists that are truly engaging. I have many of these tools written right now (if you want one right now ask me and we may be able to work out a deal), and should start integrating them shortly into the services we offer.
So if I unfollowed you tonight, don’t worry. If you are worried, just retweet me or reply to me or do something that mentions my Twitter handle (@Jesse) and you’ll be refollowed as soon as I’m done with the purge. I’m excited to see where this goes. Following Twitter’s own intentions should put me more in a mindset to understand how future users will be using the service.
If you have any ideas as I do this, let me know in the comments – I’d love to hear your thoughts!