Two days ago I got an email alerting me to a new follower. I clicked the link, checked the person out, and decided to follow him. Today I got an email from Qwitter alerting me that he stopped following me. I can only guess that his goal is to build followers and build his follower to following ratio, two statistics with dubious value. This makes me ask several questions.
Following ain't the same anymore. Sites like http://tweetadder.com apparently scour Twitter looking for tweets and people who share interests with you and then follow them. The service, however, is obviously geared toward follower pumping, as it integrates unfollowing those people shortly thereafter if they don't follow you back. It even tracks your ratio, alerting you to impending social doom if you follow too many more people than follow you. What's most outrageous about this though is that with all these robots running around following and unfollowing people, there's diminished value to any given follower. Heck, they might not even be using twitter interactively anymore, but simply unleashing their robot upon the twitter masses and reveling in the resulting "is now following you" spam. This is perhaps a sure-fire way to get a virtually unlimited number of followers, but I am just not convinced. Further evidence of this is suggested by looking a little more closely at these programs to discover that they even let you populate a "quote bank" of sorts with text to be used as future robotomated tweets. Yikes! Millions of twitter accounts running around automatically following and unfollowing each other, then spamming them with get-rich-quick-while-helping-yourself-and-becoming-an-online-marketer-quote-of-the-day tweets!
Why follow someone?
When Twitter started out, you followed someone because you wanted to hear what they have to say. Like-minded people meshed themselves together, fans followed stars, businesses followed industry voices, and clients followed companies they use. Apparently now, with all these software products and websites automating the task of following and unfollowing, many people only follow someone else because they want to be followed back. As my example above shows, however, some people go even further by risking the new follower in the interest of boosting their ratio. Am I the only person on Twitter who follows people because I am interested in them?
Why unfollow someone?
My next question is simple, and goes back to my original example. Following someone takes very little effort, and leaving that follow relationship in place requires no work at all. I don't tweet very often so you wouldn't think of me as a spammer. So why follow me, wait for me to follow you, then unfollow me less than 24 hours later? It seems silly to me to let a robot stack up a bunch of follows to then manually scan that list to remove boring people like myself. If anyone can come up with something better than "I'm unfollowing you now that you follow me in hopes that you won't unfollow me thus boosting my follow count and my ratio" please let me know.
What's the future?
I've mentioned before that it appears Twitter is heading toward "everyone following everyone." These scripted approaches to Twitter certainly don't dissuade me from drawing that same conclusion. Even worse, they point to a world where people only use Twitter to rack up followers, like airline miles (oh how I love airline miles), money in the bank (oh how I love money in the bank), or a video game score. I can see how some people could benefit from this, if they ultimately have something to sell (like a robot, or a self help book) but unlike miles or money, having a huge follower list to spam with your quote of the day doesn't get you anything. To me that makes Twitter more like playing Pac-Man than a valuable social networking tool, as people's robotic software programs digress into an outrageous dance of following and unfollowing. But just in case the joke is on me, you can see my score above and to the right, and you can increase it by following me at http://twitter.com/reedcaldwell.
Image copied from here.