The Increasingly Prevalent Auto-Follow “Trick”

If you’re one of the millions of consumers of mobile applications, there’s a good chance you’ve downloaded an app recently that has you log in with Facebook or Twitter. While not all of these products are “social” by nature, most that require users to log in are focused on social networking of some sort. Within that subset, the focus has shifted from building a quality user experience to developing tricks that get users to engage with the application.

The latest trick, which Kevin Rose’s new app Oink is a serious offender of, automatically follows you to all your friends and notifies you every time they “follow” you or you “follow” them. The reason I put the word “follow” in quotes is that I haven’t opted in to doing so and neither have they. All the developers who are doing it think it’s really clever, but they’re really just damaging the user experience.

If your app does this it deserves to get deleted. Not only do I not want to automatically follow all of my Facebook and Twitter friends (it ruins the experience), but I also don’t want to be notified every time your app automatically connects me. If you’re a developer please resist the urge to do this.

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  • Don

    Oh, but doesn’t it appeal to you narcissistic self? That’s what they’re counting on.

  • Kieran

    In Oink you do automatically auto-follow people from twitter/facebook. You have to tick a box in the follow screen to do that.

  • Steve mulligan

    Auto follow is optional in Oink, they ALSO call it auto follow, and it’s better than LinkedIn method of emailing you about network join request just to get a few extra page views. Auto follow is a time saver, and they made the choice to save us a few clicks and forgo the extra few bucks they get from page views where users search and add all their friends.

    • Nick O’Neill

      Hey Steve,

      I guess that means you want your Facebook and Twitter friends to join you in every application you are on?

  • Scott

    It probably depends on the user and how they use those services. That’s generally the first thing I do in an app is connect with my “followers” from other places because they are my friends.

    A better option would be to have it off by default and the first time you go to add friends it gives you the option to automatically do it for now and forever.

    A less than optimal way would be to prompt the user when this is about to occur. The issue there is that you’re increasing the just get me to the app time. From UX user testing I’ve done, a ton of users will just skip over whatever they read getting into the app the first time because they just want to “play around with it”.

  • Steven Loi

    Thanks for the heads up, Nick. This is precisely the reason why I’m always skeptical about new consumer apps now. All the bogus ways of tricking the masses to doing things without showing their value, first. Sadly, most users will fall for it because they would not know these tactics. But, in the long run, it will hurt honest applications.

  • Jenn Staz

    Auto-follow apps are so disingenuous especially when coming from companies and brands. It’s quite obvious when this is the case! It just goes to show you that this type of company wants all of the benefits of social media platforms but aren’t willing to put in the footwork for it.

  • Carl Nelson

    When it comes to new social networks, or apps using social networks, it’s nice to have the option to include your other networks but also manage those connections in a way that is not auto-follow.

    Not all social networks or interests overlap.

  • Kyle Newsome

    There is a balance but doing this isn’t 100% wrong.

    For example, I signed up for Quora through Twitter and was pleasantly surprised when it was already able to show me questions that people I follow on Twitter had engaged in already on Quora. That really helped me get in to what Quora was about and not feeling like I had to start from scratch.

    If the auto-follow functionality becomes intrusive, a nuisance, or just a means of engaging you in marketing promotions that you didn’t really subscribe to – I 100% agree with you all the way.


  • bob

    Social networking could have been cool. As usual douchebaggery rules the day.

  • John B. Mull

    It’s a bad feature because it is enabled by default. Someone made a design decision to auto-link you in their application. This decision is presumptuous and needs to be left to the user. Thus, a “dark” behaviors by what might be an otherwise excellent application.