There was an interesting online debate yesterday about whether or not to use autofollow. For those who don't know what it is, autofollow is a tool offered by services like TweetLater that automatically follow back people who follow you. The debate centered around whether or not using this tool is a social courtesy.
It seems to me that at its core, Twitter is entirely based on gain. And I don’t like to fool myself and pretend that it exists under a social umbrella of sincerity. The gain benefits everyday people, personal brands, business brands, government, public services, etc. And it's defined by increasing friendships, establishing thought leadership, cultivating brand ambassadors, increasing revenue, tapping information (education and news outlets), etc.
Please understand that I'm not using the word "gain" in a negative sense. I'm using it as Descartes or Kant would have in that we are all first and foremost ego-driven. We may talk about Twitter as "joining the conversation" (or other touchy-feely social phrases), but the reality is that we all have something to gain from it. AND THAT'S FINE.
Personally, I feel autofollowing is less a courtesy and more about racking-up numbers. Increasing the people you follow is one of ways to build followers because it more deeply embeds you into the Twitter community. Some people believe that you should have close to the same number of followers as people you're following. It's spoken about as some arbitrary Twitter cred.
Who cares? Why worry about other people's motivations or numbers? I digress.
"Courtesy" to me is participation - responding to your blog's comments, answering peoples' questions on Twitter and sharing your bookmarks (knowledge), for example. Helping one another. But by banking thousands of people in your Twitter account, your availability for intimacy is obviously diluted.
For the record, I used autofollow as I was learning about Twitter – and I paid for it in tons of spammy tweets. Thank goodness for Seesmic and Tweetdeck that allow us to filter out the noise we created and bring us back to the core value of the service...however you define it.