I've had several mini-rants on this topic before and it was one of the points in my "Antisocial Networking" blog post (also linked from my twitter bio) but I feel that the number of problems associated with protected twitter accounts deserve their own blog entry. So here's a list of scenarios/issues with protected twitter accounts and are all the reasons why I hate protected accounts, and generally don't follow any more of them:
On the plus side I won't be able to see any negative replies from people who tries to disagree with me and send a tweet @sxa555 from a protected account ;-)
(As an primer, ignoring the protected account issues here is a quick guide to @reples and DMs in general if you're not too familiar with it already)
- You can't find posts from protected accounts during a search. One of the great things about twitter is real-time searches, or following official hashtags (also basically a search) for live events. People who are protected are excluding themselves from this important part of social interaction/discovery. Also if I want to see the reponses+interactions to someone's post, I'll often search their username, but the originators post and follow-ups don't show in the search results.
- If someone is protected and they reply to you, then you can't see the reply unless you're following them. ALL of their tweets are protected, whether replies or not. And obviously those people can't DM you if you don't follow them either so just can't communicate with you over twitter. Overall effect, the protected person may, understandably, think you're ignoring them (and possibly consider YOU to be antisocial) when it's a side effect of their choice to protect their account.
- Reply threads get 'broken'. If I see someone's post in reply to someone who's protected, then the conversation is impossible to follow because I can't see all the posts in it. It's a side effect of the annoyingly decoupled 'reply' system on twitter, and I can't think of another social networking service that has that issue. I find many posts like this when either (a) looking at someone's list of posts or (b) searching.
- Related to the last point, many people will reply to someone prefixing their tweet with '.' so it appears in their followers timelines. This is often pointless if the account you were replying to is protected which stops me being able to track back to the previous post. And the people doing the .@reply may not even consider it's an issue because there's often nothing to obviously alert you that the account they're replying to is protected (and I suspect most people don't remember which people they follow is protected, unless they're like me and generally choose to avoid them!)
- Native retweets of protected accounts are entirely pointless, because if you can't see the original post, you won't see a retweet of it. (doesn't apply to old-style 'RT @user' retweets obviously, but is it antisocial to RT a protected tweet, thus 'unprotecting' their post? Probably...). On a related note, native retweets don't show up in lists either.
- If I add a protected account to a list, you can't see the posts unless you follow that user as well, which misses the point of many lists. Also has the same problem where if someone in a lists sends an @ to a protected user in the list, you can't dereference it. So adding protected users to lists results in annoyance. For this reason I also avoid adding protected users my public lists, even if I do follow them myself.
- If you're protected, how can I possibly determine if you're worth following? The fact that many people follow accounts for people they've never met, and may never meet is something that makes it different from other services like facebook. Follows are one way. I can't 'discover' you as someone interesting to follow if I can't see your tweets, and personally I'm on twitter for useful interaction, not just to chat with my friends. That's for other social networks. On twitter, like standard blogging systems, I want to follow people for their posts, not for who they are.
- [Added 20 Sep 2011] You can't see who retweeted you Twitter will happily tell you that you've been retweeted by someone, but neither the site, nor the email notifications will tell you who retweeted you if it was an account who's feed you don't have access to.
If you want to protect what you post, then use another service for it. Use facebook to restrict your posts (which is a sensible default on there). There isn't a problem with replies on there since reply threads are directly attached to the original posts, but if you're going to use what is arguably the most social real-time network of them all at the moment - twitter - do not protect your account, because the above problems make you a nuisance. I suspect the protected account option was something twitter included to stop people with privacy concerns avoiding it, but in hindsight I think that was a mistake.
Spread the word. I wonder how many protected users don't know about all these problems that they're causing?