Tuesday, 16 June 2009

Protecting your Twitter updates

When I first began using Twitter, I didn't know what the option for protecting your updates actually did. I asked a friend who was already on Twitter, and he stated that I should definitely not protect my updates, as I would miss out on the point of Twitter i.e. social networking.

Social media, or social networking (call it what you will) is about connecting people. That can be across geographic boundaries, race, religion or creed. Sharing ideas, information and communicating is what Twitter is all about.

When you protect your updates, you need to request the user's permission to be allowed to follow them. But how can you know if you want to follow them until you see their updates. A bit of Catch-22 situation arises. Sure, you can see their bio, but that only gives you a snapshot of their personality, and it may be mis-leading. Before I follow someone on Twitter, I will read their bio, and glance through their updates to see what sort of information they are sending out (their tweets). If I find their bio and their tweets interesting, then I'll follow them. I rarely follow anyone who has their updates protected.

It also removes the serendipity of Twitter i.e. coming across a really interesting person by chance. This is what makes Twitter so interesting. I often play a little game when I follow someone, which I call Stepping Stones, and is one of the ways that shows how serendipitous Twitter can be. When I follow someone for the first time, I'll look through their updates looking for tweets or retweets from people they follow. I will then click on one at random, and, if this next person looks interesting, I will follow them too. I will continue to do this until I come to a dead end. I have found and followed many people on Twitter using this technique.

The only real benefit that I can see to protecting your updates on Twitter is to prevent being spammed. This is not a significantly big enough problem in my opinion to warrant protecting your updates though.

So on balance, there is far more to be gained from leaving your Twitter page unprotected, and letting yourself be found and followed by complete strangers. You never know, you just might find some very interesting people if you do. I know I certainly have!


  1. I'm also a great believer in leaving your Twitter account unprotected - for exactly the same reasons as you state in your post. However, as Twitter has got more mainstream the amount of spammers has increased, and sure you can block them, but it is beginning to get tedious. You say it's not a big problem, but it is getting bigger - I had to block about 20 of these lowlifes last weekend (and I only have about 100 followers). It's beginning to get to the point where it's not fun anymore. In fact if it wasn't a project of mine (#zaph80) where I'm slowly going through the pop charts of the 1980s and posting links to songs of the era, I'd have gone private with my Twitter account as well.

    The same thing of course happened with e-mail several years ago, and now we all have spam filters and spam folders to counter that - and it's noticeable that your blog has a captcha to weed out this sort of thing. perhaps Twitter will have something similar in the next few years? I hope so, as I've serendipitously got in contact with several great people through Twitter, and I'd hate to have to sacrifice that because of spammers.

  2. Your analogy with email is a good one. With email's increase in adoption, so has the number of spammers targetting it. Twitter has already been targetted by spammers as you say, and presently is not a great problem (subjective statement), but this could become a greater problem as Twitter becomes more mainstream.

    There probably won't be a way of completely ridding Twitter of all spam, but I feel confident that there are certainly ways that could reduce it.

  3. Just joined twitter and and within about 15mins 3 followers appeared so I was wondering the same things as you have commented on, so useful guidance for a new twitter, cheers.

  4. I'm glad you found the information useful. Getting started with Twitter takes a little time, but I'm sure you'll get there in the end.

  5. Some of us protect our tweets due to external situations. For example, my online identity at large might be detrimental to my work life, so I keep them separate. Protecting my tweets also ensures, for the most part (except those retweeted by others whose tweets are not protected), that what I tweet doesn't reflect ill on me in my community (I'm an acerbic ass on Twitter, but I also work with children in the real world). As well, while my soon-to-be-ex wife doesn't follow me on Twitter, there is no need for my conversations with others about the divorce process to reach her ears and unduly affect the tenor of the proceedings, which is currently amicable.

    While stumbling upon people on Twitter can be fun, even sublime (and I do so from time to time myself), I find personal recommendations to be far more valuable, less chancy, and less fraught with potential misunderstanding. Just as in the real world. I strongly disagree with the philosophy of "more followers means more popular". Popularity to me is hardly the point.

    I enjoy communicating with like minds, and protecting my tweets constrains conversations on religion and politics especially from being misconstrued by those less endowed with intelligence, and largely serves to keep me from being targetted by morons.

  6. Perhaps Twitter is not the most suitable vehicle to be talking about subjects which you feel may jeopardise your divorce or career. These may be better suited to personal emails.

    I work in local government, so am mindful of being overly partisan when I blog about politics, but nonetheless, I am not afraid to speak my mind on such subjects, as long as I feel I have been as even handed and objective as possible.

    Personally for me at least, having a public profile on Twitter allows me to champion causes and campaigns I feel strongly about, and to promote my blogs on such subjects, as well as Tweeting about anything else that takes my fancy.

    If someone sends me a reply demonstrating their lack of intelligence, I exercise the most powerful tool I have in my armoury for tackling such people - I simply ignore them.