Friends on LJ
Unlike sites that are pure social networking (collect your existing friends, define the hell out of your relationship to them, and maybe collect more friends), LiveJournal is a social media site, where the main technical focus is on your journal entries and letting (or not letting) people read them, or reading other people's journal entries. The "friends" label for the relationship could just as easily be called "watching/trusted". This means you can add anyone, and they can add you, regardless of whether or not you are actually really friends.
Real friends vs. LJ Friends
Rule number one: Just because you have added someone on LJ as a friend doesn't mean that you're actually their friend offline, or even on other websites.
Rule number two: Just because someone has added you as a friend on LJ doesn't mean that they're actually your friend anywhere other than in that little label on LJ that says that they list you as a friend.
Rule number three: Just because someone does not list you as a friend on LJ does not mean that they're not your friend in any other arbitrary context. It just means that for whatever reason, they either have not yet added you on LJ, or there is some portion of the multi-faceted happy funball that is LJ-friendship that they do not want. If speculating on this makes you crazy, either ask them point-blank, or try not to speculate so much.
Rule number four: Just because someone is your friend in some other context does not necessarily mean that you will or should add them as a friend on LJ. It may mean that you have to have an uncomfortable conversation on the topic of "why my LJ interests are accurate and the erotic fiction I write would probably disturb you very deeply so let's just avoid going there", or a slightly-less-awkward conversation about cat pictures and knitting minutiae.
Friends on LJ means: (Technical bits, cut for those who already have this down cold)
For purposes of this illustration, let's first say that you have added them, but they haven't added you.
1) You will be able to read their entries on your friends page. (Well, most of their entries, unless they're over 2 weeks old, or you have a whole lot of other chatterbox people who have pushed them way way way off the page, or they have posted an entry Dated Out of Order, or you have a filter set up so they don't, or they have it locked, or something's Really Broken.) Okay, so you will be able to read their recent, public, not-Dated Out of Order, within the last 1000 or so entries from your friends, when you're reading either your entire friends page, or a subdivision of same that contains them. Better?
2) You will be trusting them to read all of your friends-locked entries.
3) You may even be trusting them to read some of your Custom Friends Group-locked entries, if you've added them to any custom friends groups and made any entries filtered to those groups.
4) You will be displaying their username as someone that you have added as a friend, on your profile page and in some more of LJ's underlying data pages.
5) You can let them transcribe your voice posts, add tags to your journal entries, let them see more contact information than the rest of the general public, and a few other things.
Friends on LJ doesn't mean: (More technical bits)
1) If someone adds you, that means they'll be able to read your protected entries. No. You have to add them back for that to happen.
2) If someone adds you, they'll see stuff they weren't able to see otherwise. No. See #1. All it means is that they're now reading you from their own friends page, rather than visiting your journal directly, or reading your journal off the friends page of someone else who's added you. In fact, if you're in the habit of making stuff Dated Out of Order, they will see less reading you from a friends page than by visiting your journal, because Dated Out of Order stuff doesn't show up on the friendspage!
3) Someone's presence as having added me as a friend means that I endorse them or their journal in some way! No. If someone ever tells you differently, take them to LiveJournal Support, who will tell them, like I'm telling you, that you have no control over who adds you, so it doesn't mean a thing about what you think of them. It just means that they, for whatever reason of their own, decided to add you, and either you have or you haven't banned them. And speaking of banning...
4) If I ban someone, it means they can't read my journal anymore! NO. Good gods, no. Banning means they can't make comments in your journal, and are restricted in other ways they can contact you. Public entries are still public. (Also, banning doesn't remove someone from your friendslist, if you had them added and you don't want to associate with them anymore. Remove them as well as banning them, as banning won't do that for you. It doesn't remove you from their friendslist either, just hides it on your profile.)
Rules of the Road
Friending Rules and How to Find Them
The first thing to do when you're thinking of adding someone is go and check out first their profile, and then their journal. The profile, strangely enough, can be found by visiting http://exampleusername.livejournal.com/profile/ (or clicking on the head of the little LJ user by their name, or a number of different ways). Their journal, of course, is http://exampleusername.livejournal.com/ (unless something weird like beginning or ending underscores is happening with their username, in which case they'll be http://users.livejournal.com/_username_/ ). Read their profile. While you can sometimes just skim it, you may miss crucial things if you do. Read the whole thing, and visit any explanatory links they may have provided.
Why? Because of the complex social dynamic that has evolved around friending on LJ, people have come up with strange and arcane rites and rituals that govern this. If someone has these rules, they are probably going to have some statement about this, either in their journal's profile or in a prominent entry in their journal. Not everybody who has specific rules about this does that, but it is very common.
(If you can't manage to make it all the way through their profile, this may be a time to re-consider whether you're planning to add them or not. Sometimes it's worth it, and sometimes it's not. Sometimes you can tell at the outset. Sometimes you can't.)
If you have rules about the way you want friending to happen or not happen in your journal, consider adding a section to your profile explaining this, a link on your profile to an entry where you discuss this, or a Dated Out of Order entry set well in the future so it floats at the top of your journal until 2021 or something like that. Otherwise, people are not going to read your mind, and you're going to have to repeat yourself. Don't assume someone visiting your journal is going to have read that rant about friending you posted sometime last December, especially when it was actually a comment in a community and not even in your journal at all.
On the flip side, don't assume that everyone is going to abide by your friending rules if you have set them. This is the internet, and everyone's probably a little more of an asshat on the internet where there's less of a chance of physical consequences for being an asshat. This means that someone who would not necessarily pay you any attention one way or another may add you just to be a jerk. You are probably also more likely to word your friending rules more harshly than you would in person, adding to the likelihood that someone's going to try and wind you up by violating them. Welcome to the internets, here's your free eyespork, and you can ban anyone you like (well, anyone you don't like) from your journal, and at least they'll stop showing up on your profile and won't be able to comment at you.
Reasonably Common Scenarios
People use their journals in all kinds of ways. They set their personal friending policies to complement the way they use their journal, which may or may not be the way you use your journal.
These are some general classes of friending policy. Some of these are common, some of them less so. The rules vary based on how well you know the person, too; most of these have a silent "...unless you know me better and we've worked out our own rules" attached. By default, friending policies are written with strangers and acquaintances in mind, as there are more of them on the internet than best friends in the universe.
Some people want you to ask first before adding them. This is entirely their preference, as LJ doesn't say either in its code or in its terms of service that you have to ask first before adding someone. It's polite to abide by their preferences if that's what they want, though. People who prefer that you ask first are often, but not always, OK with someone adding them and immediately letting them know that they've added them and to please let them know if there's a problem with that. People who prefer this are more likely to have smaller groups of friends, and only add people they're closer to.
Some people would like you to inform them if you have added them. This is likely a holdover from the days when there were not notifications about who has added you (there are now, my fellow long-timers, in case you haven't noticed), however, a personal comment from someone who has added you is friendlier and gives you more of an idea of what to expect from the relationship than an impersonal notice from LJ. Telling someone that you have added them (informative only, and not a disguised plea to be added in return) is usually perfectly OK unless they have explicitly said to not even tell them that you've just added them.
Please Don't Ask
This is going to sound counter-intuitive to people who want to always be asked first, but some people explicitly request that you not ask them before adding them. If they have stated a preference like that, and you ask them anyway, you've just been exceptionally rude to them because you have ignored their explicit stated preferences. Stop it.
People who prefer not to be asked are often (but not always) squeezing time for LJ in between other life commitments, and having to answer twenty "Can I add you?!" in a day with an answer that's always going to be the same can be a serious waste of time. However, it's probably OK to let them know that you've added them, unless they've said otherwise, as long as it's not likely to come across as an "add me back! add me back!" or something they have to respond to.
Everybody is going to have their own preferences for these things, but here are some phrases and my readings of them:
"Can I add you?" Request for permission. Don't.
"I've added you, I hope you don't mind." "I hope it's OK that I've added you." On its surface, a statement, however, it also reads like a request for an affirming response that of course it's OK that you've added them. If someone has gone to the trouble to display a notice that anyone who wants to can add them, the only sort of people they'd deny permission to would be the sort of twit who is not only a walking bag of wrong, but doesn't bother to ask for permission in the first place even when people request that people ask permission before adding.
"I've added you; please let me know if there's a problem with that." This is pretty much the same, as it is still a dangling social request for affirmation that of *course* there's nothing wrong with you adding me.
"I've added you." "I've finally gotten around to adding you." "I love your stuff, and I've added you." A statement of fact.
"I added you. Why haven't you added me back yet?" *headdesk* This one and its ilk had better be reserved for people who you already know on a personal level, and are 90% certain had intended to add you in return and just haven't gotten around to it.
Don't Ask, Don't Tell
If someone has requested that you just add them, and neither ask if it's OK or tell them that you have added them, don't. That's all. Act as normal, and if they want to subscribe to notifications about who has added them, then they will, and they'll probably figure it out if they see you in the comments a lot.
Some people don't have a strong preference, so whatever you're most comfortable with, do that.
There's a Frequently Asked Questions entry on how to find people on LJ!
Outside of areas specifically socially designated for this, asking the point-blank public question, "Will you add me?" tends to go over as a very socially inept act. In the areas of LJ that I inhabit, the closest you can get to "Will you add me?" outside of a friending frenzy or private communication, is "This has been a lovely exchange / It looks like we have a lot of things in common / I like your writing; I hope you don't mind if I add you, and you're welcome to add me as well." To someone accustomed to plain talk, that's horribly roundabout, but in terms of adding friends on LJ, it's almost brutally straightforward.
Some people don't mind if you ask them to add you. Some people do. It usually comes off better if you've had some degree of socially compatible conversation before you ask, though. If you've had socially compatible conversation, and there's been a delay between that conversation and when you're asking them, or even if you're asking them in a different location (maybe not a different comment thread in the same third party journal, but a different community or in their own journal) it doesn't hurt to mention "I was having a good time chatting with you in that thread over at [that place]" before asking them.
Friending Frenzies and Friending Communities
This is the one place where it is OK to say "Add me! Please!" to someone else directly. I'm treating these two events the same, even though one is a sporadic thing amongst people who have already made each other's acquaintance at least in passing, and the other is an ongoing thing amongst people who may never see each other again after they've found however many friends they came for. Even so, the people who are opening themselves up to networking will present themselves and what they have to offer so prospective new friends can see who they are, hoping that someone will add them (or initiate a conversation leading to an adding), rather than going around asking other people if they would like to add them.
People You Already Know (from online)
One of the first things I do when I walk into an LJ-clone is locate the people I already know on LJ. I already know them, and I know how we interact online. This is just another little bit of knowing them. It's best to say hello, of course, and let them know you're here too, and if you're using a different username, say who you are. If they're using this in a way completely different than the way they're using the place that you know them, things may get weird, but overall you're less likely to have weird social problems with someone you do already know than someone you don't (unless your friends are given to having weird social problems).
People You Already Know (from offline)
Adding people you already know from other places -- offline -- is a little different than adding people you already know online. Maybe you're best friends. Maybe you're not. Maybe you work together or go to school together. Maybe you're related.
The first thing to consider is that the person you know face-to-face in that context may consider themselves to really be someone who's not the face you know, either in other places face-to-face, or online, or both. Some people consider the entirety of the internet to be one giant role-playing game. Some people are relentlessly the same person in any and all contexts. Some people feel that they are only free to be their true selves on the internet. A lot of people treat the internet as an opportunity to explore sides of their personality that it would be difficult to explore in person. There's no guarantee that the person you know offline is the "real" them. There's no guarantee that the person they are online is the "real" them either. There's no guarantee that you'll be welcome in all contexts of their life.
The second thing, and this is important -- they may not have made a connection between their face-to-face identity and their online one. If they haven't made one, or if they haven't made it public in their journal, don't make it for them. Obviously, if you've managed to locate them, they're not entirely anonymous, or at least not as anonymous as they think they are, but the innocent (or not-so-innocent) comment "Oh! You're the John Q. Public who works with me at Megacorp, Location 3, in Isola, NY, right?" will ensure that everyone who reads that comment will also make the connection. Unless that connection is something they desire, they will be vexed with you for making it. This is also a social standard of the internet, so unless there is an overriding reason to make the connection that the internet in general approves of (for example, if the owner of a major and influential allegedly independent political blog were on the face-to-face payroll of a political party), you may find yourself in serious internet social trouble, which may or may not spread offline. Think about it -- by identifying yourself as someone who knows them, you have connected your online identity to your offline identity in their world, and if you've ticked them off, that can cause trouble.
Friends of Friends
One of the traditional ways to meet other people face-to-face is to get to know the friends of your friends. This holds true in places like LJ as well. This can either be by getting to know the people in your friends' comments by interacting, or by your friends recommending people who they think you should get to know, or both at the same time.
I'm always amused by one particular incident involving friend introductions. Once upon a time, a friend of mine, someone I'd known since 1995, suggested that I get to know another of her friends. So we did. That other friend and I then wound up meeting in person and dating. Slightly after the other friend and I started dating, I met my original friend face-to-face for the first time in almost a decade of knowing each other.
Face-to-face, you'd have to actually go to interests-based events to meet people based on common interests. LJ has an interests feature that you can use to find other people interested in the same topics you are, in addition to finding communities devoted to the topic. This can lead to great fun and many happy times. It can also lead to woe and suffering, as a few common interests do not always mean social compatibility in other ways.
Ways People Use Their Journals
This isn't all-inclusive, of course, but I think it provides a pretty good sampling. These are often mix-and-match, with a journal being used for a mix of scenarios, as sometimes it's simpler to use one journal for a variety of uses. Then, there are the people who keep their journals divided, and have one for each of several uses or projects.
The life, times, and thoughts of the writer. Not always intended for the benefit of others. Not always kept locked.
Mama still sends out holiday family newsletters every year or so, complete with what everyone has been up to, sometimes with pictures. I used to create a weekly or so letter to send to my friends from camp (with personalized notes for each). Some people send mass e-mails. Some people have migrated this to their blog. This can sometimes result in small clusters of people who know each other, but don't really associate with anyone else.
Personal Publishing Platform & Project Journals
It's like having a syndicated column, except without editorial review or guaranteed distribution. It's also sort of like having one's own personal fiction archive. This use is aimed at gaining readers or at least making the content available for the people who already want it, rather than gaining friends, although gaining actual friends can be a great side effect. Some people split their content off from their personal journal. Some people don't. Some people have multiple project journals to separate different projects.
Role-Playing Game & Character journals
Sometimes shuffling binders and character sheets is hard. Playing games with friends you can't see in person is hard if you don't have somewhere to play. Setting up character journals, either with or without supporting communities, is fun! This works for characters who aren't part of an RPG as well, especially for collecting their responses to events in their timeline, or getting their timeline down with the handy calendar/date out of order feature. This differs from the project journal in that the journal is set up as if the actual character had set up the journal, sometimes with heroic efforts to avoid breaking the 4th wall, which can be a lot harder when this is set before the time of LJ.
Social Networking Central
Despite the fact that LJ is more properly a social media service, people still cheerfully use it for social networking.
I Need An LJ To Participate In That Community
LJ has a marvelous array of communities, and there are some people who will never put anything (either at all, or of import) in their own journal, but are active and productive members of one or more communities.
Beyond just keeping in touch with friends, LJ is a great place to have discussions on assorted topics with people, what with the discussion board on each post.
Online Presence of Minor Celebrity
This can be anything from Big Name Fan to famous author to probably even a few actors. If they're present under their actual name, they may not have time for anything more personal than a press release, and unless they say otherwise, you can probably add them (though they may not add you back). If they're not using the name under which they're famous, but you've somehow been linked to them, really don't create a public link between their famous name and their LJ presence, don't assume they have spare time, don't assume you actually know them because you happen to know what size water skis they wear because they posted about it, and don't be so over-awed by their fame that you're afraid to leave a comment or two if there's a discussion you're interested in.
Ways People Use their Friends List
List of Friends
Whatever "friends" means, some people use the LJ friends list to know that you are one of theirs, and would never dream of removing someone from the friends list unless you were no longer friends in some way.
Since the Friends List creates the Friends Page, inclusion on the friends list just means inclusion on the reading list on the friends page, because some people just want to read the journal entries that various people create. There's no more drama in being dropped from a friends list being used as a reading list than there is when someone removes a particular feed from their RSS feed reader of choice.
The Friends List is used to govern who can read friends-locked entries. Inclusion on the friends list of someone using their journal in this way means that they trust you to read their locked entries, in a way that they don't trust the people who they have not added. Sometimes this involves soul-searching and emotional closeness. Sometimes this involves "Eh, they don't look like a spammer/co-worker/troll". People who use their friends list in this way may have any percentage of friends-only entries, anywhere from nearly all friends-only to mostly public and only a few that are not.
Since it is possible to restrict commenting based on friend/not friend, sometimes this is a factor for inclusion on the friends list, particularly if someone has friends-only commenting and wants you to be able to comment.
List of Affiliates/Networking
The friends list can also be used in a more business-networking way, a place to list people who are of related interests and who would like to show a public linkage, either one-way or reciprocal. It's really handy like that, you can just enter their username and then LJ does all the work.
People You'd Like to Get to Know
Some people, especially new users, will add people they don't know, but they'd like to make friends with. Sometimes this works out just fine! Sometimes this creeps people out, especially if they've just added people without making a post declaring that they're adding arbitrary people because they'd like to make friends.
Some Custom Mix
A lot of people use LJ for a whole mix of different reasons at once, and will have some friends who are close personal friends and other friends who are there to be read and other friends who they don't read so much but need to be included so they can read and/or comment on certain entries, and sometimes even people who you just want to show your support and connectedness to, and who you think you'd like to get to know. And that's perfectly fine. It can just get hard to track!
A List of Names of Your Friends
People who are very new to LiveJournal will sometimes enter the given names of their friends when prompted to list their friends. This means that people with usernames that are also common given names (shout-out to jennifer!) will get added by the most amazing mix of new people who don't know them, but do know someone else by that name.
A List of People to Wind Up
Adding someone as a friend creates a link and a notification. Some people will create unorthodox or shock journals to see what people's reactions will be. The common name for this sort of journal is "serial adder", which is an unusual reptilian form of troll, although not typically venomous unless poked with a stick. Banning is efficacious against them. Typically, they do not comment on other people's journals, as commenting is an unambiguous way of getting into the space of others, while adding is a gray area.
A List of People to Check Out This Awesome Business Opportunity and/or Click on My Links!
Adding someone as a friend creates a link and a notification! This is a perfect way to get people to check out all the ways that they could help me make money! The common name for this sort of journal is "spammer". Fire is not half efficacious enough; switch to napalm. (Also ban them, so they can't use your profile to get them incoming links anymore.)
Custom Friends Groups
Once someone's been added to the friends list, they may optionally be included in one or more Custom Friends Groups. That's a far more advanced social bag of worms that won't get addressed in this post, but allows more custom tailoring of who can and cannot see any given post, as well as some other features.
Custom Friends Groups: Default View
One can have one's friends page filtered by default to a certain group of friends, a group named "Default View", quietly including only the friends in this group in regular reading, although friends not in this group can still be read.
Mutual friends only
Some people are really attached to having their friends/friends of lists match up. Obviously, they can control who they add and remove, but can't control who adds or removes them, although they will attempt to influence this via requests. They may or may not have public journal entries.
A friends-only journal has its entries locked down, so only people who they have added may see their entries, with the usual exception of a single public entry declaring that the journal is Friends Only. The owner's standards for adding people will vary.
Sometimes people keep an LJ just because they want a journal and don't want to keep it on paper or on their computer. A completely private journal has only entries that not even their friends can see, if they've bothered to add friends. This is relatively rare in the social areas of LJ. However, it does happen.
Friends Only, Comment to be Added ... with Friends-Only Commenting
This is one of the silliest friending scenarios I have encountered, because it makes no sense. If all entries but the one to collect new friends are locked, then no one else can comment on the other entries anyway. But if the entry to collect new friends has comments from non-friends prohibited, then all the prospective new friend can really do is add them, make a post in their own journal, and hope that the owner of the very, very locked journal thinks to look at who's added them lately. I strongly suspect that this is usually caused by an oversight on the part of the journal owner, as the combination of the two makes it pretty much impossible to get new friends that way. Check your settings, people.
Friends Only, Will Add Anyone
This seems like a paradox at first -- someone who is so dedicated to privacy that they have few to no public entries, but will add either anyone who adds them or requests to be added, or will add almost anyone. Typically this is to keep someone or someones in particular (ex-SOs, co-workers, parents, teachers, Google) out, although anyone who is not them is allowed in. Sometimes it's just Google, and the fact that public is really, really public, and they want to place some limits on how far their words go.
Entries You Can't See
It happens. Someone you know makes a private post, or a post you know happened but you're not in that filter, or a friends-only post and you're not on their friendslist, or something. And curiosity is a very human emotion. Often you're going to really want to know what they said. But freaking out at someone because they've written things that you can't see is considered ill-mannered, and pressuring them to show them to you is considered more so. Depending on your relationship to them, you may or may not be able to get away with asking to see what they said there, and depending even more, they may or may not show you. But a soap-opera scene featuring you flipping out, either to them or to someone else you know, is unlikely to improve the situation in the long term.
Someone Really Creepy Adding You
Sometimes someone or something adds you, and they're not just random and weird, they're really actively creepy, and it's freaking you out. Unless they are actually doing something that is against the LiveJournal Terms of Service, it is unlikely that Support/ the Abuse Prevention Team would be able to do anything about them specifically. Banning will prevent them from contacting you through LJ, as well as get them off your profile. However, they would still be able to read any public content you post. If you're not comfortable with that, lock it. (People have suggested many different ways of making their content public to almost anyone *except* Assorted Creepy Characters, however, since absolutely all of them are trivial to circumvent, and it's possible to watch for new updates without adding someone to the friends list, it is unlikely in the extreme that any of them are going to be implemented.) If you think that there's a problem that banning and locking won't solve, you can contact Support, but you may well just get told what I already told you, unless they find an issue that actually violates the Terms of Service. **Disclaimer: I volunteer here, but I don't set policy, and this is my opinion based on the FAQs and past observations only; for an actual answer about any specific situation, contact Support and the appropriate people with definitive answers will be found to address the issue.**
People Locking You Out of Your Own Comments
Sometimes you'll make a comment in another journal or in a community, and maybe it was locked to start with and they defriend you or you get booted from the community, or maybe it was public and then they locked it, but you've got a comment in there, and people start replying to you, and you can't get in to delete the comment, and you're getting scads of replies that you really, really, really don't want. This is time to call in for backup. Contact Support armed with some of the links from the comment notifications you're getting, and explain the situation.
That Same Jerk You Banned Coming Back with Sockpuppets
Guess what, the Abuse Prevention Team doesn't take too kindly to people evading bans. Contact
Yeah, there's a lot more.
LJ friending is a complex, complex, and really interesting thing. Each of the topics I've mentioned could probably fill an essay. But if you see something I've missed completely, give me a shout in the comments.
People use LJ to plan events, issue invitations, and manage invitees, as well as write up the events afterwards.
While a community is no substitute for an actual issue tracking system for something that's large enough to need one, it can work as a makeshift one for a small organization, or a staging area if not everybody has access or there needs to be discussion before items are entered. LJ volunteers use communities this way a lot, in fact.