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September 13th, 2003

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06:39 pm - The Great LiveJournal Lie
I have just trimmed my Friends list.

As j4 put it more eloquently last month, everyone knows that the use of the word "friend" in the context of "friends list" is, well, sometimes overstating the case. Certainly some Friends are friends and certainly some friends are Friends, but both are "some" and not "all". I'm sure there are some people who are very friendly with everyone whose journal they follow using the Friends feature, particularly those who keep a tight rein on their Friends list. However, I suspect this is fairly rare.

I'm sure that people feel from time to time that they want to say "Hi, I added you to my Friends list, but your journal turned out not to be what I was expecting. You interest me no longer; accordingly, I've decided that I don't want to continue to follow your journal." to someone when they take them off their Friends list. I'm sure that it must have happened, but I cannot remember ever having seen it happen. The Great LiveJournal Lie is that people never, or vanishingly rarely ever, say that when I'm sure that they must think it from time to time.

Of course, this isn't entirely a bad thing. Tact is much to be admired and LiveJournal as a whole gains from tending to avoid major recriminations, defriending wars and the like. Certainly there are high-profile fallings-out from time to time, alongside many more low-profile ones, but I'm pleasantly surprised that there aren't more. This goes back to a long-held suspicion of mine that, for most people, keeping a LiveJournal is at least partly performance art and that public fallings-out are poor performance. On the other hand, part of the old advice is to find good enemies. Perhaps it's just that defriending-wars don't make for interesting debate.

Without wanting to point fingers at any people in particular, I guess that perhaps 10% of my friends list have trimmed their lists saying "Sorry, I just don't have time to follow as many LiveJournals as I used to". I'm not accusing them of lying. However, I think it is important to recognise that people's tastes change over time and that there's nothing wrong with finding you're less interested in a particular topic than you used to be, which goes alongside being less interested in sharing it with the same sort of people that you used to. There is an unspoken "I'm not as interested in you as I once thought I was" to the people who get deFriended in the cut.

It's implicit that when someone removes you from their Friends list, they are to some slight extent expressing disinterest in knowing you. This is where the terminology "Friends" is particularly unhelpful; by removing someone from your Friends list, there is at least some slight throwback to "I don't want to be your friend any more" from your youth - or, even, romantic breakups. It's also true that not being interested in someone is a particularly personal sort of slight to cast. People define themselves (subconsciously even if not deliberately) by the way they spend their time, not least by choosing to define themselves as someone who continues to maintain a LiveJournal. To declare that you aren't interested in someone at least partly because of the way they have chosen to define themselves... well, it's very honest, but I can't see how it can get much more personal than that.

On top of that, there are all the funky things that you can do with Friends lists, such as the famous Joule tool so that people can track the changes in their Friends-of list from day to day. Of course, you can check Joule for other people as well - and so get an impression of how seriously they take LiveJournal and their Friends-of list by how frequently they check it themselves. Perhaps this is taking LiveJournal too seriously. Perhaps I'm just bitter because watchful_entity defriended me twice! :-P ;-)

There has been discussion from time to time that functionality will be added to LiveJournal to distinguish people whose journal you follow from people to whom you reveal your Friends-only postings. This doesn't seem to be a particularly sizeable improvement to me; it would still be a strange sort of half-slight to trust someone with information but declaring publically that you don't find them interesting enough to read, or that you read their journal but you don't want to trust them with your (relative) secrets. In any case, this is just a specialised application of LiveJournal's already-existent and very powerful filtering technology.

LiveJournal's filters are definitely a double-edged sword. Having the ability to restrict who sees your postings is tremendously useful. On the other hand, their existence raises the theoretical possibility that you aren't seeing everything that any of your Friends post and you can never be sure of this. Admittedly private posts muddy the waters a little; for instance, go to this post of mine and click the right-arrow button (the rightmost one in the blue box at the top). You won't be able to see the next post - you'll get a "no permission" error. Now I claim that this is because the next post is a private one I made to myself to remind me of a later posting to make while on holiday; however, you have no way of knowing whether this is true or not. It could be a post about you and your most intimate secrets which I have made to everyone on my Friends list apart from you in particular. Of course, I claim it isn't; of course, you don't know whether this is true or not.

One related question is "Would LiveJournal be as interesting and useful without more-graduated-than-Friends-Only filters?" I would imagine that, without filters, people would habitually start up multiple LiveJournals and just change the Friends lists to produce the same sorts of results as before. This strikes me as needless duplication of resources and so not an improvement on the current situation. It's also true that some people maintain more than one journal already in exactly this fashion. I can't prove I don't and certainly confess that I've thought about it as a concept in the past. I place no value judgement on it as a technique; if it works for you, go ahead and use it and more power to you.

So you can never be sure that you're getting the whole story from any of your Friends. In fact, you can't even be sure that those of whom you are listed as "Friend Of" really are reading you; it's quite possible that you could have someone listed as a Friend, but only view some restricted subsection of your Friends list, never looking at anything they have to say. In fact, it's only people replying to your comment (or noting it in some other context) that offers some sort of proof that they are paying attention to you at all. You don't know whether or not I read your LiveJournal even if I list you as a Friend. This is a frequent technique that people use when they don't want to follow a journal any more but don't want to risk offending someone by deFriending them. Yes, this is one relatively frequent manifestation of The Great LiveJournal Lie.

I lie in exactly this way too. However, I am honest enough to admit in my userinfo that I don't read all my Friends' journals all the time. Yes, this is in part because I turn out not to have so much in common with some people as I thought and have been enjoying other people's journals less than I had expected; you will have to take it on trust that I do read all my Friends' journals from time to time. (It's also in part because some of you post so damn much, to add another voice to the "many short postings" or "few longer postings" / to lj-cut or not to lj-cut debate.)

This all sounds terribly grave and mistrustful, but all things considered, I welcome and relish the power and flexibility that LiveJournal offers and just feel that we need to bear its downsides in mind as a consequence. People's tastes change over time and that's a good thing. People do go through "more interesting" and "less interesting" phases and that's only natural; I feel that I've been on an extended "less interesting" phase since... well, at least since my return from the MSO, arguably a lot longer. (ringbark once said he liked my journal because it contains details of what I've been thinking of, rather than what I've been doing. I really feel that I haven't had any particularly interesting or imaginitive thoughts even by my own standards for some time now.)

If you'd like to hoist me by my own petard and say "I really haven't been finding you very interesting really" or "I only Friended you because we met and, you know, you're not what I expected in your LiveJournal based on how you are in real life" then now is an excellent time to do so; no hard feelings and we'll shake hands next time we meet. I'd like to LiveJournal in a world where the reverse would be true, too; this post is my way of doing my bit towards this goal.

Yet I don't have the courage of my own convictions; I'm just as big a LiveJournal liar as the rest of the world, preferring to filter unwanted Friends out rather than deFriending them altogether. Even though I really have trimmed my Friends list, the only three journals caught in the cull had all been deleted anyhow. :-)

Finally - and with no relation to the above - many happy returns of the day to petulans!
Current Mood: in love, with Mozilla Firebird
Current Music: M-m-m-m monkey, m-m-m-m monkey

(31 comments | Leave a comment)


[User Picture]
Date:September 13th, 2003 11:23 am (UTC)
This is a much better way of saying what lots of people I imagine try to say when pruning their Flist.

I'm putting this one in my memories as it's a great explanation of all the loop holes and mental conundrums we all have, I believe, when de-friending.

Personally, I have peers, friends, acquaintances, and associates. They all differ based on my particular interest with them and their reciprocal interest in me. It's not a hierarchy, but more like a table that shifts based on how my mood strikes me and how my interests change, much along the lines of what you said regarding that change is good.

I have multiple uses for my flist, by using the color-coding offered in the 'manage' section of Livejournal. The main purpose, is the same fucntion as filters, but with coloring, I am able to check on posts that deal with artists and writers I follow, those folks who live in my state and abroad, close friends I have at least weekly contact with, etc without having to use the filters. I'm lazy, what can I say?

As to the private posts, I have a fair number of those, and they are just that. Things that I need to commit to text for me to reflect on later. And yeah, as you said, I could be saying a lie. But I have no reason to, as it's more trouble on my soul than I care to carry about with me.

Thanks for the prolific post.
[User Picture]
Date:September 14th, 2003 07:08 am (UTC)

I'm putting this one in my memories

That's a first, as far as I can recall. Thank you!
[User Picture]
Date:September 13th, 2003 11:27 am (UTC)
"I don't read all my Friends' journals all the time."

What, all my brilliant comments about American politics don't interest a gamer from the center of England? :-) Actually, I do read all of your posts, although, I'm not always aware of the context of them. Never been particularly adept at puzzles or mind benders and, of course, I only know British TV from the local PBS broadcasts and BBC America (which I wish would start showing 'The Thin Blue Line'). I think a lot of LJ users probably follow your example when their friend's list overwhelms their ability to keep up with the few of them who have a commonality. Although, it might actually lead to a better dialogue to follow those who have different viewpoints than one's self...hmmmm...have to think on that one......
[User Picture]
Date:September 14th, 2003 07:14 am (UTC)
Although, it might actually lead to a better dialogue to follow those who have different viewpoints than one's self

There is one person on my Friends list who I feel I have very different viewpoints from and with whom I like arguing, because I really respect his ability to put a convincing argument forward for views which are usually close to the opposite of mine. Take a bow, condign. (Except that he hasn't Friended me, so he probably won't see this. ...Or will he?)
[User Picture]
Date:September 13th, 2003 11:41 am (UTC)
Interesting thoughts. Made me wonder who reads mine and why they bother. Some people do it because they want to keep track of me but there are some people on there that I barely know so I don't think they are just interested in who I went to the pub with. I like to think I'm witty and sometimes interesting but I don't want to be egotistical enough to say that's why people read my journal.

Unfortunately the solution to this is inviable. Asking people if and why they read your journal is likely to be pointless since if they don't they probably won't want to admit it for fear of offending and so the answers you get will be meaningless.

I have to admit that I do occasionally skip reading some of your entries. Sometimes because they cover things that aren't interesting but sometimes because they are too darn long. :) Don't worry though, some people never make it as far as my friends list. :)
(Deleted comment)
[User Picture]
Date:September 13th, 2003 03:59 pm (UTC)
Almost tempted to friend you and find out who you are, now you've posted this. :-)

We'll see. . .
(Deleted comment)
[User Picture]
Date:September 13th, 2003 12:36 pm (UTC)


Thanks for the food for thought. As y mind was chewing on it, I must congratulate you on having put your finger on the precise spot that needed pointing out. I must agree to many of the points here. I think that there was a point when I was new that I added all those who added me, then found later on that it was a pointless exercise. I could not follow the ljs of all those I really wanted to read, because I've added those who added me for the fear of hurting someone's feelings. However, I resolved not to add any more unless I really was scared of hell & brimstone from that person.


[User Picture]
Date:September 13th, 2003 01:31 pm (UTC)
I would say that in my case, time very much was the catalyst for a friends-list trim. Part of the reason it got large was due to courtesy-friending everyone who friended me, and also friending anyone who I met IRL - so in this case, not necessarily journals that I was particularly interested in reading to start with. The ones I've kept are either people I know reasonably well, or whose postings are interesting in their own rights. As for filtering, I read using the 'Default View' - so any friend can see on my friends page if their posts appear. Locked posts are mostly because I don't want work-related stuff on public display (nor readable by my friends-listed boss). You'll just have to trust me when I say that I don't have a special list for bitching about former flatmates ;-)
[User Picture]
Date:September 13th, 2003 02:22 pm (UTC)
As for filtering, I read using the 'Default View' - so any friend can see on my friends page if their posts appear.

This of course depends on your having made the `Default View' group public, and I'm not sure we have any way to verify that. ;-)
[User Picture]
Date:September 13th, 2003 06:25 pm (UTC)
don't want to risk offending someone by deFriending them
Sometimes I think I'd just rather be defriended, LOL. But anyway, I really liked this post - it was very honest and thoughtful, if that makes sense.
[User Picture]
Date:September 14th, 2003 12:49 am (UTC)

Still on Chris's list

Thankfully, I haven't been "defriended", which suggests that Chris still reads at least some of what I write. To use Chris as an example, all of the entries of his I can read do indeed appear on my friends list, but I don't necessarily read every word of every comment even so. Some of the gaming information is of little interest to me, so I only give it a cursory glance, whereas some of the material (airport and transportation, mathematics, Oxford and (surprisingly) Nimbus, for example) is interesting, and studied carefully.
I'm not comfortable with the word "friend" for LJ acquaintances, but I struggle to find a better word.
We're just coming up to the anniversary of my last trip to England, which had a side effect of actually getting to talk to Chris, a telephone conversation which probably lifted outr relationship from LJ-friend to RL-friend.
It seems curious that I am now referring to Chris in the third person, in his own journal.
[User Picture]
Date:September 14th, 2003 02:46 am (UTC)

Anal Flisting

Commendable honesty.

I did advertise that I was removing people from my Flist because I didn't want to read their journals. Nothing more, nothing less.

I've never understood automatic mutual Friending as a duty. Recent posts are a reliable indicator of whether it's worth following someone's journal - so I decide on that basis, not social obligation.

Filter paranoia betrays either an overactive imagination or that you attend a girls' boarding school. It surprises me that people trust locked posts with personal information (emotional or factual) - dude, it's the Internet, how hard can it be to hack LiveJournal?
[User Picture]
Date:September 14th, 2003 06:25 am (UTC)

Re: Anal Flisting

Very good title, though uncomfortably close to the sort of thing I delete unread as spam based on its title alone.

I think there's a subtle difference in terms of tact between "I don't want to read your journal" and "It's simply that I feel uncomfortable spying on the trouble of people I don't know." Also you used the word "decimate" and I know you know what it literally means; a 90% survival rate is high.

Hacking: interesting point. The gag of posting something to someone's journal because they have left a terminal logged in is a familiar one and accepted as all part of the fun of sharing a computer with another LiveJournalist. However, to the best of my knowledge, it's informally societally considered off-limits to reply to a comment deceptively using someone else's account, or to look through someone else's own journal using their account to look at their private and protected entries. In similar ways to this, I would have thought that the most effective approach to hacking a single person's LJ, though presumably not LJ at large, would be societal.

mrstrellis lists guessable passwords as an interest, even, but to my knowledge only folk ever has done without having been told.
[User Picture]
Date:September 14th, 2003 10:17 am (UTC)
I too hate the term "friends list" it is incredibly misldeading. Also, interesting to note, every time one of my mutual friends announces a "de-friending" I instantly check to see whether I remain or have been pruned - it's like the opposite side of the "I don't want to be your friend any more" attitude, in a weird way that i can't explain becuase I've been on the beach all day and my brain is fried.

Excuse this comment, please.

*toddles off*
[User Picture]
Date:September 14th, 2003 01:43 pm (UTC)
I instantly check to see whether I remain or have been pruned

How true! At least a very sizeable minority of us do that instinctively as a gut reaction. It takes real confidence in a Friendship not to check. Your point about mutual friends is a good one; I haven't even got onto the phenomenon when Friendships are one-sided, but suffice to say that I do read the LJs of some of the people who have Friended me, and even the ones who have Friended me and do comment in my journal though I haven't Friended them back, from time to time. (Obvious follow-up question: so, in that case, why haven't I Friended them? Er...)

I'm kind of pleased to see that my Friends-of list is -1 compared to yesterday. I like the guy who deFriended me and I bear no hard feelings towards him, but now's really as good a time as any.
[User Picture]
Date:September 14th, 2003 11:21 am (UTC)
I'm sure that people feel from time to time that they want to say "Hi, I added you to my Friends list, but your journal turned out not to be what I was expecting. You interest me no longer; accordingly, I've decided that I don't want to continue to follow your journal." to someone when they take them off their Friends list. I'm sure that it must have happened, but I cannot remember ever having seen it happen. The Great LiveJournal Lie is that people never, or vanishingly rarely ever, say that when I'm sure that they must think it from time to time.

Could it not as easily be termed The Little White LiveJournal Lie? I see nothing wrong with a little diplomacy; it's what makes the world go round. Well, love does too, but I'm pretty sure that diplomacy also has a lot to do with it. :D

I, too, have lately defriended the people I don't want to read anymore. But in most cases, the people had friended me first and had seldom or never commented in my journal. Not that I'm being all comment-whore about it, but if people are supposedly reading my journal and the posts are never interesting enough for them to make one comment on, then why do they have me Friended? Alternatively, they never posted anymore, posted very seldom with cryptic remarks that made no sense to me, or posted faaaaar too often. I cannot stand many one-liner posts a day -- it just fills up my flist page too fast.

I would say that reading your flist on a filter on a regular basis, as opposed to "I need to know what my RL friends are doing" or "What's going on in the HP fandom at the moment", is definitely not the same as the Little White Lie. That comes across as dishonest -- "it looks like I'm reading your journal, but I'm really not." Which I suppose could also be achieved by leaving people on your Flist that you don't read, and just skimming past those entries.

If someone who I've exchanged comments with in a thread somewhere, or whose journal I've perused from time, Friends me, I usually add them back. But if someone just randomly adds me and never even says "Hello, I've friended you", then I don't really feel compelled to add them back. I'd like an introduction before I start sharing things that I don't want to be public knowledge. Not that I make many filtered posts, so I feel that people who want to read my LJ but not interact with me are still pretty much getting the real Erin.

I think this has become rather incoherent, so I'll wrap it up. Am not criticising you, mind, just babbling on about how I think of my Flist. :)
[User Picture]
Date:September 14th, 2003 01:53 pm (UTC)
Could it not as easily be termed The Little White LiveJournal Lie?

Yes, but that's not as likely to inspire a 25+-comment reply thread. Chris Dickson, tactlessness correspondent, LiveJournal, good night. ;-)

Comment-whore that I am, and proud thereof, I do idly consider what types of threads inspire lots of comments from time to time - but, at least as much to the point, inspiring quality comments is as interesting as inspiring a big quantity of them.

Some people have the happy knack of being able to inspire lots of responses just by asking for them. Posting about LiveJournal on LiveJournal is usually pretty good, but I think it's possible to take it too far. Interesting (not-)memes normally do the trick; the "anonymous messages to each of my Friends" one must bat something like .975 - heck, anything which will get people to look to see whether you're referring to them in particular. The "five question interview" one worked like a charm for about five days, then everyone got all questioned out. (Comin' back, though - it'll run and run.) Really, being ahead of the game is 80% of the battle with lots of 'em.

Happily, though, I am thrilled to see that so many of the people who regularly attract lots of comments do so either simply by being really nice and a pleasure to interact with whatever they're talking about, or simply by having something worthwhile to say - particularly the story-writers in the fandom.
(Deleted comment)
[User Picture]
Date:September 16th, 2003 06:17 am (UTC)

I'm always a little curious why a person doesn't friend me back (or de-friends me), but I'm sure they have their reasons.

Well, while you haven't directly asked it, "why haven't I Friended you?" is a perfectly valid question. It's also a hard one where I tend to twitch and not actually have a good answer - and, at least as much, feel unhappy about the answers which spring to mind. I'm not even sure whether deFriending or never-Friending is the bigger slight.

Um... look! A purple elephant! Behind you!
[User Picture]
Date:September 15th, 2003 09:02 am (UTC)
Interesting thoughts. I'd agree that the term "friend" can be a stretch in some cases on LJ, but I do genuinely care about every single person on my list in one way or another.

I need to go see if I made the cut. I hope I did!!
[User Picture]
Date:March 18th, 2004 04:57 pm (UTC)
The joke is that the reason for de-friendings are pretty easy to guess, but the real mystery is what people actually drives to friend you. Sometime friending is so blind, that even troll journals get friended back. Is that true interest into the inner mystery of what the troll has to say or is it a popularity contest?

I think the problem is that de-friending does mean "you are not interesting enough to be read by me" and this comes from someone, who has at least a certain expertise on you being interesting. It might even come someone, you find interested, you actually like. And of course that is personal. In its worst incarnation a de-friending is a personal insult from someone, you care for.

And whether you are the de-friender or the de-friended, you can never guess, which reaction you will provoke and which action, provoked your "friend". You can never guess the extent of the insult, behind the de-friending and that is troublesome to many. Well, to me at least.

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