Everything is older than people think. In 2009 the verb “unfriend” made the news as Word of the Year because of the transformative effect Facebook had supposedly had on our language by watering down the meaning of “friendship”. But Facebook got that terminology from MySpace, who got it from the long-forgotten Friendster, who got it—from what as far as I know is the original source—from LiveJournal, founded in the ancient days of 1999.
I bring this up because LiveJournal, for us Internet veterans, was a place where extremely geeky people worked out a lot of issues related to Internet drama before they exploded into the wider world, allowing us early adopters to examine social trends in microcosm, kind of like a digital Galápagos Islands.
One of the first things that people noticed about LiveJournal’s choice of the word “friend” was that in LJ-land friendship was asymmetrical. It was possible to be someone’s friend without their being your friend—which meant that you were automatically updated on their new posts without their being updated on yours. (The fact that Facebook forced “friendship” to be mutual at first is one reason Facebook grew virally faster than LJ—by providing constant pressure to reveal your information to more and more people—but also a reason it’s caused way more unintentional drama than LJ did.)