Looks like the LiveJournal developers are finally moving to disambiguate the role of the Friends list, splitting it into "people you read", "people you trust", and "people you wish to associate in public with". That way you don't have to assign trust to interesting blog-journals by strangers (or, indeed, sex/mood-swing/psychodrama journals by strangers, if you're given to reading those), you can specify friendship with people without having their posts automatically aggregated into your Friends page (as you can do with community membership), or indeed read/privilege people without acknowledging them publicly as friends (not sure where you'd use that; presumably that's if you don't wish your friends to know you're a member of </a>furry_gunzels or something). Which, I think, is about time.
Admittedly, you can use filters to sort of hack your way around that -for yourself- ... so this is more of a 'public reputation' thing. Still, I find it good that this is happening, because there's another phenomenon of people getting personally insulted that they are not on one's friends list. When posed this problem, I make it clear: 'friends' to me are 'subscriptions'; one can be my friend without being read; one can be read without being my friend; and occasionally I will view the public journal page of my IRL friends without having to sift through their posts on a regular basis.
Apparently the default behaviour will be as it is now; i.e., you add "Friends" who get the "trusted", "interesting" and "acknowledged" bits set, unless you decide to finetune things.
I'm looking forward to the changes, because I think that the term "friend" is overloaded; IMHO, there should be a distinction between strangers whom you read (like jwz) and personal friends you share things with.
Secondly, LJ "Friends" has evolved a role of acknowledgment-of-social-relationship (witness the psychodrama that occasionally erupts when someone dumps someone from their friends list), which should be independent from the functional roles. I.e., Alice should be able to acknowledge that Bob is a friend without necessarily having all his posts aggregated into her Friends page, or to be able to privilege Bob without publicly announcing their friendship (imagine she has a best friend who hates Bob or something).
Ultimately, I'm still not sure I like that.
I don't like the idea of being able to 'friend' someone in secret. I like to know who is friends with who else. It keeps things honest, imo.
As far as wanting to allow trust and acknowledgement to people you don't want to read, I do that already. I have a Default View which comprises everyone I really want to read, a "two" filter which comprises the people I scan, and a "three" filter which comprises the people I only read if really really really bored. I switched to an "access-based" friends list rather than a "read-based" friends list a while ago, and accordingly I friend everyone that I want to allow access to friends-access or filtered posts rather than only those people I want to read.
When you say you don't like the idea of being able to "friend" someone in secret, what do you mean by "friend"? Give non-public post-viewing privileges to? Aggregate their journal posts in your Friends page? Or both?
Friending someone on livejournal was an act that wasn't developed with the intent of creating social consequences, but social consequences of this act developed organically through the users themselves.
So, for example, say I have someone who hates me on livejournal. I currently have two, and know others who have many more, and some with stalkerish exes on lj. Right now, if either of those people friend me, I know about it. Sure, posting public entries means that they can just go to my journal and read, but I really don't like the idea that I'd appear on their everyday friends page. At the moment, you can't make someone unfriend you, no matter how much you might want to. Ok, say a person I hate has friended me... under the current system, at least I can be aware of this and know how to deal with it. If people can friend me without it appearing on their "friends" list or my "friend of" list, I'm going to suddenly be a lot more paranoid about this.
To give a real example, the exgf of someone I was very close to hates me. Like, sent me ten pages of death threats over email kind of hates me. Like, is in the military and very well could carry out these threats kind of hates me. Ok, when the big thing with this all went down, she started posting abusive comments to my lj. I quietly banned her and said nothing about it. Then she friended me on lj and wrote a big post about how I'm a horrible person. A whole bunch of her friends jumped on her for it - they didn't want to take my side, but they told her that friending me was unacceptable, that her post was unacceptable, and that she needed to back the fuck off. She did, and I haven't heard anything from her since. No one said she shouldn't read my journal and she very well may, but friending me is what took that over the top.
Friending someone on lj is not just about allowing someone access to locked posts or keeping track of their writing. There are social implications of linking to people like this. If people are allowed to "friend" someone without having it appear on their userinfo, I think there will be a lot more immature behavior going on out there. Don't want people to know you're in a furry community? Maybe you have the wrong friends. Don't want people to know you're pro-ana? Maybe you should reconsider your views.
I agree with you on the social implications of Friending; which is exactly why I think that declaring that you have a relationship of some sort with someone should be decoupled from adding someone to your reading list. Since the same mechanism is used for both, it muddies the waters and causes a lot of ambiguity and unnecessary drama. (Decoupling assertion of friendship (which is a public social signalling mechanism) and protected-post-reading privilege is another issue, though it doesn't seem like a bad idea to me.)
And the issue of people being able to anonymously read your journal is not just a LJ issue either; it ties into the whole decline-of-the-private-register issue on the web, where any webpage you put online is a bored idiot with a serendipitous Google search away from being the next Star Wars Kid. I've written more about this in my blog here.
I definately think that the implication of Friending someone is heavily overwrought. I guess that's like a lot of lj's though and possibly a function of the average age of the lj user - people less comfortable with their identity seem to take any perceived slight a lot harder than those who are more comfortable with who they are.
It's certainly intriguing that some people get worked up about someone not friending them. I can accept that I may find someone's entries interesting but that the feeling may not be reciprocated. The most bile i've ever encountered has been entries in guestbooks at my old site(s).