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The Etiquette of Friendship

This is just a coffee-break discussion, something to do between lessons, just a bit of fun.

I belong to the older generation. I don't have a Facebook page, I don't tweet nor do any of those kinds of things. Duolingo is my first experience of a social network environment and at first I was quite happy with empty "Friends" and "Followers" panels thinking it was all about games and leaderboards. I now see things quite differently and really value these features.

Now I come to what I wanted to ask about: how do you make friends? I don't mean how do you choose friends really, it is more a question about the process beyond simply pressing the "+ Add friend" button.

Let me tell you what I think to kick off the discussion (if anyone is listening). I believe when you click that button you are in some way entering that person's house (you get to see all their furniture and where they sleep - their stream) and should ask permission with a little message saying why you thought you would follow them (I know you can always look at someone's stream, but that's like peeking in through the window and is not so intrusive). When you follow someone, their stream becomes merged with yours, you are seeing everything they do (if you bother to check your own stream that is). On the face of it this is not a big deal, but many discussion activities occur within streams, and as a follower you are privy to those little conversations. You have a responsibility as a follower, and it is polite to ask before entering that person's world in my opinion. I don't want to deter people from making friends though and I don't mean for this practice to be regarded as anything more than good etiquette. What are your thoughts? (sending a little message is so easy - http://www.duolingo.com/comment/672818 - why not take a moment to do it?)

On the other hand when someone selects me as a friend, that is to say they pushed my button - and they don't post me a message - I feel no need to greet them. Pushing that "+ Add friend" button is easy and if they don't see things the way I do as outlined above that's fine. If they do send a message though, I feel obliged to answer it. I have never felt the need to remove someone from my followers list either as they are just silent witnesses and don't affect my stream.

Even though the word makes me cringe I want to talk about another small item of etiquette concerning the "Awesome" buttons. When you have friends you'll see these little buttons next to their accomplishments. I'm not sure how to deal with them. If I click one, am I obligating that person to click mine in return? Should I feel spurned if they don't? Anyway, I seem to click them depending on how close I am to that person and things can change as the friendship develops.

Although little to do with friendship, I also think people should be encouraged to click the little "up arrows" (upvotes) when someone has written something useful in a discussion. Doing this has nothing to do with massaging the ego of the person who contributed the item you are upvoting, it is just polite and it incidentally helps other people to determine the worth of that item.

I'm quite sure there have been other discussions about this topic but "discussion lifetime" seems so short on Duolingo I thought it would be worthwhile writing this item to let a whole new set of users talk about the issue here.

August 5, 2013



To be honest I sometimes add or follow some people with higher rank to keep myself motivated :) I've never thought it may disturb anyone in fact. Will keep that in mind. This system shows so little of our private life and most activity is purely language-oriented that virtual friends seems to be very far from my privacy. But I understand your point. And in fact pushing "+1" button is helpful for other users in my opinion. Comments like "thank you" sometimes seems to just create more content without use and make it harder for next user to get to useful content of the discussion.


I don't think it's a matter of privacy as in personal details and so on. Recently I've been trying to write a few sentences to one or two of my friends in Portuguese (very bad Portuguese in my case) so, if you start to think about it, having lots of followers can make you a bit self-conscious. This is a bit more complicated than it first seems, because when I choose to write to a friend this way, not only do I have my followers looking on, I also have my friend's followers fed my faltering attempts as well.



I come from a MMORPG background. That's Massive Multiplayer Online Roleplay Games i.e. World of Warcraft, etc.

I'd always divided virtual communication into 2 camps... The Younguns who tend to just spam group invites (friend invites) and who you rarely get to know personally. And the Old Farts who would never send a group invite without an initial tell explaining what they want the group to do.

Having said that, I must then back pedal and state that I consider "Younguns" to be rude and to be honest, it has nothing to do with age. The reality is that the "Younguns" are just a different style, more extroverted, and they promote a more acquaintance relationship rather than a deep friendship, but it's not intrinsically right or wrong. So, although I said it's rude, I also realize that the person who sent the unrequested friend had absolutely no intent of rudeness. So, my labelling them as "younguns" and rude is wrong.

And, many I've considered "youngun" have become very good virtual friends with me.

So, as for Duolingo, I can definitely see how one's stream can become a very useful communication method. Unfortunately, I have not been blessed with a lot of discussion on my stream. Maybe, that means I need to be a bit more talkative.

PRIVACY - Yes, everything you do on Duolingo is viewable by others. BUT, if you never talk on discussions or your stream or friend someone, no one would ever find you. Duolingo could probably be a bit more forthcoming about that, I think.

Also, I think Duolingo is being awfully smart with the keeping everything public. Otherwise, couldn't they get held responsible for people saying stupid things privately?


Thanks for an insight into a different world. I am definitely an Old Fart (I'm sure you didn't mean that term pejoratively) but I'm not a reactionary Old Fart. I'm not campaigning for anything either, or complaining about anything, I was just idly thinking about the friendship system. The system is as the system is and it's how we choose to use it that fascinates me.

I'm fairly thick skinned too so I'm quite happy without privacy (though I can see an argument for allowing one-to-one private messaging so that email addresses or Skype names can be exchanged). The only thing I don't like is rudeness in discussions and so far I've only experienced one incidence of that, which is remarkable on a site with so many users from such diverse backgrounds. Language learning really does seem to bring out the best in people.


I'm pretty sure that we are talking about the same thing. I was just trying to point out the hazards of "labeling" while recognizing my own bad habits of the same. And, trying to not to offend anyone in the process.

I think a discussion of Duolingo's social aspects is awesome. In my own case, I am recognizing that I may not have been taking advantage of Duolingo to the full extent that I could. I hadn't realized how useful one's stream could be.

P.S. Yeah, the lack of an easy way to safely exchange email addresses is an issue. Is there a workaround?


To exchange email addresses I've resorted to posting a message to a stream, returning to my home screen, and then going back and deleting the message a few moments later. This posts an email to the user without leaving anything on their stream.

Of course this isn't very secure but it is much better than leaving your email address hanging around. (The bit about returning to your home page is probably not necessary and it's just to ensure Duolingo knows I've really finished posting).

The other possibility is to use one of the services that give you a free thirty minute email address. The problem with that is synchronizing with your partner so that the temporary email address is live at the right time.


I like the upvotes and downvotes. It's a way to show agreement with the post without having to add a post that just says "yes", or says the same thing worded differently... it's less cluttered. And, hopefully, more useful to the Duolingo staff as they can see when something gets a lot of up votes that it's likely an issue.


I tend to use those other systems to interact with my physical friends virtually and have very few virtual friends I don't know or haven't met in reality. Duolingo is different for me though. By having a common interest in learning the language we already have something in common and I think I'd like to explore making new friends through this forum.

As a recipient of your initial greeting message I felt an immediate connection and intent to interact with you more than I would for someone who just hit +1 with no comment. I too have paid little heed to my "friends" on Duolingo so far and I've only just realised that my Stream is where I should go to catch up with my friends. So, let's see how it goes!


I think it's a good idea. I still think there are lots of improvements to be done. What if someone doesn't want to be followed by a certain person? That is not possible. Also, all the information here is too open, I mean, anyone can have free view of everything you do on Duo. I think there should be some more privacy for certain things, but that could ban others from diving deeper into conversations... As for the upvoting... I think that's important not for "massaging the ego" (as you also has pointed out) but to make it worth for the person who is replying. Any sign of appreciation is valuable...


If that's the way you see it, then it's a problem because at present upvotes in discussions do not give the person making a helpful comment any real sign of appreciation (unless they revisit that discussion later to check whether they have received any upvotes which would be awkward). Maybe an upvote counter in a user's profile would be useful if that's the kind of recognition that would spur on a knowledgeable user to contribute.

Of course, I know you Paulo, I know you make a huge difference to the Portuguese section of Duolingo by contributing your native speaker insights tirelessly, and I also know you would do that whether you received a million upvotes or didn't receive any!


Me for instance I add people with higher rank just to keep me motivated (I saw that another user post the same opinion and I'm glad to see that I'm not the only one hehe) Furthermore, every now and then I click on stream to see how my "friends" activity is going. I like to click the awesome button and (sometimes) let some motivational words like "keep up the good work" or something related. It's a community, we share the same interests and the support is appreciated.

I don't need privacy on duolingo, is not like someone will use the given information of my profile. More than that, is not actually a profile they are just a couples of words. You want to friend/follow me ? Go ahead buddy, feel free to do whatever you want as long you're a nice fellow. BUT, I agree also with your point of view too and I respect it.


Actually I don't have a clue how to interact or simply how to send a message to my newly added friend on Duolingo.


You probably need to open Duolingo in a browser rather than an App. Just go to their profile page (by clicking on their picture, any item tagged with their username or by using the search learners box). Display their stream using the tab you see there. You'll then find a "Write something" box to send them a comment.


Actually, to be honest, I've been using Duolingo for quite some time now (on my computer, not iPod) and never learned how to send messages; in fact, I thought I couldn't. When I first joined I searched for an inbox throughout the site and never found one, so I just assumed there was no messaging people (which always confused me as to why you could add friends). Thankful to know you actually can.


This is a great discussion, thanks for posting! I just found this site, so I have no friends, no points, no stream or messages. Anyone who has commented here is welcome to friend me. :) Good views on both sides. I don't appreciate or accept friend requests I don't know on FB (I'm only on there to keep up with my daughter), but this site seems different in a good way. I can't wait to get started!


While this discussion is still visible I would like to add another topic that I should have included in my main post and can't believe I didn't - mutual friendship.

Two popular comments here are from iustitia and Ghidush who both advocate making friends with, that is to say becoming the follower of, people with "higher rank" (let's call them an expert) to keep themselves motivated. There is nothing wrong with that and it goes with the gaming ethos (leaderboards) of Duolingo. Is this really the best way to get help learning a language though?

As I rather over-dramatically said in my main post, by following someone your stream includes all the accomplishments and discussions of the person you are following and it is true that could be helpful if the expert is contributing to many discussions. If you think more deeply though, you'll see that you would benefit even more if the expert was following you. Provided they are actively checking their stream, they could then see any questions you were asking in discussions and dive in to help. So there is some benefit to sending a message to the expert, when you start following them, asking them to add you as a "Friend". And here is the crunch, the embarrassing dilemma of the expert, how many "Friends" can they afford to have (a point DanRope makes).

It is such an unfortunate name 'Friend", because if you are the expert and your stream is already full of discussions from people in your existing list, adding another one isn't attractive simply based on practical housekeeping reasons. How do you refuse to put someone on your "Friends" list politely, it sounds like you are saying you don't want them to be your friend? A "Friend" and a friend are very different concepts.

I'm sure there are some people who add you as a "Friend" and feel hurt if you don't add them as a "Friend" in return. I just want to highlight that that they shouldn't see it like that. There are practical matters that have nothing to do with friendship that dictate who should be added to the "Friends" list. Of course if you never check your stream you can have as many friends as you like, but what is the use of that?

Of course, often the true experts are native speakers of the language you are learning, and automatic mutual friendship makes a lot of sense when you find a particularly helpful one, and you are prepared to help them in return as a native speaker of one the languages they are learning. That would be the perfect storm.

It would be easy to fill a book with all the complicated interactions on Duolingo. Sometimes I think I'm the naughty one: is posting directly to someone's stream bad? Oh, well, back to learning Portuguese.


I don't like the "+1" deal if it's going to be the only response. I generally try to explain with words (to "answer" with just a picture or a meme is equally lazy) why I liked or disliked what somebody posted.

Regarding making friends, well, it depends... in duolingo I try to be helpful to others, and I like to receive help in return eventually. I understand what you say about friends, sometimes it looks like some users, and this happens in all social networks, just collect friends. But with so many friends how are you going to interact with all of them? You are going to ignore most of them due to limitations of both attention and time. It's better to have a little but active circle of friends than having 1k of "ghost friends", that's my humble opinion of course.

Personally I tend to accept the friend requests but if they don't interact with me then I lose interest and delete them.


I'm a bit in two minds about upvotes in discussions. It is certainly more involving to reply to a particularly helpful comment in a discussion with a message rather than simply (or lazily as you see it) clicking a button. I've added a reply many times myself, but then when I bump into that discussion again later (when the sentence comes up in a refresh session) I usually regard my response as simply noise (and delete it if I can without leaving a hole).


I approve completely with your ideas. I sometimes see in my "stream" that someone "added me as a friend". Gne? What the heck is someone is considering myself his friend when I never talked to him nor participated in a discussion with him. I don't like it.

Either someone "follows me", which means in the Twitter terminology, "can see what I am -tweeting-" or, in the Duolingo terms, "see what I am commenting"; and it's okay if I gave my authorization; either someone "adds me as a friend" and to do that, he must present himself in order for me to "Accept his invitiation", as in Facebook.

Concerning the "awesome" buttons, for me it feels like "liking" in Facebook: you don't need to like it back, this is not a mutual action. Liking is the action of, well, liking someone's accomplishments or doings. And this is different from the upvotes and downvotes.

Voting must only apply to comments, and are used to promote/demote some comments in order to determine their interests. It must have nothing to do with the user saying them, otherwise you are doing it wrong.

So now about recommendations: - Change the "added you as a friend" to "following you" - Disable users from following/adding you if you don't accept back. - Get notifications from people "awesoming you" (not sure if it's already there) - Change the font for someone more pleasant than Arial (what, it's not related? whatever)


If someone put you on his/her friend list, you should be honored. It means he appreciates your contributions or agrees with your suggestions etc. He maybe expects your help with his language troubles. It is a purpose of such lists and I consider impolite to reject him.

I added everyone who follows me as a friend. So we can help, compete and motivate each other.


Would you be honored if someone is stalking you on the street? If someone is peeping you? If someone takes photos of you to post it on their home without you giving your accord?

I'm not honored easily, sorry. I feel honored when someone upvotes a good post or when someone, or when someone thank me back after I replied to his question. But not when someone is stalking me.

If I see someone's post and feel that this person is eloquent/intelligent/friendly..., so yes, in Duolingo case, I "add him as a friend" to know what he is posting. But the appellation is wrong, it should be "I follow his actions" as a stalker would follow someone or less pejoratively, as a trader would follow trends. And if I want to develop the relationship to be a mutual one, so yes, I would send him a PM, telling him why I want to know more about him, and then, "add him as a friend"

I have few friends here, but I follow a lot of people; but they are not my friends.


But if you have "too many" friends you can't help them all. Having 100 friends or 1k I doubt you can help them all. You can help just a few, so why not having a small group to begin with? Just my opinion, of course.


Instead of expecting a new follower to post a short note, one could send a short message to their stream instead (taking the onus off them) saying something like "Thank you for choosing me as a friend". They can then choose to reply or not, and I am convinced most will because everyone is so friendly here. I'll experiment with this approach if anyone does me the honour of selecting me as a friend in the future.


Personally, I avoid walking near people in real life because that makes me privy to their conversations and that is rude. I abide by a strict 10 meters rule.


With 332 friends you don't need real life conversations :-) Seriously, how do you manage to process all the activity in your merged stream?


You just stalked me there didn't you? Tsk tsk tsk...and I don't really read my stream


I admit I came within 10 meters, but I didn't listen to your conversation. Anyway, thanks for your contribution, we all need a laugh sometimes.

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