Also, what about friends who never reply when I initiate a chat? "Hi, how are you?" Nothing. And, then, there is the friend who almost always "hides" that she is online.What about that person? So frustrating and upsetting too..are they friends then or no?
Thank you once again, my friend. It is sad to say, but yes, even your friendly neighborhood tiger has been guilty of the non-response once or twice. However, I have taken steps to be more responsive. For one, the change to vertical tabs in the IM window helps considerably. Continuing the analogy from the previous question, if you do wave at your friend in the crowded room and they don't wave back, what does this mean? For the sake of simple common courtesy a recognition wave or nod of the head is certainly expected. The same should hold true in IM's and chat. A "Hi, how are you?" should at least be met with a return "Hi! busy right now." It would be perfectly acceptable for people to use the "Busy" or "Auto Reply" features. At least that way the initiating party would not be left unanswered. As I mentioned before, we often get very busy in our digital lives; so, failure to respond should not immediately be taken as a brush off or snub. If it becomes a regular pattern, however, then it might be a signal for concern.
Hiding ones online status is one way people cope with the continual pressure to interact which prevails in the digital realm. In the analog, one can shut ones door or leave a crowded room. It's not so easy in cyberspace. How do we re-acquire "personal space" when we need it? Sometimes people simply need to be left alone. They may need time for reflection or to finish a project. Is this a sign that they do not value your companionship, or that they don't want to be with you? Not necessarily. Is it frustrating? Undoubtedly.
You have touched on an underlying issue beyond courtesy, however. How do we define "friendships" in the era of instant "friending" via the Book of Faces, ning, spruz, plurk, SL, etc? If you have established a social connection with someone that goes beyond merely adding them to your Contacts list, then at some point a certain expectation and pattern of response develops. When one of the two parties changes that pattern the other will naturally wonder why. Should one feel slighted when a casual acquaintance does not respond to a "/me waves"? In general, I would think not. However, you seem to indicate by your question that the hider is more than a casual friend. If this is the case, then I can only assume they feel the need for social space. I cannot and will not speculate as to the reasons why.