Prior to the Nintendo 3DS, each game would generate its own ‘Friend Code’ which you had to share with others (and vice-versa) in order to become ‘friends’. There was no ‘Such and such has added you’, and each game would have a different friend code. Needless to say this was (is) a real pain.
With the 3DS, Nintendo seem to have realised that they can be family friendly and safe without being so impossible to use. Friend Codes are now system-wide and Nintendo have even implemented a ‘Friends’ section where you can see who of your friends are online, what they are playing and a very short status notification. You still don’t receive notifications when someone has added you which means it’s quite cumbersome to share out your friend code publicly (e.g. on Twitter) but I guess that is probably the point.
However Nintendo still have a long way to go. The ‘Friends’ section on the 3DS has no way of contacting your friends or inviting them to play a game with you. However my guess is that in the future Nintendo are going to release new features with system updates. It’s clear that they want to implement messaging and invites. Why else would you show notifications (an LED flashes even when you are in game) when a friend is online and what game they are playing if you’re never going to use that data?
I’m looking forward to the future of the 3DS. To me it seems like a lot of the system is just a skeleton, and that future updates will hopefully bring some really interesting and much needed functionality if the 3DS wants to really compete with the likes of Apple (and Game Center) and Sony’s NGP (no doubt that will have plenty of social features).
Gaming is a social pastime. Nintendo know that; they were the first to have 4 controllers by default (on the N64) and their handhelds have always supported linking up in some way (except the Game & Watch but even some of them were 2 player). It’s just time they realised they can be fully featured and friendly.