THE POPULAR THEORY that every person in the world can be connected in six or fewer steps has been debunked by Facebook which reckons that two people anywhere in the world are now separated by just 4.74 people.
Scientists at Facebook and the University of Milan studied the 721 million users of the world’s most popular social network and posted their findings to the Facebook Data Team profile earlier this week.
Over the course of a one month experiment and using algorithms developed at University of Milan the scientists calculated the average distance between two people using sample paths among users of Facebook.
Explaining the process, the Facebook Data Team say:
First, we measured how many friends people have, and found that this distribution differs significantly from previous studies of large-scale social networks.
Second, we found that the degrees of separation between any two Facebook users is smaller than the commonly cited six degrees, and has been shrinking over the past three years as Facebook has grown.
Finally, we observed that while the entire world is only a few degrees away, a user’s friends are most likely to be of a similar age and come from the same country.
As the New York Times explains the original six degrees of separation study involved 296 volunteers who were asked to send a postcard to specific suburb in Boston through friends and then friends of friends.
Stanley Milgram’s findings in 1967 were popularised in the play ‘Six Degrees of Separation’, written by John Guare, which was later turned into a movie starring Will Smith and Donald Sutherland:
The NY Times also notes that the term friend has evolved from what it was with the advent of the internet.
And indeed as Gawker points out in a way only Gawker could, a full quarter of Facebook friends are made “in late-night drunken mass friending sessions, chosen almost at random from your friends of friends’ list, to be wondered at upon waking at your keyboard the next morning with a pounding headache—How the hell do I know that guy?”