An interesting study by two Microsoft researchers (Eric Horvitz and Jure Leskovec) crunched the records of 30 billion electronic conversations among 180 million people from around the world, and found that any two people on average are separated by…..drumroll please….
6.6 degrees of separation. That means it would take 7 people or less to connect 78% of the pairs in their sample.
What the study doesn’t seem to address is that *6 degrees of separation* was meant to be a maximum (i.e., all people are connected by 6 or fewer links) not an average and the fact that the 180 million people using Microsoft’s IM Messenger are likely more connected than the most socially isolated individuals in the world. So on both fronts, I’d expect that the maximum chain length is longer than the 7 degrees of separation they found. Balancing this on the other side, it is very possible that if more individuals were included beyond the 180 million they included that one would find shorter social paths that went outside this group of 180 million individuals. The researchers note that just in their database, some of the 180 million individuals took as many as 29 links to connect.
The researchers considered individuals to be acquaintances if they had sent one another a text message.
The database they used was anonymized but covered all of the Microsoft Messenger instant-messaging network in June 2006, or roughly half the world’s instant-messaging traffic at that time.
See an earlier post on the 6 degrees of separation issue here (which includes some background on the “6 degrees of separation” idea and where it came from).
Researchers claimed that this research could aid political organizations, charity efforts, natural disaster relief and missing-person searches.”They could create large meshes of people who could be mobilized with the touch of a return key,” Horvitz said.
View the paper, “Planetary-Scale Views on a Large Instant-Messaging Network” here.
And see Bill Sherman‘s interesting comment below.