Posted by: Philip Carr-Gomm | August 3, 2008

Seven Degrees of Separation

A US study of instant messaging suggests the theory that it takes only six steps to link everyone may be right – though seven seems more accurate.

Microsoft researchers studied the addresses of 30bn instant messages sent during a single month in 2006.

Any two people on average are linked by seven or fewer acquaintances, they say.

The theory of six degrees of separation has long captured people’s imagination …

The idea of six degrees of separation was conceived by US academic Stanley Milgram, after experiments in which he asked people to pass a letter only to others they knew by name.

The aim was to get it, eventually, to a named person they did not know living in another city.

The average number of times it was passed on, he said, was six – hence, the six degrees of separation.

However, in July 2006, Judith Kleinfeld, professor of psychology at Alaska Fairbanks University, went back to Milgram’s original research notes and discovered that 95% of the letters sent out had failed to reach their target.

She suggested that the six degrees theory might be the academic equivalent of an urban myth.

The Microsoft researchers said that, to their knowledge, their study had for the first time validated Milgram’s theory on a planetary scale.

From the BBC website. Read full article here


Responses

  1. Greetings,

    Do you feel this is relevant because the common masses embraced the apparent myth of ‘six-degrees’ from a sense of isolation and despair?

  2. I’m not so sure about that – I think that people are excited by the idea that noone on the planet is further than 6 people away from us. The world seems huge and we feel isolated at times and this offers an antidote suggesting that we are all closer to each other than we think!

  3. It is a very comforting thought – and demonstrated very well I think on the internet – it is amazing how many people pop up in the same places purely through shared interests which in turn lead to shared acquaintances… and more shared interests…


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