The ‘Six Degrees of Separation’ concept, first proposed in a 1929 short story called ‘Chain Links’ by Hungarian author Frigyes Karinthy, holds that any two people are socially connected by an average of five intermediaries. It was John Guare’s play in 1990 and subsequent movie that brought the concept to the attention of the public and gave it the name ‘Six Degrees of Separation’.
To others, like the pool of researchers in the 1960s that included sociologist Stanley Milgram and mathematician Benoit Mandelbrot, it was known as the ‘Small World Problem’. Milgram’s research, which involved passing a message to a named individual through friends of friends, re-enforced the notion of there being 6 links as a global average and as few as three in the USA.
In 2001, Duncan Watts, a professor at Columbia University, conducted the same experiment on the Internet using 48,000 people in 157 countries who sent an email to 19 targets. His results also confirmed the average number of hops to be six, but in 2007 another piece of research studying 30 billion MS Messenger conversations put the average slightly closer to seven (6.6).
However, Facebook’s study, conducted earlier this year, examined the 69 billion friendships between all 721 million active Facebook users (more than 10% of the global population), and calculated the average number of links to be dramatically lower.
We found that six degrees actually overstates the number of links between typical pairs of users: While 99.6% of all pairs of users are connected by paths with 5 degrees (6 hops), 92% are connected by only four degrees (5 hops). And as Facebook has grown over the years, representing an ever larger fraction of the global population, it has become steadily more connected. The average distance in 2008 was 5.28 hops, while now it is 4.74.
Of course, in the travel blogging community, the average is much closer to 1! How many times this year have we heard tourism professionals or travel PRs ask travel bloggers “how do I find a specialist travel blogger?” and be told “ask any travel blogger”?
Image: N Danger