Microsoft Researchers Suggest Six Degrees Of Separation May Actually Be Accurate

from the ah,-technology dept

The concept of "Six Degrees of Separation" was originally based on an experiment by Stanley Milgram where he asked people to try to send a letter to someone totally unconnected to them by passing it from person to person among people they knew. The idea was that, on average, any two random people could be connected within six connections. However, more recently, Milgram's study had been somewhat discredited. Yet, a new study, coming from Microsoft researchers suggests that six degrees may be fairly accurate. The researchers looked at data on how people use Microsoft's MSN Instant Messaging software, and discovered that the average chain length to connect any two users on the software was 6.6, and that 78% of all random pairs could be connected in fewer than 7 hops. Of course, what isn't accounted for is whether or not this has changed in the 40 years since Milgram's experiment, during which technology may have made connectivity much easier. Also, thanks to things like instant messaging, people who I might have otherwise completely lost touch with are now "permanently" listed as my friends. That's a bit different than the world in 1967.


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  1.  
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    ChurchHatesTucker (profile), Aug 4th, 2008 @ 6:32pm

    Tom

    I bet that myspace's "Tom" is the Kevin Bacon of online connectivity.

     

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  2.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 4th, 2008 @ 7:06pm

    Re: Tom

    Tom is more present on MySpace friend's lists than the 7-Up product placements!

    (Go watch "Moonraker" if you don't understand... youngins!)

     

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  3.  
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    Jim Gaudet (profile), Aug 4th, 2008 @ 8:27pm

    Has anyone heard of The Secret?

    I mean this stuff is weird. Yesterday I am talking to someone about the "Kevin Bacon" theory and today I am reading about it on TechDirt.Com...

    I mean, you have to read the book or watch the movie to understand. But, it is weird.

    ~ Jim

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 4th, 2008 @ 8:41pm

    Re: Has anyone heard of The Secret?

    There is no secret. Epic fail.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5.  
    identicon
    Gregory Booth, Aug 4th, 2008 @ 8:53pm

    Re: Has anyone heard of The Secret?

    The Secret is one of the biggest hoaxes of the last decade. Now that you've read it, you'll see it everywhere it happens and ignore it when it doesn't. It's like buying a new car and then noticing that a lot of other drivers are driving the same model and color you are. Those drivers were there before, you're just noticing them now.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6.  
    identicon
    Mr Ford, Aug 4th, 2008 @ 9:55pm

    The Secret

    The Secret is NOT a hoax. I listened to the audio book version. By the time it was over, my tummy was-a-grumbling. I thought to myself how good some fried chicken would be. I got my fat arse up and went to KFC. They have fried chicken. It totally works!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7.  
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    Steve, Aug 4th, 2008 @ 10:35pm

    Yeah, it will be less than 6 degrees as technology advances. Eventually we will never have to talk to anyone.

     

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  8.  
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    Anonymous, Aug 4th, 2008 @ 10:52pm

    Hmm...

    Yes, but if you stop to think about it, there are a lot more people in the world today than there was in 1967... Meaning, potentially, there was less people to know and thus may have made the chain shorter and closer to 6. Is technology the balance for the population increase, or the catalyst to actually make the theory more correct? The fun part is that there is obviously some truth to the theory though, whether it is exactly 6 or not.

     

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  9.  
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    Etch, Aug 5th, 2008 @ 6:29am

    The Secret

    "The Secret" is a way of organizing your thoughts. No magic, no mystical stuff. Its very simple: When you think positive, your mind is clearer and it functions better. Period. You can believe all the hype and crap you want, but if you follow what they tell you in the Secret "write your goals down, visualize them, believe in yourself, don't let negativety tear you down, blah blah blah" your mind will simply function better, nothing will "magically" happen, but you WILL make better decisions and will live a whole lot more of a stress free life. Its not rocket science people for god's sake! its just the same old "self help" stuff repackaged!
    And if that helps people, then why not?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10.  
    identicon
    Xanthir, FCD, Aug 5th, 2008 @ 6:43am

    Re: The Secret

    "The Secret" is a way of organizing your thoughts. No magic, no mystical stuff. Its very simple: When you think positive, your mind is clearer and it functions better. Period. You can believe all the hype and crap you want, but if you follow what they tell you in the Secret "write your goals down, visualize them, believe in yourself, don't let negativety tear you down, blah blah blah" your mind will simply function better, nothing will "magically" happen, but you WILL make better decisions and will live a whole lot more of a stress free life. Its not rocket science people for god's sake! its just the same old "self help" stuff repackaged!
    And if that helps people, then why not?

    Thinking positively is a good thing. The problem is that trying to claim "The Secret" is only about thinking positively is a bald-faced lie. It does make claims that you can exert magical powers through your thoughts, such as dissolving traffic jams merely by thinking that you won't be stuck in one (and conversely, *causing* a traffic jam by fearing that you'll be caught in one).

    It's a vicious, evil philosophy that blames the victim for everything bad that happens to them, as they could have avoided it if they'd just thought positively enough. Cancer? Your fault! Rape? Your fault! Child abuse! Guess you should have thought more positively! At the same time, it tricks people into thinking that they can succeed without putting effort into things, that they can win the lottery and land promotions and get hot chicks just by thinking that they will. Again, it is certainly true that a defeatist attitude won't help many of these things (except the lottery - you can play it with a defeatist attitude and have the same chance of winning), and a positive attitude may, but if you read the book and listen to the actual words of the author on his blog and elsewhere, you see what he's really getting at.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 5th, 2008 @ 8:07am

    Re: Has anyone heard of The Secret?

    that's because 6.6 people away from you was the author, and he stole your thunder.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 5th, 2008 @ 8:25am

    Re: Re: Has anyone heard of The Secret?

    The real secret is that once we hit 4.0 degrees of separation (via technology), the Singularity (ala Vernor Vinge) will arrive.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13.  
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    Jerry Lees, Aug 5th, 2008 @ 9:33am

    Tool to test the theory

    Very interesting article. I wrote a tool, the 6 degrees browser, on my website (linked above) that searches through data from a Xbox360 site (www.360voice.com) that displays similar type results. The tool uses data of 360voice registered gamer tags "watching" other users and displays links to those users and their "watch lists". The xbox live! gamer tag must be registered at 360 voice but even in that cloud of people it appears to be pretty true. It's always interesting to see this kind of data!

     

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  14.  
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    CeeVee (profile), Aug 5th, 2008 @ 11:00am

    Self-selecting sample

    This is based on a self-selecting sample as it ONLY includes people with access to a computer.
    How many degrees do you think there are between yourself and a subsistence level individual dying of starvation in Africa ?

     

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  15.  
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    Julian Sanchez, Aug 5th, 2008 @ 11:27am

    Ding ding ding

    CeeVee nails it. I'm willing to bit that the demographics of any instant messaging service's user base don't look a whole lot like the general population in a host of ways. Ditto social networking services like FB. But there's an even more obvious form of sample bias at work here: Most people sign up for IM services because they know that lots of their friends and acquaintances use IM. So of course IM users will be fairly tightly connected--that's how they got there. The real takeaway here should be that if even in this pool that's basically self-selected for high social connectivity, the average chain length is 6.6, we can infer that the average for the general population is likely to be significantly higher.

     

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  16.  
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    Derek Kerton (profile), Aug 5th, 2008 @ 12:39pm

    How Big Is Your Buddy List?

    you say:

    "whether or not this has changed in the 40 years since Milgram's experiment, during which technology may have made connectivity much easier. Also, thanks to things like instant messaging, people who I might have otherwise completely lost touch with are now "permanently" listed as my friends. That's a bit different than the world in 1967."

    but I would bet that you actually personally KNOW far, far more people than you have on your MSN contact list. The fact that people only enter in a small portion of the people you know into IM should make it harder to get connected to anyone in the world in 6 hops via MSFT IM.

    So this would suggest that the MSFT researchers gave themselves a more daunting task using only *subsets* of people that each person knew, and STILL came out with

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

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  19.  
    identicon
    sara, May 3rd, 2010 @ 5:06am

    You can discover your degree of separation with everyone in the world at www.digrii.com

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20.  
    identicon
    Phillip, Jul 26th, 2010 @ 5:20am

    Thanks for sharing these thoughts !!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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