Friday, August 8, 2008

Are We Really Separated by Six Degrees of Separation? Microsoft Research Says "Yes"

734pxsix_degrees_of_separation_2 Microsoft has studied a total of 30 billion instant messages sent by over 250 million people in June of 2006, and determined that we are in fact, all linked by only 6.6 degrees of separation.

"We've been able to put our finger on the social pulse of human connectivity - on a planetary scale - and we've confirmed that it's indeed a small world." Microsoft researcher Eric Horvitz told AFP on Monday. "Over the next few decades, new kinds of computing applications, from smart networks to automated translation systems, will help make the world even smaller, with closer social connections and deeper understanding among people."

Due to the popularity of Microsoft Messenger, Horvitz and colleague Jure Leskovec believe that the amount of chats that they studied amount to approximately half of the instant message sent worldwide during that period. The pair stress, of course, that they were not privy to the contents of the messages.

"To me, it was pretty shocking. What we're seeing suggests there may be a social connectivity constant for humanity," said Eric Horvitz, a Microsoft researcher who conducted the study with colleague Jure Leskovec. "People have had this suspicion that we are really close. But we are showing on a very large scale that this idea goes beyond folklore."

The origin of the six degrees of separation theory spawns from a study by Stanley Milgram and Jeffrey Travers in 1969. They tasked 300 people in the US state of Nebraska to send a letter to someone in Boston, through acquaintances. Though most of the letters did not reach their intended recipient, those letters that did arrive were found to arrive with an average of 6.2 degrees of separation from the sender.

Though the study was not considered scientific, it went on to inspire a multitude of children, including a play and film, and a charitable website, launched by Kevin Bacon in 2007, Through the website, “you can support your favorite charities by donating or creating fundraising badges — as well as check out the favorite causes of other people, including celebrities.”

But though this original study was less than scientific, the study by Horvitz and Leskovec definitely has credibility. "We used a population sample that is more than two million times larger than the group studied earlier and confirmed the classic finding," Horvitz and Leskovec concluded.

Posted by Josh Hill.

Original here

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