It’s a small world after all

07Feb09

734px-six_degrees_of_separation_270x220Six degrees of separation, also known as the human web, is the idea that everyone on Earth is connected through a chain of acquaintances no more than six “steps” away from each other. If a person is one step away from each person they know and two steps away from each person who is known by one of those people than it takes no more than five intermediaries to come full circle.

Have you heard of the trivia game called Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon? It was developed in the 1990s and based on this small world phenomenon. It’s the assumption that any actor is linked to Kevin Bacon through film roles. Consider a commercial that Bacon did for the Visa check card to clarify the concept.

Bacon wants to write a check to purchase a book, but doesn’t have his ID. He leaves and returns with a group of people, then says, “Okay, I was in a movie with an extra, Eunice, whose hairdresser, Wayne, attended Sunday school with Father O’Neill, who plays racquetball with Dr. Sanjay, who recently removed the appendix of Kim, who dumped you sophomore year. So you see, we’re practically brothers.”

Facebook now has an application named “Six Degrees” that calculates the degrees of separation between different people with a “Search for Connections” window that shows the chain of connections. Furthermore, the group “Six Degrees of Separation – The Experiment” has reached over 5.4 million members by encouraging current members to invite everyone on their friend list.

Six degrees of separation has also been tested in e-mail and instant messaging. In 2007, a study examined 30 billion conversations among 240 million users and found the path to be 6.6 degrees of separation. So, who are you connected to?

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