Internet users may really be connected by six degrees of separation

According to research conducted by Microsoft, the famous 'six degrees' figure may be pretty close to the mark.

The old adage that everybody in the world is separated by at most six degrees of separation may have been partially proven by research conducted by Microsoft.

The saying stems from a 1969 study conducted by well-known social psychologist Stanley Milgram and his less-famous research partner Jeffrey Travers.

Participants in that study were asked to send a letter to an elected person in Boston, but could only do it by sending the letter to people they knew.

Of the letters which reached their recipients, the average letter went through 6.2 recipients, prompting the 'six degrees of separation' saying.

According to recent Microsoft research that figure may be pretty accurate, at least in the internet age.

The researchers compared chat records from 180 million MSN Messenger users, and charted the 'degrees of separation', or the minimum number of steps it would take to link all these users.

They found the average level of separation was 6.6 steps, and over three quarters of users could be linked in seven steps or less.

But the research indicates that the adage needs to be updated, as not 'everyone' is connected by six degrees of separation. Some users were separated by as much as 29 degrees.

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Dylan Bushell-Embling

Computerworld
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