Remember the six degrees of separation theory of Stanley Milgram, where anyone can be linked to anyone else in just six steps? It was popular in the ‘90s, although it was never proven.
But a new Microsoft study of instant messages sent during a single month during 2006 has shown that it is, in fact, largely true – although the more accurate number is 6.6 degrees of separation.
Researchers Eric Horvitz and Jure Leskovec checked all Microsoft Messenger traffic in June 2006, and have estimated that, to connect all users in the database, the average length was 6.6 steps and that 78% of the pairs could be connected in seven links or fewer.
"What we’re seeing suggests there may be a social connectivity constant for humanity," Horvitz said in the Washington Post.
"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."
Milgram’s original research, where he asked subjects to pass a letter only to those they knew by name with the intention of it getting to a named person they didn’t know who lived in another city, was largely discredited in 2006 when professor of psychology Judith Kleinfeld discovered that 95% of the letters never reached their destination. Microsoft’s study, which they believe is the first on a global scale, would seem to validate Milgram.
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