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Six degrees of instant messaging

By / August 5, 2008



Remember the six-degrees theory? It’s the idea everyone in the world – especially Kevin Bacon – is connected by a chain of acquaintances about seven people long. It was first pitched in the ’60s, satirized in the ’90s, debunked in 2006, and now proven again by Microsoft.

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The company combed through its popular instant-messaging service – responsible for roughly half of the world’s IMs – and found that even its most distant users are pretty well connected. With 30 billion instant messages sent by 180 million people in June 2006, Microsoft found that the average social chain between two strangers is only 6.6 steps. And 78 percent of pairs connected within 7 degrees or fewer.

These numbers are only averages – some users were 29 jumps away. But Microsoft’s figures have a scientific spin that Stanley Milgram’s original 1969 study never had. Mr. Milgram called for volunteers to mail letters from Nebraska to a Boston stockbroker by way of as many acquaintances as it took. However, only 64 of the 296 letters reached their destination. His six-hops concept is based on the 21 percent that made it.

But Microsoft’s study was larger, international, and didn’t require the kindness of volunteers. Its study logged every time users messaged someone – that’s one degree. It then tracked whom those users IMed – second degree. And so on.

"Via the lens provided on the world by Messenger, we find that there are about '7 degrees of separation' among people,'' the study says.

[Via The Washington Post]

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