Posted at 10:47 AM ET, 08/17/2011

Facebook and Yahoo test ‘six degrees of separation’ idea


Six degrees of separation (Image via Wikipedia Commons)
As the world became more technologically advanced, humans could communicate better and travel farther, effectively causing our world to “shrink.” Soon, Hungarian author Frigyes Karinthy mused in 1929, the world would get so small that every person on average would be approximately six steps from every other person on Earth.

Have we made it there yet?

Mathematicians, sociologists, and physicists have long struggled over that question, and now Yahoo and Facebook have joined together to find out. They are testing the “six degrees of separation” theory by asking Facebook’s 750 million users, each of whom have an average of 130 friends, to select one Facebook friend to be the “target person.” A message will then be sent from friend to friend — in what they hope is less than six friends — until they get to the target person.

They’re calling it the Small World Experiment and anyone with a Facebook account can participate.

“You’ll not only get to see how you’re connected to people you might never otherwise encounter, you will also be helping to advance the science of social networks,” promises the Small World Experiment.

The study’s findings will be published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal and research scientists are calling it “a milestone” because this research could not have been done even 15 years ago.

“Facebook depends on its connectedness... This is our best chance to measure this fundamental piece of the social graph, so the more users that participate, the clearer the signal will be,” Cameron Marlow, Facebook’s chief data scientist, told the Silicon Valley Web site Mercury News.

While previous attempts have been made to prove the theory, their findings were dismissed as flawed because they were based on relatively small number of research samples.

I’ve just joined the Small World Experiment, and they gave me a target person who happens to be a woman living in Pasadena, Calif. As soon as I reach her, I’ll post back here how many steps it took.

In the meantime, check out SCompass.com, which allows you to type in people you want to meet, and see the connections that will lead you there.

By  |  10:47 AM ET, 08/17/2011

 
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