Theory of Six Degrees of Separation

six degrees of separation

In the online world of social networking, the theory of six degrees of separation is evident by the number of connections made through sites such as Classmates, Reunion, MySpace and Facebook. Up until the last decade or two, this theory took much longer and was harder to prove; however, thanks to the Internet and the advent of social networks, instant messaging and chat rooms, more individuals are connecting with one other in less time.

About the Theory of Six Degrees of Separation

The idea behind the six degrees of separation is simple: If a person is one step or relationship away from each individual he or she knows and two steps away from each person who is known by one of the individuals he or she knows, then everyone on Earth is six relationships or less away from each other. The background behind the six degrees of separation is broad, depending on which part of the theory you are studying.

Some say the history of this idea dates back to the turn of the 20th century, when Nobel Peace Prize winner Guglielmo Marconi (father of the modern radio) attempted to figure out the number of radio relay stations would be needed to cover the Earth and he came up with an average of 5.83, or the amount of steps everyone on Earth is apart. Since that time, many have tried proving this theory with their own studies and research.

Social Networking and the Six Degrees of Separation

So, what does the six degrees of separation have to do with social networking on the Internet? Plenty. The creation and expansion of the World Wide Web has allowed individuals from all over the globe to connect at a faster pace. Updated web tools and technologies have allowed users to send images, videos and audios -- both recordings and live -- to more people in less time. Some call this the "shrinking world" aspect of the six degrees of separation theory because the more people you know, the smaller the world seems.

Six Degrees on Facebook

While conducting research for his novel, The Watcher, thriller writer Steve Jackson turned toward the Internet. He wanted to see how connections are made between individuals online (in this case through Facebook). In November 2007, he created a group on Facebook called Six Degrees and invited all of his friends to join. His initial results weren't promising as only 20 friends joined his group. However, within days, that quickly changed. As those friends invited their friends, who in turn invited their friends, Jackson's list grew. Within one week, his initial 20 friends turned into 30,000, and within three weeks, he had more than 2 million friends. By January 2008, he had more than 4 million friends.

In his account, Six Degrees Of Separation - The Report, he concluded, "As progress marches on, the world gets smaller. That's inevitable. Whether we're separated by six degrees or ten degrees or one degree isn't important. What is important is the idea that we are connected."

More Proof

If you need additional proof that the theory of six degrees of separation exists, take a look at the June 2007 report, [ftp://ftp.research.microsoft.com/pub/tr/TR-2006-186.pdf Planetary-Scale Views on an Instant-Messaging Network], conducted by Jure Leskovec, of Carnegie Mellon University, and Eric Horvitz, of Microsoft. Their research included analyzing 30 billion conversations of 240 million individuals on Microsoft Instant Messenger. They concluded, "that the average path length, or degree of separation, among the anonymized users probed was 6." The report also states that people tend to communicate with others who are similar in age, location and language. Also concluded is that cross-gender conversations are more frequent and have a longer duration than those conversations with the same gender.

Kevin Bacon's Six Degrees Theory

Actor and philanthropist Kevin Bacon once bragged that he worked with just about everyone in Hollywood. There was even a newsgroup formed called, "Kevin Bacon is the Center of the Universe." So, taking the six degrees of separation theory just one step further, the celebrity set out to see just how many relationships can be formed Kevin Bacon in the middle. In a game developed in 1994, players need to connect Kevin Bacon with every actor in Hollywood's film history in six steps or less. Some notable personalities who have been shown to connect with Bacon in less than six steps include:

  • Ronald Reagan (two steps)
  • Pope John Paul II (three steps)
  • Elvis Presley (two steps)

According to The Oracle of Bacon at Virginia, Kevin Bacon can be linked to roughly 12 percent of Hollywood at any given time. In 2007, the actor started the charitable organization called Six Degrees.

Final Note

So you see, research has demonstrated time and time again that everyone on Earth can be connected in roughly six relationships or less. However, today's technology is allowing those relationships to be formed much quicker than in year's past.

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Theory of Six Degrees of Separation