Facebook halves the six degrees of separation

Posted on February 8, 2016

 

Back in 2008, Microsoft’s research boffins conducted an analysis of the world’s 6.6 billion people, and theorised that any one person is just six introductions away from anyone else in the planet. This theory was known as the ‘six degrees of separation’, and research suggested it was fairly accurate.

However, new research spearheaded by social media giant Facebook now challenges Microsoft’s theory and suggests that a person is just 3.57 people away from anyone else on the planet. The gap between people in the US was even as few as 3.46 people. Although it’s nice to know we’re all closer than we thought, the 3.57 degrees of connection doesn’t quite have the same ring to it.

To arrive at this figure, the social networking site collated a ‘friends graph’ using data from the 1.6 billion people who are registered to the site worldwide. The company has also suggested that the gap between people will diminish as more people sign up to the site, which is the largest social network of people online.

Each person’s degree of separation is based on the number of contacts or friends you have on the site, meaning that the more connections you have on Facebook, the fewer the number of people you are away from anyone else. The friends graph shows that the vast majority of Facebook users are an average of between 2.9 and 4.7 people away from any other person.

In a blog post containing its findings and a picture of the friends graph, Facebook reveals that it has drawn its conclusions through the use of the Flajolet-Martin algorithm, a formula used to calculate the degrees of separation. If you want to read it, you may want to clear your mind beforehand as it can get a bit confusing. The word ‘friends’ is thrown about more than the football at the weekend’s Superbowl game!

One term used in its explanation is ‘friends-of-friends-of-friends’ which already gives you the idea that the algorithm could just loop on forever, just like in the episode of Friends when Phoebe and Rachel theorise that Monica and Chandler “don’t know that we know they know we know” about their relationship.***

Facebook’s findings suggest that the saying “it’s a small world” isn’t so inaccurate after all. It may take you a fair few hours to travel to the other side of the world, but in terms of finding your path to a complete stranger, the world isn’t as big as you thought.

As Facebook has demonstrated, being on social media can see you connected with anyone else on the planet with just a handful of introductions, so just think what it could do for your business. This news may open the eyes of business owners and entrepreneurs who are yet to create a social media account for their company.

With nearly 75% of the world’s adult population now active online, creating and maintaining an online presence has become just as important to businesses as attending a networking conference, as the world of business slowly moves online.

Digital agencies such as Engage Web are dedicated to creating and implementing social media strategies to help businesses grow their online reputation and become a dominant force online and in social media.

Operations Manager at Engage Web
Drawing from a broad pool of experience that ranges from university studies in English Language to his work as a medical receptionist in a busy GP practice, Alan fits right at home as Engage Web’s Operations Manager.
Alan Littler
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