Facebook brings the world three-and-a-bit degrees of separation closer

The Guardian // 07th February 2016

Powered by article titled “Facebook brings the world three-and-a-bit degrees of separation closer” was written by Elle Hunt, for on Friday 5th February 2016 03.48 UTC

It’s a smaller world after all: Facebook has challenged the conventional wisdom that there are six degrees of separation between everyone on the planet.

Its number-crunching in commemoration of “Friends day” suggests Kevin Bacon might be as much as 40.5% closer than previously thought.

Researchers at Microsoft in 2008 – when the world’s population was 6.6 billion – found that the theory we are all just six introductions away from any other person on the planet was a little conservative, but just about correct.

But today, using its friend graph to calculate the degrees separating its 1.6 billion members, Facebook has found that it’s as few as 3.57 people.

Within the United States, the gap is even smaller; people there are connected to each other by an average of 3.46 degrees.

That means every person in the world – you, me, Tony Abbott, the 12-year-old boy who tripped and accidentally punched a hole in a 350-year-old oil painting – is connected to every other person by an average of three and a half other people.

Well, at least among those of us with Facebook accounts – but findings from the Pew Research Centre last year indicate that upwards of 72% adults are active online.

The distance between us is getting smaller, too, as more people sign up to the platform.

In 2011 researchers at Cornell University, the University of Milan and Facebook found the average across its then-721 million users was 3.74, a finding that did not impress this Guardian commentator at the time: “So as much as I hate to maths on a parade, that isn’t actually very amazing.

“If only having 100 friends each has you linked to everyone else on Earth an average 1.4 times each (so to speak), we shouldn’t be amazed that it’s a small world after all. We should be asking why we ever thought it was so big.”

But with twice as many people on Facebook today, we’re more interconnected, shortening the distance between any two people in the world.

Most people on Facebook have averages between 2.9 and 4.2 degrees of separation.

Mark Zuckerberg’s degrees of separation are below the average at 3.17 – and with just 2.92 degrees of separation from everyone on Earth, chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg has leaned way in.

Facebook’s researchers explain how they reached this calculation in a blog post, which includes a paragraph that uses the word “friends” 13 times. In short, “this estimation can be done efficiently using the Flajolet-Martin algorithm”.

“In summary, we find that the world is more closely connected than you might think.” © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010


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